Eight challenges when adopting technologies for global practice
AIA’s Global Practice Primer was updated in January 2018 with three new chapters: Technology in international practice, Global sustainability, and International human resource development. This excerpt from the technology chapter focuses on the need to plan for—and potentially benefit from—tech solutions that work globally.
International practice brings with it a set of challenges that are somewhat different from domestic practice. Some are more relevant than others in driving the adoption of the technologies in architecture firms. These challenges can be opportunities for enhancing competitiveness and operational efficiencies in competing in the vast global market.
Expanded time and space
Communication and collaboration across multiple time zones, national borders, and far-flung geographical locations of projects and offices is one of the greatest challenges. Although domestic firms with multiple offices often face the issue of working across multiple time zones, in international work the extent of the time difference is magnified; a 1-hour time difference can easily become as much as a 15- or 16-hour time difference.
A site visit to the project may no longer be just a few hours flight away and could involve more than a day of traveling. Communication and collaboration technologies required to support international practice have to be capable of coping with this expanded time and space difference. For firms operating local satellite offices overseas, professional service management technologies must be adopted to support global practice, such as additional modules to handle different currencies and accounting standards consistent with the target market.
Need for operational efficiency
For firms competing in the global market, cost-effective technological solutions are essential to maintain competitiveness against other global firms operating in the target market. Accordingly, professional service management technologies must provide the operational efficiency to enable the firm to have real time assessment and reporting of project status, both in terms of service delivery as well as cost accounting and invoicing control.
To mitigate the high cost of international travel for in-person meetings, it is more cost effective to leverage communication and collaboration technologies to host virtual meetings and interact with consultants scattered across the globe. This is also true with local consultants, such as China’s Local Design Institutes (LDIs).
Technological innovation as unique selling point or differentiator
Technology can be used to deliver innovative solutions and unique values, balancing customization to meet local need with client aspirations and cultural context.
Foreign clients expect that the foreign firms they engage possess superior design technologies and expertise to justify the higher fee they pay compared to local firms. BIM capability is frequently expected of US consultants, particularly for high-density, high-rise, complex mixed-use projects. Clients look for the firm’s ability to produce exciting, innovative design solutions.
Harnessing social media
Social media provides an opportunity to publicize a firm’s niche capability and branding. Advances in social media in recent years have allowed firms to harness the reach of media technologies to market directly and instantly to key decision makers within the foreign clients’ organizations and to cultivate business relationships.
This advance in technology opens a whole new way to engage customers and build brand awareness. Social media can get a firm’s message across more swiftly than text messaging, which is subject to the physical limits of an end-to-end communication channel. Text messages are also vulnerable to peak period overload.
Regulatory compliance through digital submission
Just as municipal codes and bylaws for domestic markets are typically accessible online, foreign regulatory agencies are also increasingly making planning and building regulations easily accessible online. The more advanced among them have moved into the electronic/digital submission process. The result is an increasingly transparent process, which enables a more seamless cross-border service delivery in some overseas markets.
More savvy clients often require a project to meet standards well beyond the local regulatory agencies’ mandates in order to align with global best practices and meet their own global clients’ needs.
Interoperability of differing technologies
When sharing information across borders, compatibility issues are typically resolved with the leading local software or hardware, which is often different from technologies used in the US.
To operate effectively internationally, it is critical to have the right software compatibility with the design, communication, and collaboration technologies that are essential to working with the local team and global consultants involved in the project. When foreign clients engage with US consultants, it is likely the client is also working with other foreign consultants. Therefore, software compatibility and access is an important issue that should be considered in early stages of a project.
The technological capability for translating data input or output seamlessly to the local language for planning and permitting purposes by local architects-of-record as well as compatibility issues with multiple platforms and standards must be considered. This is a unique challenge that firms operating in domestic markets do not face, and this should be dealt with early in the firm’s venture abroad.
All software technologies, such as graphic design software, must be capable of accommodating input and output in multiple languages to enable access by the local design team collaborating on the project. For permitting, software capabilities should include annotation and labelling in the local language, as should your firms’ design, communication, and collaboration and project management technologies.
Cybersecurity & system maintenance
With global practice transcending national borders, cybersecurity assumes a greater significance given the increased digital information exchange. This vastly increased exposure to security threats from overseas hackers and criminal organizations, in addition to similar domestic threats, means the development of an appropriate cybersecurity strategy is critically important to protect the data flow during service delivery and to ensure business continuity in the face of those threats.
Since overseas work usually spans multiple time zones, corporate IT staff resources must be on call to minimize downtime to effectively support satellite offices operating during afterhours of the home office.
For more on expanding your practice globally, download the Global Practice Primer.