Joe Thompson has spent his career finding great tech solutions to numerous business challenges and is an expert in digital transformation and product management.
He, along with architect Tom Gresford, is one of the co-founders of briq.works, an online tool to help architects manage their projects.
Joe, let’s start by talking about tech use in the architecture space. You’ve said in the past that tech has done a poor job of serving architect practices. Why do you think this is?
The digital transformation of the world is still very much a work in progress. Some industries – the larger and more wealthy ones such as financial services and retail – have certainly been very fast and very forceful in responding to all of the opportunities that tech and digital offers.
Architecture as an industry though, is so much smaller and more fragmented. There’s not one business model. There’s no national chain of residential architects. Many architect practices are operating as single person practices, or smaller practices of around five to ten people.
Perhaps in the past, the architecture space hasn’t been seen as a coherent place for a ‘one size fits all’ tech approach. Maybe there’s also been the assumption that architecture as an industry is not well populated by technology because it doesn’t need technology. But I’d argue that there are many more opportunities for digital tools in pretty much every industry.
I read recently that smaller to medium-sized practices are investing more in back-office and productivity tools as a way of both expanding their practices as well as offering a competitive advantage in the market. Do you agree?
I’d say it’s a combination of things. There’s certainly a perception that architects are not ‘high-tech’ people but personally I can’t find any evidence to support this. Certainly, tools such as CAD and 3D renderings and visualizations are really good examples to demonstrate that there is in fact an appetite for tools that add value to the design process.
Digital tools are adopted where there is a really solid productivity benefit, where they support the process that they were designed for. A lot of productivity tools out there on the market aren’t actually that good, and the architects that I have spoken to haven’t been persuaded that they are that useful to them. Which is why Tom and I reached the conclusion that there is a need for something a little more bespoke in the architecture space.
How do you see architecture practices changing over the next few years?
The most dynamic architecture practices that I’ve seen are very much run like businesses. They see that a lot of what a client expects an architect to do is not just designing buildings, but also communication and collaboration throughout the project.
And right from the start, a potential client might come to an architect with an idea, a Pinterest board, and want the architect’s opinion. For architects, they need to think about how much time and expertise they are prepared to share for free before being hired.
In my opinion, that’s something that the really dynamic practices we see are very, very strong at. They really have a process for managing the pre-sale cost versus what’s actually billable work.
Leading on from that, who else do you think are doing interesting things in the tech space in architecture and construction? Who are the ones to watch?
Our friends at Weaver are taking a similar approach to us in the tendering and contract management part of the puzzle and it’s really lovely seeing the traction that they’re finding.
And obviously, in all this talk about architecture not being terribly well served by tech, there is a completely ubiquitous piece of technology and architecture which is CAD. Some of the developments of CAD coming through are looking really, really good now.
SketchUp has been good for a while but some of the 3D rendering and visualization tools and plugins for it are really fantastic and are accelerating the process of creating impressive visuals
Vu.City are doing some fantastic work. Sadly, they’re not everywhere yet, but they have 3D models of a lot of major cities, so that you can superimpose your plans onto an existing model. This has the potential to seriously accelerate some of the really painful bits of the planning process, like rights of flight and sight lines. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but used correctly it can save a lot of time to an architect or a planner.
It’s always hard to get people to change their behaviour though, isn’t it. How can you persuade architects to embrace new productivity tools?
Getting people to change behaviour is one of the biggest challenges that any product designer will ever have. But for architects there is a real danger that in the future clients will have increased expectations of customer service and experience, and they won’t be ready to meet them.
There’s a perception out there that architects are working in a way that is anachronistic or outdated or that an architect is hard to get hold of or a bit of an enigma. These are all customer experience angles and I think the behavior change we’ll see in the industry will probably be driven by the changing expectations and preferences of clients.
We’ll finish with a few words on briq.works. Can you sum up what you’d like to achieve with briq.works in a single sentence?
How about briq.works allows you to have everything in one place and be confident that the people that need updates are getting the updates that they’re expecting without going to a lot of work to make that happen. That’s a long sentence, isn’t it!
Essentially, at the moment, we’re focusing on creating more modern and efficient ways of working for architects, driving the customer experience through its use in practices.
And if we can improve a client’s experience of a project through briq.works then that’s a huge win for us.
If you’d like to see what briq.works can do for your practice, email firstname.lastname@example.org