How practices can prepare for the future

Deltek & Angelina Pillai , 15 September 2022

Amid continued change, how are architecture firms preparing for the future? ACA CEO Angelina Pillai shares her thoughts on the Deltek Clarity A&E Study results.

As the world continues to recover from the pandemic, architecture practices are increasingly focusing on the importance of digital transformation – with firms in Asia Pacific leading the way. This is one of the key findings from the 3rd Annual Deltek Clarity Architecture & Engineering (A&E) Industry Study, which recently surveyed 600 decision-makers from A&E practices around the world on benchmarks, market conditions and industry trends.

Deltek spoke to the ACA’s CEO Angelina Pillai, keen to hear her perspective on the results. In this interview, she shares her insights on the state of digital transformation among Australian architectural practices, how to improve operational efficiencies, and the growing challenge of attracting talent.

Digital transformation or digital normalisation?

According to the Deltek Clarity A&E Industry Study, the pandemic highlighted weaknesses in operational models for many businesses, rapidly pushing digital improvements up the priority list. A&E firms in the Asia Pacific are more advanced than any other region in their digital transformation, but there are still plenty of challenges for them to overcome.

As you might expect, investment is a major issue, particularly for small and medium-sized practices. The pandemic forced large firms to improve their digital infrastructure to ensure remote teams could remain connected. But many firms must still balance the need to innovate with other pressing issues like project cancellations and staffing problems.

As a result, the pace of change is currently more steady evolution than rapid revolution. “Firms are taking the time to establish their needs and find a more consistent approach with their digital strategies,” says Pillai.

The sheer pace of innovation is also contributing, Pillai adds, with so much new technology making it hard for practices to keep up. “Is it going to solve a problem or create new ones? That’s the million-dollar question for many firms.”

Understanding more with data science

Emerging technologies are all seen as more important than they were last year, according to the survey, with data science now moving ahead of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning as the most crucial of all.

This is down to the role data plays in a variety of areas, from decision-making and design to processes, says Pillai. “With greater emphasis now placed on social and environmental sustainability, including First Nations design principles, there is perhaps a need for practices to understand what data is telling them before they can automate or digitise,” she says. “Practices must re-evaluate their technological needs and are looking for data to assist their decision-making processes.”

Attracting and retaining talent

But preparing for the future is not all about technology. The ‘Great Resignation’ is being felt across almost every industry and architecture is no exception. In a jobseekers’ market, candidates can afford to be selective. Professionals are currently looking for practices that offer diverse work, a strong focus on innovation as well as flexible and generous working conditions.

Increasingly, money talks, and many smaller practices are losing staff to larger firms with bigger budgets, says Pillai. “But it’s not always about the money,” she adds. “Workers are looking for employers whose values and purpose align with theirs. Many insist on the importance of a healthy and innovative practice culture.”

To strengthen their position, firms should focus on areas like open communication, mentoring and training, particularly in increasingly important digital skills. Technology can help, too, says Pillai. “Smart people management systems with equally smart reward and recognition software will be a game changer. They can be linked to robust learning and development plans to foster employee engagement.”

Prioritise costs and efficiency to compete internationally

The Deltek Clarity A&E Study shows that firms in the Asia Pacific are more likely to focus on process improvement, cost savings and increasing efficiency over the next three years than their European counterparts.

Are these the right areas to focus on? Pillai thinks so: “Building and construction problems are becoming more complex. So, practices should keep adding value by improving their processes, benchmarking their financial performance, setting proper and profitable fee proposals, managing projects within those fees, and generally keeping a careful eye on the overall business of architecture. All without compromising the integrity of their value, culture and worth.”

For Australian architectural practices competing in a global market, this won’t be easy, adds Pillai. “They’re playing catch up and the next three years will be critical. They need to solve the ‘wicked’ problems of the built environment and get value for money doing it.”

Learn more in the full report

As architectural firms around the world switch from survival mode to more strategic planning, benchmarking performance and digital maturity with their peers has never been more important.

To find out more about how leading architecture practices are preparing for the future, download the full Deltek Clarity A&E Industry Study for EMEA and APAC.