Recapping 2020’s Trends and Challenges in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

As we reflect on 2020, COVID has undoubtedly taken center stage.  The year was not all lost on the built environment, and to miss, some of the key events risk missing out on industry shifts that are likely to impact the relevance of many in the industry. 

Below are some of the highlights we see in the year seemingly lost to the pandemic.

1. Distribution centers, distribution centers, and more distribution centers.

With physical storage real estate scaling up to a concentrated few, we see this as an enabler to low-cost distribution on demand.  Think about how AWS enabled a sea of startups due to low cost compute on demand.  What can a low-cost supply chain network unlock?  What will happen to the Graingers and McMaster Carrs of the world?

2. Robotics Anyone?

 The star of the show in 2020 virtual conferences has been Boston Dynamics’ dog, Spot.  Based on the flashy and shiny object, could this be similar to the big debuts drones and AR headsets have made only to disappear into the abyss of the tech closet graveyard?  Or is this something that will be as ubiquitous as 360 cameras on the job site?  We’ve placed internal bets on Spot’s growth trajectory and time will certainly tell which team prevails.

3. Cloud Computing For the Win.

The staying winner for 2020 and beyond for the industry is undoubtedly cloud computing.   Autodesk’s Construction Cloud, Rhino Cloud Compute, and many custom applications built on AWS and Azure have finally made a huge impact on the industry.  With data quickly getting sucked up into the cloud, we see this as a one way street with no going back into localized computers and siloed data storage.  Cloud management of data from design to facilities operation will undoubtedly open up opportunities to new applications that generate insight and predictive opportunities.

4. The 2020 Buzzword Winner: Digital Transformation

We have seen our AEC clients reach out for advice on a true digital transformation.  A word of warning to those looking into Digital Transformation – this is no different than any change management program.  If you have failed in the past, adopting a new buzzword to rally the troops is not a recipe for success.  Take a hard look at your organization and determine a roadmap to success.

5. Industry Winner: Science

Thankfully, despite what message might be coming across the media, we are seeing owners, developers, and general contractors believing in science.  Job site safety precautions, mask requirements, and outbreak management were all very visible.  We have not seen any of the large firms ignore science-based pandemic management strategies.

6. Digital Twins and The User Experience

We are seeing some breakthrough where the digital thread between design, construction, and operations are starting to link across each other.  Let’s hope this delivers.

7. Most Exciting Opportunity in the Horizon: Trickle Down ESG

We are finally seeing investors push $$$ towards ESG friendly owners and developers which are in turn forcing a hard look onto the design, build, and facility operations.  We believe that ESG represents an opportunity to disrupt the daily choices the industry makes and not only force efficiency down the value chain, but also make more aggressive moves toward zero carbon emissions.

2020 has shown a lot of good in a sea of challenges, but it has also unfortunately created a sharp divide between the haves and have nots.  Travel, hospitality, and entertainment have dropped precipitously, while distribution centers, e-commerce, and cloud computing have grown significantly. 

What does this mean for 2021?  Stay tuned for our next piece in January where we outline and highlight where we believe 2021 will take us.

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