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June 19, 2020

ACEC Research Institute Roundtable Experts Optimistic About Impact of Technology on Engineering

A roundtable of engineering futurists said Thursday the industry’s future will require more engineers, be more decentralized, and see an enhanced appreciation of infrastructure as a key component to the nation’s quality of life.

The ACEC Research Institute sponsored “The Impact of Technology on Engineering” roundtable, which featured Jose Luis Blanco, partner, McKinsey & Company; Mike Haley, vice president of Research, Autodesk; Chris Luebkeman, director strategic foresight, office of the president, ETH Zurich; and Heather Wishart-Smith, senior vice president, technology and innovation, Jacobs. More than 250 ACEC members listened to the discussion and submitted questions.

The panelists addressed a wide variety of issues including the near-and long-term impacts of new technology; future changes in industry culture and practice; and the need for adapting to and retaining new engineering graduates.

Haley said that the rapid industry adoption of new technology will increase the need for more engineers. “I believe we’re going to need many more engineers as we further open up the world to all kinds of possibilities with all these new tools,” he said.

Blanco emphasized how advanced technology will enhance project design. “I think if we have more data, we have more transparency and then our designs are going to be much more outcome-driven and we’re going to be able to provide better service to our owners.”

Wishart-Smith, however, cautioned in an industry focused on innovation, that “not all technology is innovation and not all innovation is technology,” she said. “Despite new technology, you still have to trust the people applying the technology.” She also sees a more diverse future engineering industry. “Study after study shows that inclusive and diverse companies and organizations perform better. It allows us as an industry to cast the widest net to draw the widest possible pool of candidates. Once you achieve that critical mass of diversity, that's when you can get the most benefit from diversity of thought.”  

Luebkeman believes data management advancements will particularly benefit small firms with improved efficiency and industry importance. “It's all about access. You previously did not have access to first-class knowledge unless you were in a center. We right now are in two different continents and seven different time zones, and yet we're all accessing each other at this moment with almost 300 other people.”

Click here to stream the roundtable.

This was the first of three roundtables sponsored by the Research Institute to look into the future of engineering. The second roundtable, “The Buildings We Live and Work In” will be on June 25 at 3:30 pm ET and will feature expert panelists discussing what lasting impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the design of the commercial, high-rise, healthcare, and mixed-use buildings of the future. Click here to register.

On July 16 at 1:30 pm ET, the “Funding in the New Normal” roundtable will address how the U.S. economy will recover, what markets will lead the way, and what firms must do to ensure they aren’t left behind. Click here to register.


All comments to blog posts will be moderated by ACEC staff.

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