ConTech Conversations: For Young Industry Professionals, “Ask What You Need”
ConTech Conversations features a monthly discussion with a leader in the field of building technology. Click here for past discussions.
Jim Lynch, it’s safe to say, has seen a lot. Senior Vice President and General Manager of Autodesk Construction Solutions, Lynch has seen many contech trends evolve over his 25 years in the industry, from automation and AI development to a new future with robots. and digital twins. His experience also helps him identify future trends, such as the use of robots and digital twins in the construction industry, which he hopes will become mainstream in the years to come.
After graduating from Fitchburg State University in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, he found his way to several different companies before joining Autodesk in 1997. While there, Lynch worked with the company on the computer-aided design, developing the next-generation mechanical design product. Autodesk inventor.
Here, Lynch talks about his career, the most impressive contech developments of the past 25 years, and what he thinks the next 25 will bring.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What sparked your interest in construction technology?
JIM LYNCH: I was intrigued after working on Autodesk Inventor for three years. I paid particular attention to the other best-served markets [by technology], and I’ve always found the build space interesting. It seemed inefficient and produced a lot of waste. Each project seemed unique. I remember thinking, “If construction could incorporate more mechanical or manufacturing technologies and processes [such as] right to drive, more predictability and consistency and better use of materials and resources, that could be really interesting.
In 2003 we acquired a product called Revit, which was a small company at the time, but with a big vision. Today, Revit is the world’s leading tool for architectural and engineering design in the AEC space. He introduced the concept of BIM to the market. We knew there was really something in there: it took CAD to the next level with more intelligence, more automation, more information and more data. As we made great strides in the AEC market, we turned to construction. We have seen more progress in construction in terms of automation and technology adoption in the last 5-7 years than before. We still have a long way to go, but the customers I speak to understand that technology can play a key role in helping them run a more predictable, safer and more sustainable business.
In your career, what singular advancement has impressed you the most?
I’ve been impressed with how quickly the industry has embraced, in its simplest form, tools to foster better collaboration. I hear every day from our customers how much time it saves and how much extra work it eliminates.
There are also so many things that have impressed me with what I’m seeing in terms of technology adoption and usage. I was talking to a client recently, and he said, “We don’t consider ourselves a construction company. We see ourselves as a data company that builds. I’ve been really impressed to see clients using data from a previous project to extract key learnings and insights to drive better results. All of this is made possible by technologies such as machine learning. Watching how the industry has embraced machine learning has been inspiring and compelling.
If you look further, the idea of robots on site, more modular construction, more offsite construction, more prefabrication – we start to see more of that. We are already seeing better results, and it is early. I’m really inspired by what I see.
You have been in this industry for 25 years. What’s coming in the next 25?
The data is going to be huge. Artificial intelligence is going to play a huge role in the industry: I think it’s going to change the way we do inspections and it’s going to fundamentally change the way we build. You’re going to see a much closer connection between design and construction.
The other big thing we’re going to see is the concept of the digital twin. It’s a buzzword these days. We are working on a digital twin called Tandem: the idea of being able to deliver [the] project to the owner and not only giving him the keys to his building, but giving him a digital asset that allows him to predict when a chiller is going to fail, to understand every moment of the life of this asset. I think you’ll see more sensors used during construction, operations, and maintenance so teams can have accurate information at all times throughout a project’s lifecycle.
What advice do you have for older entrepreneurs looking to embrace technology for the first time?
In some ways, I think the construction industry has a bad reputation. He has a reputation for not wanting to use technology, but we’ve seen great adoption of our technology, especially by contractors and project teams on the jobsite. So my message to those who haven’t embraced collaboration tools like Autodesk Build is: don’t be afraid. These tools are made and designed with people like you in mind. People who have to get up and run fast, who don’t have weeks to take a training course, who can’t afford to stay even an hour trying to figure out how to do something. Don’t shy away from technology because you think it’s going to be a burden. It shouldn’t be a burden. It should help you do your job better, faster, and more reliably.
And what advice do you have for young people starting out in the industry?
We are at such a turning point in this industry. If you fast forward to where we need to be 20, 30 years from now in terms of infrastructure being built around the world, we’re a long way from what we’re going to need for housing, schools, hospitals, communities, etc This industry has such a bright future, and technology will play a huge role in it.
Look at what’s happening in the construction startup industry today. Every day, billions of dollars are pouring in from venture capital aimed at increasing construction automation. Embrace it, push, and ask for what you need that’s missing, whether it’s asking Autodesk or a startup. Construction becomes better, safer and ultimately sustainable.