December 19, 2011
Top Ten AEC Technology Trends of 2011
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
Top Ten AEC Technology Trends for 2011
By Susan Smith



At the end of 2011, we generally take a look at what technology trends were the most influential over the course of the year.  When compiling this list, I noticed that trends blurred into other categories, or in many cases, were the enabling technologies for others.

The Cloud

We have heard more about the cloud this year than in previous years, and so perhaps readers might say “enough said” on this topic. However, it’s not a topic that will go away any time soon.

Those who offer cloud applications do so to extend the desktop to accomplish things with the Cloud that have not been possible using desktop applications.

James Staten of Forrester Research spoke about the cloud at the recent Autodesk University in Las Vegas. He made a case for the cloud by saying that “clouds are more secure than you are.”

His recommendations:
  1. Focus – clouds can concentrate their whole security team on securing the one app.
  2. Exposure – when cloud outages happens every customer gets upset and they end up in New York Times. When your email system goes down it doesn’t show up in the papers. Because of that risk those creating the cloud invest heavily in the best security minds out there. Every one of those was given a job offer by Amazon, Microsoft, etc. at very high salaries. “If anyone breaks into my account I want to know about it. The cloud is concerned with extreme audits, a security expert, who they hire, who gets into the data center, whether they are making sure malware is up to date,” said Staten.
  3. Validation
  4. Multitenancy – there is far more encryption in the cloud model and it is far more difficult to see that another customer is there to alleviate concerns of privacy such as Pepsi and Coke using the same cloud service, for example.

At Bentley’s Be Inspired Conference Bentley announced a relationship with Microsoft for the Microsoft Azure Platform partner program that will make it possible for Bentley to bring a range of Azure-based cloud services to AECO worldwide. One of the key offerings on Azure will be Bentley Transmittal Services, which will allow the tracking and delivery of transmittals through a dashboard portal. Which segues into the next topic:


In spite of Staten’s claims, many companies are not ready to fully embrace the cloud or may want to use it only for certain things.  Some customers expressed concern at the time about making available designs on the cloud. Thus, security is a big issue. At Autodesk University, IMAGinIT’s Joe Hedrick, infrastructure solutions team manager, said that although they of course support the cloud, many customers are concerned about having data on a public or external place. There is therefore an interest in having a “cloud” as an internal resource.

Enter such companies as Advance2000 which offers on-site support, system up-time, security required, data retention and compliance required by business.  “We provide all the benefits of Cloud computing without forfeiting critical business functions,” according to their brochure. 

Advance2000 BIM Cloud Computing -- Cloud 2.0 from Advance2000 provides a high performance solution for your graphical work stations. The increased speed, as compared to traditional cloud computing, allows users to increase productivity and better utilize valuable resources. You still get the collaborative nature of the cloud but without the worry of the cloud crashing or your data being lost or shared incorrectly.

Autodesk CEO Carl Bass addressed the issue of software licensing and the cloud: “The political legal infrastructure often trails behind where technology is. The question of whether software can be licensed – it was fortunate we prevailed because it took thirty years to decide whether this is the thing, and the cloud may take just as long.

Big issues remain as far as delivery of products into parts of the world where there is no legal infrastructure. The Chinese government doesn’t want outsiders to run that infrastructure inside the country. There are issues around privacy, and issues around industry and commerce. We’re very much at the crawling stage as far as this goes.”

The Crowd

Autodesk coined a fun phrase – “the cloud and the crowd.” Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski said there is a growing imbalance between natural intelligence and growing complexity.  “Complexity is increasing but our heads aren’t getting bigger. The advanced intelligence we wanted has been granted to us in a new way – the cloud and the crowd. Thru infinite computing we now have access to millions of machines and millions of minds. We now have a big mass brain, much smarter than one single brain.”

Infinite computing is Autodesk’s phrase for the cloud. So the cloud makes it possible for more people – the crowd – to access technology and to participate in and have a voice in creation.

In the world of marketing products and designs, crowdsourcing can be a real asset. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s sister Randi Zuckerberg encourages crowdsourcing – an example is Vitamin Water that crowdsourced an entire product from start to finish.

Social Media

Which leads us into the topic of social media, without which crowdsourcing wouldn’t be possible. Who would have thought this topic would end up on an AEC list of technology trends? How many of us are dependent on some form of social media for our ideas, connections and ways of collaborating?

If you want real time communication, group collaboration, share/store project in cloud, simultaneous editing of files, to keep remote workers in the loop, personal profiles, and to better understand each others’ skills – social media could be where it’s at.

Interacting in RealTime with live streaming can be about letting people be part of an instantaneous conversation. Live video and events can help businesses get messages across.


The iPad has made mobile computing ubiquitous to the degree that nearly every software and hardware company has some application or applications that will allow mobile computing. This category then overlaps with applications.

Even the HP DesignJet T2300 eMFP with ePrint Share and integrated scanner is web connected this year and can scan into the cloud. This launch embodies cloud, scan, mobile, cloud and apps all in one product.  ePrint Share is a free download on iTunes that users can use from their mobile device to print to any worldwide location- remotely.

Imagine being able to work on 3D BIM models on mobile devices and share details of those models with non-CAD clients using the multi-touch functionality of iPads and iPhones. Not only would it save time, it is easy to use and employs game-like features that users are familiar with.

Now it is possible with a new product from Graphisoft called BIMx for the iPad. In a recent interview, ArchiCAD Product Manager of Graphisoft Hungary, Tibor Szolnoki explained that BIM Explorer is the most advanced version of the ArchiCAD Virtual Building Explorer. Their current announcement, BIMx for the iPad, allows users to work and “walk around” in 3D models on the iPad or iPhone.

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