Value to Virtual Interactive Meeting and Collaboration Technology

The AEC Industry has historically relied on printouts and paper processes to manage design reviews, design submittals, and project workflows in general. Since the introduction of BIM and CIM technology, firms have gradually shifted into this “Connected Design” environment where all design communications are being performed via computers, tablets and even phones. Having seen the impacts of how the Digital Era is transforming the way AEC firms operate on a daily basis, there is a plethora of new concepts, ideas, and technologies we are now able to leverage in our daily workflows and streamline our transition into this connected environment.


Due to recent developments with regard to the COVID-19 outbreak seen throughout the world, AEC firms were caught off-guard and left scrambling to figure out best practices to maintain close interaction and communication with project teams, clients and contractors. A lot of firms were forced to play catchup, with many on their staff working overtime, to run necessary testing and implementation to allow for communication channels to be maintained. As you can imagine, these recent events have had a major impact on the AEC industry across the world.

Although virtual interactive meeting and collaboration technology has been around for quite some time, there has not been a need for us to rely so heavily on it previously. In the AEC Industry, we are constantly adapting to our environments to stay ahead of the technology wave in order to maintain that competitive edge. A lot of the existing communication technology we have relied on in the past, have been focused on that 1-to-1 live feed where we can discuss project initiatives, design development, phasing, etc.

Within these live meetings, whether it be through WebEx, Zoom, Skype, etc., we are able to share screens within this environment with all project stakeholders to display flythroughs of our project design development and verbally communicate our design intent, as well as compare alternative designs on the fly. These platforms can be limiting in the way we interact and communicate, where these solutions are really contingent on the end-user’s network and overall capabilities. Often times, these video conferencing platforms can also be a bit choppy and can leave the end-users in the dark if they are missing specific conversations and designs being displayed while hosting these meetings.


Due to these challenges facing AEC firms world-wide, we have an opportunity to continue pushing this technology to streamline these communications even more. There are a number of vendors currently supporting the AEC industry that have recognized some of these shortcomings with meeting technology resources, and have identified ways to improve communication and design intent.

To enable all stakeholders on a project to streamline communication of design intent, overall design collaboration, and make faster/smarter decisions, we need to look outside the box a little and determine how best to virtualize and streamline our communication channels. By virtualizing communication, we can now incorporate new technologies to engage with our teams, where all stakeholders can be inside our design model all at one time.


Design Reviews

As we transition from a paper to digital design review process, we are opening ourselves up to incorporate new technology into our workflows that will set us ahead of our biggest competitors. PDF applications have officially replaced our paper QC Review process. For several years now, we have been leveraging 3D Model viewing tools (i.e., Navisworks, BIM360, Bentley’s Design Review, etc.) to showcase and communicate our design intent to our Clients and Project Teams. Taking these concepts and tools already being leveraged during our Digital Design Reviews, we can easily transition into this Virtual Interactive Meeting and Collaboration Technology environment to give us the ability to engage with our Clients and Project Teams in a fully immersive environment that everyone can independently control, review, and collaborate. Leveraging this technology allows all stakeholders to independently navigate and review models, incorporate verbal and written notes, swap materials, adjust/perform design modifications to the models, and generate customized reports of design reviews.

Project Site Walkthroughs

Project Site Walkthroughs with project teams, clients, and contractors to discuss various project components has always been part of the design process. By leveraging Virtual Interactive Meeting and Collaboration Technology, we can now place our design models on the site using Augmented Reality Technology and truly visualize and communicate our design intent. Additionally, to ensure that all stakeholders are social distancing, this technology lends itself the opportunity to bring multiple stakeholders into the same environment, regardless of physical location, to continue collaborating and communicating designs and comparing to existing site elements. As an example of how leveraging this technology can streamline communication and collaboration, teams can have an Engineer on site immersed within the design via Augmented Reality, a Client back in their office navigating the model on their computer, and a Designer back in the office viewing the design in Virtual Reality. In this scenario, all stakeholders invited into this environment can discuss the design, make notes, leverage inquiry tools to view BIM data, and update/perform modifications to the design model itself, while all stakeholders can view real-time updates in all respective viewing environments.

Streamlining Workflows Results in Cost and Time Savings

The ability to leverage Virtual Interactive Meeting and Collaboration Technology throughout the entire projects’ lifecycle will give firms a competitive advantage to stay connected at all times, where we would previously have gaps in time between communication and application/implementation. These gaps can be costly and risky to all stakeholders, as communication tends to be trimmed down, misinterpreted, and occasionally lost prior to proper application/implementation. This type of technology is able to be integrated with various document management systems currently in use and supports many design model formats being developed. This connection allows us to not only communicate with all stakeholders involved on a given project, but also provides the ability to consistently view the most current state of the design model from conceptual design all the way through construction and asset management phases of the project.


One thing that I have always said and stood by, is that to be in AEC, you really do need to be adaptable to various situations and solutions. If recent events have taught us anything, the world can sometimes be a very unpredictable place. Technology, on the other hand, continues to evolve and we need to be a bit more prepared, aware, and adaptable to these new environments and technologies. There has recently been a very big shift in focus to the Digital Twins concept/environment. Although some aspects around Digital Twins are attainable, there are many aspects around Digital Twins that seem a bit futuristic and out of reach at the moment. Either way, Digital Twins will be here before you know it and will become the new norm. As we start embracing and implementing next level technology solutions, we are essentially preparing ourselves for that next leg up and new norms.

Stephen Walz is the Digital Design Lead for Civil Infrastructure at HDR, a global leader in Engineering, Architecture, Environmental and Construction services. Stephen has been in the AEC Industry since 2003, and with HDR since 2004 working in its northeast and southeast regions. In Stephen’s current role, his primary focus is to work with HDR’s Business, Technical and IT Leadership, as well as our technology vendors, to identify, evaluate and implement new platforms/tools/technologies as it relates to Civil Infrastructure, drive consistency with how HDR is leveraging the various tools and platforms, and identifying ways to build skillsets and overall awareness across HDR to better serve their clients. Stephen can be reached for comments or questions at