DesignIntelligence Technology Survey shows that A/E/C leaders understand the strategic need to continue tech investments.

Many new technologies follow a familiar progression from inception to acceptance to necessity to ubiquity. First, a new technology simply represents a better hammer with which we can do the same old job faster, albeit somewhat faster or cheaper. As the technology continues to be refined and its users become more adept at using it, they begin to reevaluate and tweak the way they do things to take best advantage of the technology’s strengths. Eventually, the technology matures and users find they are able to accomplish things that they might never even have conceived of in the past.

For example, who knew that the Internet, birthed in the 1960s by visionaries who saw potential in the ability to share military and scientific research data would give rise 40-odd years later to my ability to communicate in 140-character “tweets” every interesting tidbit that transpires in the DesignIntelligence editorial offices ( if you’d like to follow).

As many observers have noted, the era of the lone genius architect is ending, clearing the way for a new period that will be noteworthy for collaboration, integration, and teaming. Driving that evolution is technology – specifically, the rise of building information modeling and its ability to enable integrated project delivery.

Data from the just completed 2009 DesignIntelligence Technology Survey shows that the profitable use of BIM is indeed continuing to grow apace, with 22 percent of firms indicating that half or more of their projects are employing it in a billable manner. This compares to just 12 percent who responded similarly last year.

We also see that in the majority of cases (75 percent), it’s still the architect who drives this decision to leverage BIM technology on a project, putting it to use largely for visualization and clash detection, and somewhat less for sustainable design, marketing, and shop drawing coordination.

As BIM use has increased and more professionals become adept with its use, there’s also been a notable increase in the sharing of project models. More than half (56 percent) of survey respondents said that three-quarters or more of their models are shared with design and construction members inside their firm. This compares to just 39 percent who answered similarly last year. Look for that percentage to take a rapid climb as the impacts of past project success and burgeoning user training take hold.

Although we see the incentive to share BIM models outside of firms is far less intense, with just 17 percent sharing three-quarters of their models or more, that figure still represents a large increase from last year’s 8 percent who shared similarly.

While technology use continues to gain ground, it’s evident that the barren economic landscape is having an effect on technology planning. In 2008, 64 percent of survey respondents projected an increase in their IT spending (as a percentage of net revenue) in the year ahead. In 2009, just 30 percent indicate they will spend more on tech in the next 12 months. Last year, a mere 7 percent predicted decreased IT spending; this year, almost one-third (32 percent) said they foresee it in the near future.

Although such strategic investment adjustments are necessary, design leaders are not without hopeful expectations for the future of technology. Nearly half of the survey respondents, for example, indicated that BIM represents the biggest technology opportunity for their organization.

You’ll see this attitude reinforced in the fascinating technology roundtable that follows our survey report, where participants explain how they are continuing to focus on IT expenditures that are selective and strategic. As always, building value is the name of the game for smart players.

Jane Gaboury is the editor and associate publisher of DesignIntelligence.