the future of AEC software – an opinion

I have an opinion about the current state, and the future, of software serving the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry. Is that OK, to have an opinion if I back it up?

Software companies serving or entering the AEC industry are situated, at rest or in motion, at different positions on what I’m sure someone, somewhere, has called the “business maturity curve”.

The most mature of these companies exhibit certain kinds of behavior that those of us who’ve been around long enough will recognize painfully. Software companies that we’ve become fans of, because their products are useful, turn into something else. They become sluggish. Their innovation stops. New competitors, new ideas, and technology in general surpasses them. The “mature” company responds with band-aides, in an attempt to tape together across a poorly thought-out, and only fragmentally developed, slapping together of applications that hardly work together, and hardly serve anymore, any relevant purpose. Technical failure is then accompanied by massive overkill marketing campaigns, and market domination by sales force.

For a typical large AEC software company, I invite you to learn what percentage of corporate annual revenue is consumed simply by paying corporate sales and marketing salaries? What percent is paid to shareholders? And what percentage is left then for real R&D that actually pushes product development forward in ways that make a difference?

I don’t know the answers, but I think industry journalists should start asking. Perhaps publicly traded companies provide this information publicly. The reason to know is what we all see: mature software companies become corporate sales armies. Their raison d’être is to sell. Period. Whatever it is they have, that’s what they’re gonna sell. They’ll offer bundling packages, enterprise subscriptions, whole portfolio access, and they will pressure you, like any well paid sales army would, to buy everything on their plate, to the exclusion of any software products you may begin using that are made by other vendors.

This of course, when “successful”, guarantees innovation stagnation. New innovators, with products and services that do make a difference, are nipped in the bud, marginalized, eliminated. The mature industry vendor is therefore relieved of market pressure that otherwise would compel it to invest in actual innovation. But for that, they’d have to invest with money they don’t have. Remember where the revenue goes: to the sales force in a self-perpetuating anti-innovation cycle.

What about acquisitions you say. What about the corporation that buys every competitor? Well who can say really, right? My opinions here are not absolute. If they buy every competitor, they may figure out — though it would take investment, so it would be taking money away from sales — how to put all the pieces together in a way that serves actual customer needs well. This also requires vision, right? It requires being able to see things that don’t exist yet, or that only partially exist. Where’s that (vision) coming from?

As I say, I’m not absolutist in these opinions. There certainly is, I can imagine, a time and a place where corporate enforcement of innovation stagnation is completely appropriate: a time and a place where technology, methods, products and their use have reached a point of real maturation. Of course, writing, or reading the previous sentence reveals its absurdity. Yet for the sake of argument we can imagine that the technology serving a market can reach true maturity, a plateau on which tools and methods really are about as good as they’re going to get.

In such a situation, sure, why not let yourself be mesmerized by marketing that you know is BS, and by sales pressure that’s abusive both to your workflow and to your wallet. << yet more absurdity.

But to allow this now? We are most certainly not at a plateau of  technological maturity in the AEC industry. Some software vendors have such a grip on us that they tell us to act as if we believe the software is mature (when we know it isn’t), and we do! It’s time to realize this and do something about it. Get active again, as customers. It’s our wallets they’re coming after, so keep hold of your wallet and look around with serious purpose, for competitive options. Because they do exist. The industry in fact IS changing, again. It is happening.

Significant new innovation is happening for two reasons. One: because it’s human nature. New players always arrive, driven to solve problems and improve processes that need solving and improvement. And Two: after a couple of decades now of exposure to the sclerotic hardening that comes from corporate maturity itself, which by design self-perpetuates the funneling of corporate revenue into an ever larger sales army at the expense of innovation – the market is hungry for next steps now, which aren’t coming from the mature players. There are many examples of this. And I will name some in future posts. But let me return first to the sclerotic.

There are many examples of rigid unresponsiveness and inability to adapt. BIM itself — yes this very thing that those who champion it claim as excalibur, slicing down the hardened and the obsolete — this thing itself has become the foundation on which is built the most rigid and unadaptable of structures yet seen, and one it turns out that is astonishingly counterproductive. Its flaw is not in any of its already realized aspects but rather at its beginning where its premise was incomplete, rigid, and wrong.

On this foundation, we no longer need a sales army. We need a new conception, and a new culture of innovation. As customers holding wallets, deciding where to spend our money, we need to seek this. BIM is incomplete, and its dominant vendors act as if they intend to keep it that way, which of course is exactly as expected: every company that reaches maturity always acts the same way.

I have a gift to the AEC industry and the software industry that serves it, a free book that describes the past, the present, and in detail the future evolution of media itself.

The media at the core of the architecture, engineering, and construction industry – drawings and models – is evolving and is going to continue to evolve, fundamentally, the same way that sound and film evolved (radically) when sound was infused into silent film. Both changed, in fusion, and a third was created, greater than the sum of its parts.

The book is here on Apple Books: Tangerine Media Innovation Spec 2018 and in PDF for Windows and Android here.




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