By Kirsty Hogg
First things first, what is Forge? Forge is a set of web-based API’s (application program interface); all software is built with an API, and Forge is a toolkit that utilises Autodesk APIs.
Think of them like Lego bricks… Each Autodesk API is a piece of Lego, and Forge allows the user to take these building blocks and build their own bespoke web-based software solutions.
So the day kicked off with the Forge DevCon keynote headed up by Susanna Holt the Vice President of the Autodesk Forge platform. Rather than trying to sell another Autodesk product to the attendee’s, the key theme of the keynote was to define what ‘Digital Transformation’ is.
Microsoft are quoted as saying, “every company is a software company, every company is a digital organisation.” So, no matter what you think of Cundall’s digital capabilities, we are a digital company. Digital is in everything we do; from sending an email or making a Skype call to building 3D models and monitoring sensor data.
Cundall have been digitally transforming for over a decade, and we are now on the next phase of this transformation. From Susanna’s presentation my takeaway was simple. Becoming a company that has software developers is an inevitable reality if we want to stay relevant in an industry with ever decreasing margins. But that doesn’t mean those developers all have to work directly for Cundall. In fact, it likely isn’t very cost effective for us to do this. In all probability Cundall will have a small core team of developers in house, and to enable real success in this area of transformation, we will need to partner with an external software development company.
DPR Construction have been digitally transforming for the last 20 years. They have several strong partnerships and investments with external software companies to aide in their bespoke solutions, of which there are many! They also foster internal developer talent by ‘incubating’ internal R&D digital projects.
By using an external company to develop mission critical software, this removes the pressure on the in-house teams to spend time on development projects for future innovation. Cundall rightly encourages engineers to engage in digital initiatives and development, but as is the nature of business, there is always project work to be delivered. Without fee earning projects, we have no reason to develop software! This inevitably means that time is short for R&D projects.
DPR’s approach to incubating in house development, as they call it, gives them the flexibility to continue to deliver project work and still engage their staff in innovation without asking them to give up all their free time outside of core working hours. I personally think this is a great structure and removes the fear from employees’ minds that if they don’t deliver results quickly, then they will be replaced by someone who can.
Without taking time to increase our employee’s skills and knowledge, we will lose our core values of creativity, collaboration and excellence. Of course, this all relies on Cundall building a relationship with an external development company, but if Cundall want to be industry leaders then we need to embrace both these development streams.
Something else that was also mentioned by a presenter in the keynote was about digital ‘Areas of Focus’. Much like Cundall’s core values, it is now the right time to have similar digital goals as part of our company roadmap.
The Digital Engineering group is obviously a very big part of this, but the development streams within this group are vast. These would need to be stripped down to a set of core goals for the next three to five years and make them part of our company culture to maintain global focus and be able to monitor our digital progression.