Blurring the lines between industries and ideas

Donna Huey | 09 Feb 2015 | Comments

I recently attended two global conferences regarding the use and proliferation of technology in the engineering industry and was truly astounded at the collision of so many professions at one time. In years past, you would find these events filled with techies looking for the next release or new whiz-bang software feature.

But today, you’ll find an equal fill of managers, executives, and owners all looking to up their game. The mergers of CAD with GIS, the technologist with the engineer, and even AEC with industries like movies and gaming, are all creating new ideas and approaches to design by the truckload. All of the traditional lines and boundaries are being blurred.

We speak frequently about the explosion of technology and how significantly it is impacting us. However, I believe the explosion of collaboration and the mixing of ideas between people and industries whose paths rarely crossed previously, or in some cases were even avoided, will be equally if not more revolutionary. Now, combine the advances of technology and the communication between diverse industries at the same time, and we really are embarking on a design renaissance like we have never seen before.

Being a scientist at heart and spending nearly my entire career in the engineering and design community, I find this topic fascinating. It’s a big global experiment and we’re all in it! When you discover new connections in nature it generally yields breakthroughs that advance our thinking or solve misunderstood phenomena. So, as we continue to uncover these new connections in society, who can predict the innovative solutions we might be able to bring to bear! We are facing some of the most complex problems of our time in addressing the long-term infrastructure needs of our society with the delicate environmental balance of our planet.

I firmly believe that with this new age of interdisciplinary collaboration, coupled with advanced technologies, we can build a clearer understanding of options and therefore a clearer path to decision making.

So, how will we evolve as the lines between industries are blurred? How can we ensure we’ll contribute to positive change in the way we approach the global-scale challenges of our industry? What must we do differently in the future to address the global infrastructure challenge? Here are my thoughts:

  • Let’s remember it’s still all about people: The changes we need to make are a little about technology and a lot about people, new roles, and new skills. We need to prioritize our investments accordingly.
  • Human nature is a funny thing: This is not a one and done kind of issue, rather it’s adaptive change that we’ll need to work at continuously. We’ll need to keep working to establish new relationships and new ways of thinking and not let our muscle memory snap us back to our old ways.
  • A new breed of designer: Everyone plays a role in design, not just the engineer—so it’s imperative that we all begin to learn more about how things work. Technologists need a better understanding of engineering, engineers need a better understanding of technology, and we all need to be able to tell a better story, together.
  • Information overload: The design industry is talking a lot right now about BIM (Building Information Modeling), but it’s still an abstract concept to many. What’s most important to understand is the “I”—the purposeful management of information for the whole project life cycle, but recognizing the real value in each piece of information is key. We bring different perspectives to that value depending on the desired outcome or even one’s position in the supply chain. We need to be open and understand this clearly to meet both our project and clients’ needs.

I welcome your comments and feedback in this discussion as we encourage new connections. Through collaboration come breakthroughs. Exciting times aren’t ahead … they are now!