January 09, 2012
AECWeekly Predictions of Technology Hot Topics for 2012
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

AECWeekly Predictions of Technology Hot Topics for 2012

Susan Smith

It seems like a lofty pursuit to “predict” what will be hot in 2012, relying on technologies that took off in 2011 and show no signs of slowing down. Further, what happened in the news in 2011 shapes the environment with which we enter the new year.


The big changes in the world – economy, climate change, disasters – are heralding a new wave of disruptive technology to meet future challenges head on.

The Occupy Movement

 In technology when we think of energy we often think of “buzz.” I think it might be helpful to note that energy behind disruptive technology movements decides the future directions. Some energy or “buzz” just fizzles out, some remains, gathers momentum and/or evolves into something else.

The unrest created by the Occupy Wall Street movement and numerous worldwide natural disasters has filtered into all industry and commerce, even the technology industry. Individual creators are looking for ways of being able to make things, to design without enormous expense. Some of these people may not seem significant up against big corporate customers who are accustomed to purchasing large amounts of software on contract. The architectural industry is looking at how to build prefabricated buildings, buildings that can be assembled on location from pieces made locally, rather than having large amounts of materials shipped long distances, cutting down on costs and time.

This energy flow is due in large part to the cloud.  The cloud is “disruptive technology.” Users can now buy cloud usage using a “pay-as-you-go” model, so they can get software that way rather than buying an annual license. All your basic upgrades would come on a regular basis. The ever increasing mobility of our society is another factor that is disruptive – a lot of business can now be transacted via mobile devices and tablets using apps that can be downloaded as easily as downloading iTunes.

Creativity is often found outside the corporate landscape. The recession and layoffs at so many corporate facilities has spawned entrepreneurs and do-it-yourselfers. There are those individuals and small companies that don’t need much of a structure for their work.

In fact, that lack of structure makes it possible for them to design without the history of file formats and existing supporting structures. They are sort of like young travelers hitchhiking through Europe with a backpack as opposed to older travelers dependent on large wheeled suitcases, carryon bags and four-star hotel amenities. They are not locked into one software system or set of standards. At some point they may need to adhere to a set of standards, but their creative flow is fluid in the beginning stages and has incredible mobility. And the tools that are coming out on the market address this need to draw, build, create according to the way they think.

Recently a user said their work was such that they couldn’t use off-the-shelf technology, they had to create their own. This type of user is free to try everything that is available. And there is a lot out there that is free for the taking or reasonably priced.

What does that mean? How will AEC technology providers respond to this type of user? Where will they fit in?

Nowadays, we don’t need to find people to manufacture our patented ideas in order to get our products manufactured. We can do it ourselves with DIY tools, like CNC tooling, rapid prototyping, and other forms developed by the Maker community, which, guess what, has been around for awhile. Rapid prototyping is cool, but it isn’t new. And the people who are making all kinds of things for themselves, are not new. They’ve been there all along. Maybe they’ve just been discovered. Is this disruptive technology too? Perhaps it is disruptive in that it is now finding a wider audience, and the AEC market is taking a look at what they can make themselves at affordable

Reality Capture

Reality capture is another disruptive technology that has upended the apple cart. 3D laser scanning has come into its own and will continue to gain popularity among AEC professionals as it becomes easier to use and provides increasing accuracy. New tools such as Pointools, Alice Labs, AVEVA LFM Software and ClearEdge 3D reduce import/export bottlenecks, modeling time or eliminate a lot of the manual production associated with 3D models.


Sensors represent disruptive technology that has become an integral part of everyday life. Combining smart sensors with cheap devices will be a game changer in terms of shaping the tools we have to serve us such as the internet.


We are reminded that electricity, the automobile and the computer were considered disruptive technologies. Henry Ford said, “If I listened to the customers, they would’ve said they needed a faster horse. They would not have thought of the automobile.”

Perhaps what is more important about that statement is that not everyone is creative enough to think of the automobile, and also, not everyone is thinking about transportation in the same way. Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Some people are creative and some are not. Perhaps it has to do with environment, encouragement, nourishment and vision in very deep and fundamental ways.

To applaud the new creativity, we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water, eschewing all that corporations may represent in terms of stability and structure. The new thought also takes a stab at education, suggesting that it is no longer necessary to get a college degree, you can be like Steve Jobs or other entrepreneurs and become millionaires – as though the road to that was easy. Just look at all the employees who dropped out of school and didn’t become millionaire entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs.

Bottom line: The fact that technology is available for people to become successful, to make everything from their own homes to manufacturing their own food - does not mean a lot of people will do it. The same way that everyone who picks up a paint brush to paint a picture is not going to become the next Rembrandt.

Top News of the Week

Applied Software, a Autodesk Value-Added Reseller, announced  that it has earned the new Process Plant Specialization designation for value-added resellers from Autodesk, Inc. As an Autodesk Specialized Partner, Applied Software has shown that it has made significant investment in its people, has a solid business plan specific to its specialization area, has customer references and can provide a high level of expertise, experience and support to customers in the AEC and manufacturing industries.

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