What Does the Future Hold for Architecture Practices?

Deltek , 8 October 2021

After a difficult year, how are architecture practices moving forward? ACA’s CEO Angelina Pillai shares her thoughts and responses to the Deltek Clarity survey results.

In a year defined by the pandemic, architecture practices in Australia have found new ways to survive, thrive, and move forward. But what’s been the secret to their success? In the latest Deltek Clarity A&E industry study, hundreds of architecture and engineering practice leaders shared how they have responded to the disruption.

But the Deltek team wanted to see what an industry expert thought of the survey responses – and what they mean for the future of the industry. In this interview with ACA CEO Angelina Pillai, we discussed the technologies architects use today, the adoption barriers practices are facing, and what the future holds for Australian architects.

Data is key for efficiency and profitability in architecture

This year’s Deltek Clarity survey asked participants about their views on emerging technologies: which they were using, which were most important to their firms, and which would be most important in the near future. Unsurprisingly, data technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and big data ranked in the top three for technologies seen as most important by APAC businesses. But why is data so vital for architectural practices?

“Time is money, and architectural practices need more of it,” says Pillai. “They’re dealing with the challenges of low fees, poor procurement practices, project cancellations, and client satisfaction. These are time-consuming business efforts, so architects need to be able to make decisions thoroughly, carefully and in a timely fashion.”

Overcoming adoption barriers across Australian firms

Of course, the story isn’t quite as simple as ‘get technology, save time and money’, something Pillai is quick to point out. “The majority of architectural firms are quite small, and therefore have limited in-house skills in these technologies and how to implement them. Consumer software has overcome this issue by making big data and machine learning work quietly in the background. Perhaps more architectural software has to take the same approach to be accessible to this market.”

Some responses in this year’s Clarity survey directly reflect Pillai’s thinking about accessibility and technology and show a challenge in this area. In fact, 52% of respondents in APAC see ‘difficulty prioritising applicable technologies’ as one of their top three adoption challenges. And 43% cite lack of employee education about trends and how they apply to the industry as major barriers. Pillai sees bespoke training on technology as the only solution: “the trick will be to make sure architects have access to skills and knowledge development in this area, so customised education and training will need to be considered and delivered.

What does the future hold for architecture practices?

One question in the survey asked respondents to rate their firm’s digital maturity as it is today, and where they think it will be in five years. The results suggest that APAC firms today generally operate at a higher level of digital maturity than the global sample, but still just 1% in APAC describe their firm as digitally ‘advanced’. However, 38% expect to reach this level of maturity in five years’ time.

But is this kind of transformation really on the cards for architecture practices in Australia? Pillai certainly thinks so: “Recent years have seen our country ravaged by bushfires, floods and a global pandemic. The climate – along with our natural and social environments, workplaces and housing infrastructures – is being disrupted and dismantled. This has created an urgent need for more effective, faster and cost-viable designs and solutions, supported by clever and sustainable digital technology as an enabler. I truly think we’ll see a paradigm shift as a result of these factors.”

Technology won’t solve everything

While Pillai expects radical technological change in the next few years, she’s keen to stress that some challenges are everlasting, and demand a considered application of technology if firms are to overcome them. “In any creative industry, time ‘efficiency’ is difficult to manage. While there’s certainly an appetite to implement digital technology strategies to drive greater efficiency, the reality is that practices could do with more help and support to align this with their business objectives. This in part is a cultural issue that requires careful management, leadership, flexibility and buy-in from the rest of the business on the change journey.”

The key to achieving this kind of implementation is strong alignment between IT and the rest of the business. Pillai says, “Business and technology should not be decoupled in any organisation’s strategic plan, but they are separate entities requiring smart ‘APIs’ to connect and align them so they can offer an integrated approach to delivering efficiencies for the business. The ACA is certainly keen to explore how and where we can play a part in supporting practices.”

Great projects start with measuring the right KPIs

With all this talk of new, technology-driven data frontiers, we can’t forget about the numbers closest to home: the results measured as part of each organisation’s key performance indicators (KPIs). The survey results show that when it comes to tracking KPIs today, many identify blind spots in their figures. In fact, only around two-thirds of respondents from APAC are tracking any project-specific KPIs.

“It’s definitely a missed opportunity if KPIs are not being tracked,” says Pillai. “Measuring project performance is crucial for enabling robust and effective decision making based on real-time data. It allows visibility on how projects are tracking, helps practices pivot quickly and creates transparency, enabling potential risks to be detected before becoming actual ones. Some key performance areas that practices should be tracking are profit to earnings, project backlogs, debtor days, costs per person and fees per person.”

Get more insights in the full report

It’s clear that firms can find new success, and combat new waves of disruption, by making the most of data. Whether that’s through new technologies like AI, or by more rigorously tracking internal metrics and KPIs, reliable business insight will be vital for practices looking to thrive. But, of course, this is just the beginning of what architecture practices need to succeed.

To learn more about how leading architect practices are thriving, download the full Deltek Clarity A&E Industry Study for EMEA and APAC.