The Present and Future: A Look into AECO Trends in 2024 and Beyond

As we step into 2024, AECO remains at the forefront of significant changes, propelled by technological advancements, sustainability initiatives, and global shifts. We asked several industry experts to share their perspectives on the status quo of BIM, AI, regulations, sustainability and other trending areas in AECO.

A Glimpse into AECO's Evolution So Far

In the ever-evolving landscape of Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Operations (AECO), understanding and predicting future trends is crucial for staying ahead. As we step into 2024, AECO remains at the forefront of significant changes, propelled by technological advancements, sustainability initiatives, and global shifts. These changes encompass the integration of AI and ML in design processes, a growing focus on sustainable construction, and the rise of digital collaboration tools. The need for resilient design and adaptive infrastructure is urgent, presenting a unique opportunity for AECO to contribute to a sustainable and technologically advanced world.

We asked several industry experts to share their perspectives on the status quo of BIM, AI, regulations, sustainability and other trending areas in AECO.

A Look into AECO Trends in 2024 and Beyond

Growth of Startups

The rise of free, open-source programming interfaces for BIM has led many AECO professionals to incorporate programming into their workflows, sparking a surge in industry-specific startups. These startups, while innovative, sometimes overlook established workflows and data pipelines, leading to challenges in integration. Users may find the process of exporting, importing, and reconstructing data cumbersome, potentially leading to a decline in the initial enthusiasm. Furthermore, promising in-house applications developed by design firms often struggle to gain widespread industry adoption, as they lack the focused dedication needed to create scalable, user-friendly applications. Creation of single tools for isolated issues will continue to grow, but the real upcoming trend are complex solutions that free users from having to use 5-10 different programs in their daily work.

BIM Software to the Rescue (and Justified Costs)

Professionals are witnessing a new era where algorithms and virtual models enhance precision and lay the foundation for intelligently conceived and visualized structures. BIM is evolving from being a tool for designers to a practice for all stakeholders, though full adoption across the construction sector is still in progress. Technology has advanced to offer more benefits and reduce errors. Accurate information prevents mistakes, saving time and costs, while inaccurate data leads to the opposite. Industry tools that improve the accuracy and quality of BIM data will guarantee a more streamlined and error-resistant project lifecycle, a change that all stakeholders will welcome.

Louis Trümpler, Founder of LT+, is confident about the future of BIM: “BIM will have to be the foundation, and we need a whole connected ecosystem of optimization and analysis tools that allow us to reliably reach set targets.”

Implementing new technologies like BIM comes with initial costs. Despite the benefits of BIM in transforming project conceptualization and execution, the upfront investment in training and integration can be substantial. However, the BIM Software Market Report of 2023 indicates that BIM implementation can enhance efficiency rates by 25-30%, demonstrating its transformative impact on project management, design precision, and collaboration among various stakeholders. As the industry recognizes these long-term benefits, the initial costs of BIM are likely to be overshadowed by its lasting advantages.

Workforce and Collaboration Evolution

While technology in the construction sector has advanced rapidly, the integration of digital tools and processes has been slower. A significant portion of the workforce faces challenges in adopting digital tools, impacting the effective utilization of advanced technologies. This digital competence gap affects not only individual professionals but also project efficiency, collaboration, and innovation. Transformative project management software is emerging, offering a more efficient industry environment. However, these tools require skilled users, and processes vary from country to country.

“We're already quite good at collaboration across companies and stakeholders in the Nordics, but there's hopefully more collaboration to come. I don't think we can solve the biggest problems within our own silos, so let's continue and expand collaboration in the years ahead.” - says Stian Ø. Ingvaldsen, Head of Digital Operational Excellence and Applications at Multiconsult.

The design industry in AECO is being reshaped by the growing demand from clients for more detailed information from designers' BIM processes. This requirement for consistent, project-specific digital construction or operations data is vital for the value of downstream data in non-design teams. Designers are thus facing a challenging situation, with reduced margins but increased demands for high-quality data delivery, tailored for each project. This creates a demanding environment for everyone in the industry.

“Better data, models and software will enhance collaboration and communication and will enable more people and companies to do more with less. The level of adaptation of building from models instead of drawings in some of our projects is unbelievable. I nearly gave up on it 10 years ago, but the world has changed, and our industry is finally starting to follow.” - adds Stian.

AI, AR, VR, ML, and DL

The integration of AI-based technologies in Asset Management (AM) is growing, with researchers exploring more cost-effective and efficient methods to alleviate human labor and advance intelligent construction asset management practices. The most notable AI application in AECO is Scan-to-BIM, which focuses on large structural elements for automatic Object Detection (OD) and revolutionizes tracking of MEP components. However, the effectivity of scanning is dependent on the BIM model quality. The advancement in AI and ML in AECO hinges on high-quality data, and technology providers are starting to acknowledge this need.  

Weronika Budnik, Head of Product in Anker, also notes the increasing adoption rate of AI and gives a perspective on the future developments: “Anker's commitment to automation aligns seamlessly with this trend, working on providing users with a great opportunity to integrate AI into their BIM processes. Anker has already automated numerous data processes and the exploration of further AI integration is underway. Particularly in the onboarding process, where dealing with a multitude of documents and initial project data can be time-consuming, AI offers a solution. The vision is to significantly reduce the time spent on manual work, making good data quality accessible to everyone involved in the project. In essence, the future of Anker with AI is one where BIM data management becomes not only more efficient but also more inclusive. The synergy between user-friendly interfaces and the power of AI ensures that individuals, regardless of their technical skill sets, can actively contribute to maintaining high-quality BIM data throughout the entire project lifecycle.”

Håvard Vasshaug, Founder of Anker, highlights the potential of AI: “From my perspective, one of the major future benefits of AI will be that our customers and users can very easily build their own integrations, apps and applications using our open API’s. We’re already seeing it working.” He adds, “Much of Anker is based on different types of AI and there will be more ways to integrate AI to generate content and connect products and data that are applicable and valuable on the construction site.”

Widespread adoption of BIM software with AI components to process large amounts of data seem to be what the market needs, and such demand will grow with time.

Stian from Multiconsult, believes AI will help the AECO industry tremendously in making better decisions. “Getting 15 iterations of an analysis, instead of 3, in a fraction of the time will help us make better decisions faster, as well as finding relevant information much faster and easier. There are many applications of this technology: analyzing, verifying, sorting and synthesizing large datasets, assisting with early phase planning and modelling and so on. AI will handle the tedious tasks, and let our Engineers and Architects focus on the fun stuff.”

Navigating Sustainable Paths

Sustainable construction is taking center stage in the industry, driven by a collective commitment to environmental stewardship. Builders are increasingly using eco-friendly materials, and the rise of green construction standards and certifications is evident. The pursuit of net-zero energy buildings is becoming a prominent goal.

Artur Tomczak, bsdd Product Manager at buildingSMART International, speaks to this shift: “We live in times when sustainable design practices are no longer optional but imperative. Building materials’ embodied emissions account for around 11% of global emissions (IEA & UNEP, 2018), three times more than the whole aviation industry. To catch up with ambitious declarations, more and more countries are making LCA obligatory for building projects. Measurement and documentation are great steps towards improvement, but only if the data produced is consistent and of the right quality. This is particularly important in the advent of AI and data-driven decision-making. I take it as a beacon of hope that countries are simultaneously adopting the IFC, the global standard for describing, sharing and exchanging building information in a consistent form. Interoperable data allows designers to analyze, compare options, visualize performance and ultimately make better decisions. Now that we know how our designs impact the environment, and it's usually unpleasant and eye-opening knowledge, let's not stop there, and do something about it. Following circularity principles, we should question how much we need to construct, seek opportunities for prolonging lifespans, reuse and adaptation of existing building stock, and, at last, strive to apply regenerative materials. But for that, we need trustworthy data about existing and designed buildings, as well as evidence of the consequences of our decisions. I'm certain that passing qualitative, interoperable and transparent data on, in the long run, helps address the climate impact of the built environment.”

Innovations are not just changing our methods but redefining the very fabric of operations in the industry. These advancements promise more efficient, sustainable, and intelligent approaches to building and design, heralding a new age in the built environment. Moreover, our well-being in the future also depends on adopting better practices.

Louis Trümpler is passionate about these changes not only on a professional level, but personal as well: “Especially since I have children, I do feel a certain pressure to have a positive impact. This is a part of my everyday motivation and what drives me.”

Regulatory Landscape and New Pain Points

The global adoption and integration of BIM in construction practices vary greatly, with many countries still in the early stages of BIM regulation. Navigating these diverse regulatory environments is essential for successful project execution. The trend towards more regulatory and environmental requirements is expected to increase the demand for BIM specialists, including coordinators, managers, and technicians, reflecting the industry's commitment to a digitally driven future, but there are issues.

Louis Trümpler is confident that transparency is much needed to establish an appropriate level of accountability in the industry when it comes to making greener decisions. “We are getting nowhere without clear regulations. If we look closely, the AEC sector is one of the worst in terms of lack of rules and enforcement, as well as emissions.”

According to Louis, comparing between different countries is difficult due to different ways of measuring parameters, and while a few are leading the way (like Denmark), others are not fully fulfilling the commitments. This questions the effectiveness of new policies implemented and hinders the effort to establish solid green practices in the industry. “In France, planners have to provide a Life Cycle Assessment for every new building, but the rumor says checking factual calculations is not an adopted practice. In Switzerland, we do have guidelines and norms that include targets but no mandatory LCA or similar. I believe it is the same for Germany, UK and other countries.”

Stian from Multiconsult reflects on the pain points that are interconnected with the increasing regulatory requirements. “There's just no easier way than to give some economic incentives to picking the greener, more sustainable options. But we also have some work cut out for us in the tech department as well. I'll give you two pain points. Firstly, the availability of open databases for environmental product data. This is worse in some product and market areas than others, but it should've been in place years ago. It's hard to pick the greener option, when you have no verified information to make a decision based on. We have to make it easier for designers, building owners and other key stakeholders to see the full big picture. By that I mean that it's too difficult to see the full impact of the decisions that are made in the different phases of a building's lifecycle. Secondly, some choices seem obvious when you just look at the carbon footprint, but that's just one piece of a large puzzle. Is it worth saving that extra percent of energy in the building performance, if that means poorer indoor climate?”

On another note, the issue of accounting for all the waste in the industry is lacking transparency as well. “We don't really know how many emissions our sector creates because we don't even account for all of them. The cement production in Europe has mainly switched from using traditional fuels to so-called “alternative fuels” - basically, just old tires and other “nasty” materials with high energy content. The thing is, it doesn't have to be included in Environmental Product Declaration because they lobbied successfully to have it considered it as waste.” - says Louis.

What’s next for AECO?

As we gaze into the future of the Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Operations (AECO) sector, it is clear that the industry is on the cusp of a transformative era. The integration of innovative technologies, the imperative of sustainability, and the evolution of global regulatory landscapes will shape the trajectory of AECO in profound ways. Here's what the future might hold:

Embracing Comprehensive Digital Integration

The future of AECO lies in the seamless integration of technologies like BIM, AI, ML, AR, and VR into every facet of the industry. The challenge will be to move beyond isolated applications and towards holistic, interconnected systems that streamline every phase of a project, from conception to completion. This will necessitate a cultural shift within the industry, fostering an environment where continuous learning and adaptation are the norms.

Advancing Towards True Sustainability

Sustainability will transcend being a mere trend and become the cornerstone of all AECO practices. The focus will expand from the use of eco-friendly materials to encompass the entire lifecycle of structures, emphasizing circularity, energy efficiency, and minimal environmental impact. Regulatory bodies will play a crucial role in this transition, establishing and enforcing stringent environmental standards and policies.

Nurturing a Skilled and Adaptable Workforce

As the industry becomes increasingly digital and technologically driven, the skills gap in the workforce will need to be addressed urgently. Continuous education and training programs will become essential, equipping professionals with the necessary digital competencies. Collaborative efforts between educational institutions, technology providers, and industry leaders will be key to cultivating a workforce that is both skilled and adaptable.

Data-Driven Decision Making

The future of AECO will be heavily data-driven. High-quality, reliable data will be the backbone of decision-making processes, enabling more precise planning, design, and construction. AI and ML technologies will be leveraged to analyze and interpret vast amounts of data, leading to more informed and efficient project management.

Enhanced Collaboration and Communication

Cross-disciplinary and cross-border collaboration will become more prevalent, facilitated by digital platforms and tools. This will break down silos within the industry, leading to more innovative and effective solutions to complex challenges. Communication channels will evolve, allowing for more transparent and real-time sharing of information among all stakeholders.

Regulatory Alignment and Transparency

As the industry grapples with diverse global regulatory environments, there will be a move towards greater standardization and alignment of regulations, particularly in the realms of sustainability and digital construction practices. Transparency in regulatory compliance and environmental impact assessments will be paramount, ensuring accountability and fostering trust among all stakeholders.

Addressing New Challenges

With advancements come new challenges. The industry will need to tackle issues such as cybersecurity in digital systems, ethical implications of AI applications, and the environmental impact of emerging technologies. These challenges will require a proactive and collaborative approach, with stakeholders from various sectors working together to find balanced and effective solutions.

By embracing these changes and challenges, AECO will not only transform itself but also play a pivotal role in shaping a more sustainable, efficient, and resilient built environment.


We want to thank Louis Trümpler, Stian Ø. Ingvaldsen, Artur Tomczak, our Weronika Budnik and Håvard Vasshaug for providing insights and to contributing to this article.

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