Competitiveness and payback are the primary strategic factors to consider when looking at the advantages and risks of new technology. Although there is much to be optimistic about right now, some issues continue to weigh on the minds of professional practice leaders. Our rapidly changing industry includes product manufacturers, architects and designers, contractors, and engineers (PACE).

Competitiveness and payback are the primary strategic factors to consider when looking at the advantages and risks of new technology.

Although there is much to be optimistic about right now, some issues continue to weigh on the minds of professional practice leaders. Our rapidly changing industry includes product manufacturers, architects and designers, contractors, and engineers (PACE). Of course, it is the owners, the clients large and small, who bring together the resources to enable projects. They too drive innovation and create their own dimensions of profound change in our industry. This is today’s unfolding reality.

The accelerated change affects all players in the PACE industry; however, there are a number of events both economic and structural that now put technology investments front and center as a strategic priority. When managers and organizational decision-makers consider the advantages and risks of new technology, they are looking at the issues of competitiveness and payback as the two primary driving strategic factors.
Although the Greenway Group reports that industry leaders remain confident about their prospects for revenue growth this year, we estimate that more than 72 percent of architects, engineers, and designers believe the current environment is making their organizations and their clients risk-averse. This slows hiring, delays capital purchases, and interferes with aggressive and entrepreneurial growth plans. Therefore, caution and resiliency are on the minds of leaders. And because of this, we’ve noticed that organizations are slow to hire recent graduates. Contingency plans are front of mind, and leaders are willing to pull the trigger if this economy tanks, even a little. Patience is thin.

In this uncertain context, leaders know that technology can make their business systems more efficient, and that it can be an important resource priority. The feedback we get tells us that the following questions are most frequently being asked about technology and resource allocation this year:

  • Do the service providers and vendors have proven track records? Are they keeping pace?
  • What about the cloud? 
  • Do vendors have meaningful industry involvement – not just a sales campaign? 
  • What do the association roundtables and conferences share about service repute, follow-through, and responsiveness?
  • Does the firm have the best empirical talent on staff and can they use the new tools? How alert are they to the innovation happening in our industry? Can they think strategically?
  • Do firms have a way to measure return on investment in hardware and software?
  • How does our performance dashboard compare with firms of similar size and type? What new efficiencies might technology bring to the organization? Does this justify investment?
  • Are the behavioral habit patterns in the firm open-minded toward fast adoption?
  • This the firm facing competitive disadvantages by not adopting new technology? What are they?

The Greenway Group conducts ongoing research on the future of the design professions and the PACE indsutry. In the coming months, we will continue to explore the challenges facing leaders in our industry, and we will discuss issues around competitiveness. We recognize that there are many challenges facing leaders and managers but so too are opportunities. Brilliant new horizons are possible.

Technology is reinventing the entire industry. If you are wondering whether or not to adopt new systems, it is our belief, as a general rule, not to wait. Competitive fitness should be your mandate.

Enjoy this issue of DesignIntelligence. Technological changes are developing so rapidly that it’s impossible to understand them and make good sense of it all. Still, let’s keep trying.

James P. Cramer is chairman and CEO of the Greenway Group, a foresight management consultancy. Cramer is president of the Design Futures Council, the publisher and founding editor of DesignIntelligence, and former chief executive of the American Institute of Architects.