digicity-sxu-dot-huBig Data Analytics is a hot topic these days. It pervades healthcare, banking, retail, energy and so many industries.  Why not Desgn and Engineering Data? Vast amounts of data provides value for mining. Design and Engineering data is big, and rich with information.

Last week, Autodesk, a leader in design engineering and entertainment content creation software, announced the introduction of New Cloud Services for Next Generation Building Information Modeling. As an analytics platform and big-data industry follower, and a big fan of Autodesk (and 16-year employee alumnus), I read with earnest. Was this the shift from content creation to analytics?. It was not. But it ignited my thinking for this blog post.homedesign-sxc-dot-hu

Missed Big Data Analytics Trend

With so many industries developing strategies to mine big data, it’s odd that the Building and Manufacturing industries, two core industries served by Autodesk, and other players like Bentley, Dassault, Seimens, and others, are still evolving the automation of manual content creation. This latest announcement indicating the evolution of desktop design tools to the cloud.

Recall a bit of history that geographic information systems (GIS) and map making was once automated as a 2D CAD (computer aided design) operation and a core market of Autodesk.  Content creators, the map makers using 2D CAD were left behind. The GIS Data Tsunami ignited Mapquest, ESRI and and others to capitalize on the Big Data play, they stole the opportunity from the complacent map makers and Google democratized how nearly everyone on the planet consumes map content.

With simple time-tested location geometry methods (latitude and longitude) and databases of geocoded, graphic, satellite, and other information, this industry shifted almost overnight.  The CAD vendors were left behind.

I understand that it is necessary to develop the tools for designers, creators, engineers, and everyone in the building design or manufacturing value chains to use, but there must be an economically feasible business play to mine all this information for a greater purpose than the individual project.

Consider how much design and engineering content is being created by the tens of millions of users of the tools from these software makers. Then consider how many other industries, and their users, could benefit from access to that information! Hence the need for a Big Data play that aggregates either openly, or anonymously, this kind of 3D information.

It’s a missed trend – almost in complete parity with how the 2D CAD makers missed the shift to a data play in GIS.


We’ve all heard them. Who owns the design and project data? The designer? The building owner? The safety regulators (for public buildings), the consumers navigating near-space environments on their iPhones? I’m not going to take a stand on this. The bottom line is that no one owns the data, and yet everyone owns it.  Now, who’s going to be disruptive and innovate a way to deliver value to more people for less cost? Recall Clayton Christensen’s definition of disruptive innovation (HBR video). Clayton says:

A disruptive innovation is not a breakthrough that makes a good product a lot better. It has a very specific definition that is it transforms a product that is so expensive and complicated that only a few people with a lot of money and a lot skill have access to it. A disruptive makes it so much affordable and accessible that a much larger population have access to it.” … “A disruptive innovation generally causes you to go after new markets, people that are not your customers, and the product that you want to sell them is so much more affordable…

Building Industry Example

Think about the potential of an analytics play around this data. Hosting this building information modeling (BIM) information is in parity with Google’s view of all information on the internet. Of course, the importance of privacy and intellectual property ownership is critical, but anonymizing the massive amount of data would provide a powerful set of building industry statistics that no other provider could produce.  Not Thomas Publishing, not Reed Business Information (Reed Construction Data division) – no one would have this kind of analytic data at the very head of the design chain.

The science and technology around sensitivity analytics hungers for this kind of non-uniform, irrational and rich with attribute content – big data – to process from these kinds of sources which constitute a gold-mine of valuable information.

Not only does the specific design have value for that single project, but the aggregation of all designs, and their trend analyses. The value proposition for a new technology – the “Google analytics” of design information would have a number of monetization possibilities for all kinds of ancillary building and construction ecosystem players.networkspheres-sxc-dot-hu

Design firms would want to access it so they could see how they fit the market, or are unique relative to it (just like Google analytics tells me how my website stacks up against others similar to it). Industry agencies and regulators would want it to spot trends in safety, sustainability, capacity, and other broad characteristics that would surface in aggregate.  Governments too would have this interest. An entire ecosystem of partners would want to begin to tune their offerings in terms of building products (all the components from door knobs to curtain walls) and services (from construction, to trades, to facility operating firms).

The network of Big Data consumers has great potential, and is clearly big. Boggles the mind a bit to think of it.

Something to Ponder

Before dismissing this idea as crazy, consider that no one 40 years ago thought that every car off the production line would have electric windows. And that 20 years ago, no one thought that every car would have a navigation system. Democratizing innovation to people that formerly could not access or afford it is a force that cannot be stopped.

Nilofer Merchant, another former Autodesk employee Harvard Business Review blogger and innovation consultant, wrote in HBR blogs on June 26, 2012: Let Your Ideas Go. She pointed out that ideas closed up and hidden in your fist don’t gain (or deliver) value out of the act of sharing. Opening your hand and allowing others to see ideas makes them better as they benefit from other’s adding input (or using them downstream).  I think that Nilofer’s analogy holds true for design, engineering and entertainment content data.  Clearly, YouTube is proving it for entertainment data as they reinvent television altogether.

Open Innovation for Design

Autodesk’s announcement to move design content creation to the cloud is a great breakthrough innovation, but not disruptive, by definition.

Enabling access of design information is a disruptive innovation and a greenfield opportunity that will benefit users that don’t even yet know they need or want it. They will seek value from it, and someone will deliver it.

Consider that just about all the geographic information in the world is available to anyone. We have survived the initial concerns that anyone could zoom into their backyard and see what your swimming pool looked like. Imagine if all (or most) design information in the world, much like all the geographic information in the world were made available in the same way? What benefit could there be?

Like some very sensitive geographic information that governments need to hold as secret is held back, so too, could design secrets – but this is not the entire design. The core design information would make consumers lives better. We would all be more knowledgeable about our automobiles and toasters. People would be able to navigate inside public and private buildings with new tools that work on smart phones. A whole new benefit in terms of disaster, search and recovery would be enabled with the convergence of design information and the proliferation of sensors and cameras. The vision of the future could be incredible with the sharing of open, or anonymized design information.

One Idea to Get There

Wouldn’t it be great to see Autodesk, or ? announce the Open Innovation Hub for Design and Engineering™. Like InnoCentive does to crowd source creative solutions to solve many other complex problems, who will provides an innovation hub that brings those that have difficult building/construction/renovation challenges, or difficult design/manufacturing/operation challenges together with a vast, global network of individuals that can use cloud-based content creation tools to provide solutions?

Maybe this is Vault 2.0, or Buzzsaw 2.0 in the Web 2.0 reinvention tradition for manufacturing and building information modeling, respectively? (Vault and Buzzsaw are Autodesk secure design team collaboration platforms.)

Seems logical that cloud-based design and engineering content tools should also have a cloud storage component – which with the right thinking, would have an analytics play over a Big Data play. Some designers will have a closed fist, but others will see the value of an open hand.

As those solutions are delivered Autodesk could share the learning in a way that enables a Big Data play such that standards can be met simply, common problems can be solved easily, and analytics can be generated to study these industries in new ways about space, usage, safety, and Big Data driven advantages that I can’t even begin to imagine – but I know will come.


What do you think about a Big Data play for design, engineering and 3D entertainment content information?  I’ve only scratched the surface here, but we’ve seen it in Healthcare and Banking, and it’s going to come to design/engineering. the mining of data through analytics in order to improve the future. Who will invent it? Who will be the Amazon Web Services for Design Data?

The tools and revolutionary technologies to mine data on the back-end already exists. Now to define the product, no – the disruptive innovation, and offer it to people that could not access it before, and did not know its value to them.

Leave a comment. Tell the readers here what queries you would make if you had a Big Data system and analytics engine on top of the worlds design information?

[Image credits: royalty-free images for all images.]

One Response to Big Data Analytics For Design And Engineering

  1. Bob Sherlock says:

    Intriguing post!

    This brings to mind that, back in the dotcom boom, a friend of mine founded and ran a very interesting company called Heavyware. The concept was to allow the owners of designs created for a construction project (not the entire building, just the elements of it – for example, the concrete balustrades on the outside stairs) to make the design IP available to others to use, for a fraction of the $$ of creating an original design. Not to mention the time savings.

    Heavyware was ahead of its time, and it might still be too early if it were launched today. But the time may be coming where the design, engineering and construction community can share more extensively for mutual benefit.

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