Top Takeaways from Fireside Chat with Microsoft Director, Salla Eckhardt

construction trends

We just wrapped up the Autodesk Construction Cloud Forum where leaders shared insights about digital transformation in the construction industry. The dynamic two-hour global digital event was jam-packed with everything from in-depth master classes to live networking with leading construction influencers.

One of the most powerful sessions included a fireside chat with Salla Eckhardt, Microsoft’s Director of Transformation Services on their new Center of Innovation team in the Global Real Estate department. Salla got her start developing and researching the solutions and technologies that we know today as digital plans. As a researcher, she developed many of the BIM processes and tools that are now off-the-shelf solutions and daily routines for the construction industry.

Before joining Microsoft, Salla directed the emerging technology and innovation strategy for a major construction management company based in Seattle. Let’s take a look at the top takeaways about innovation, platform technology, and other emerging technologies in construction from our recent fireside chat with Salla. 

If you missed the session, the content will be available for a couple weeks on the event site. Watch here. You can also read more takeaways from the event here.

1: Constantly Innovate Digital Construction Programs

Salla shared some highlights with us about how Microsoft is constantly innovating its digital construction program. As a member of the internal real estate and security departments, she helps operational teams deliver future campuses and workspaces. Salla explains, “I'm a director of transformation services in our center of innovation, where I'm driving forward a new framework called the Digital Building Life Cycle. I have built the entire Digital Building Life Cycle into my own career and tested a lot of those concepts that I'm now developing further with our partners and vendors.”

To achieve digital transformation in the construction space, Salla has focused on building up Microsoft’s flagship program for the Digital Building Lifecycle and its three subprograms. The first subprogram is a BIM program. It focuses on creating BIM guidelines and processes that then support the architects, engineers, general contractors, and preconstruction teams to digitally build the physical building before it's actually built or assembled. The next program is the digital construction program. This program enables the use of platform technologies to collect and accumulate the relevant data for a real estate owner, operations, and facility management. 

Finally, Salla is responsible for our Digital Twins program. In this effort, she looks for ways to bring all of the technologies together in a format of Digital Twins. This single source of truth is critical for inviting stakeholders to collaborate on and deliver their scope of work in the full technical life cycle of the building and continue enriching the Digital Building Lifecycle.

As for innovation across their real estate department, Salla’s team works across a spectrum. Innovation teams work on what’s known as “horizon one.” These teams view innovation as incremental improvement in daily operations and over the next two years. The horizon two teams are focused on innovations for the next two to five years while the horizon three team works on innovations in the long term, concepts that may not even be currently feasible. 

“With this approach, we are looking at things in the short term without losing sight of the North Star that we are working towards and digitally transforming our overall business,” explains Salla.

2: Fuel Collaboration and Communication with Platform Technology

To achieve digital transformation, Microsoft is adopting a common data environment to ensure that projects are delivered according to BIM standards. This initiative ensures that the teams are collecting relevant data that Microsoft then owns. As the team continues into tenant improvements, projects, retrofits, and renovations down to the decades of the technical life cycle, they can be confident they have the most up-to-date data. 

Microsoft's construction partners are using connected platforms to extend their offerings across the project life cycle. These platforms are critical to digital collaboration, communications across multiple stakeholders, and maintaining the data as a common language that fuels both collaboration and communication. 

As for day-to-day construction site operations, platform technology enables users to not only capture data but also to refine it into information that is more consumable for humans as decision-makers. It also cuts down data fragmentation and version-controlling as everyone is always working with the latest integrated data.

Platform thinking and adoption also support delivering the Digital Building Lifecycle. As Salla notes, “With the platform, we don’t have to be stuck with just collecting data. We can really refine the data into information that then is more consumable for humans as decision-makers. You can host all of the project documentation in a single source of truth, and people can filter out the relevant data they need. There's less of the fragmentation of the data and less need for version control.”

3: The Industry is Changing — Take Advantage of Emerging Technologies

As the industry continues to evolve, Salla highlights the importance of leading with compassion and empathy. Adopting digital tools can enable teams to communicate more effectively than ever before. She notes how having the capability of experiencing the project in digital format by leveraging extended reality or in virtual meeting platforms has proven how powerful it is to have strong communication tools and the connection between different stakeholders.

Salla also sees great advancement in the areas of artificial intelligence and machine learning, which are quite beneficial for BIM and VDC management. These technologies can automate routine tasks and processes to avoid clashes and obstacles to collaboration. They also free up time for BIM and VDC managers to focus on people and communications management. 

In wrapping up our fireside chat, Salla shared some tips for new entrants to platform strategy. “I would take the approach of looking into what type of roles you have in your organization and what kind of processes people are managing. Take a deep look at opportunities for improving the roles. That way you take the approach of people, business, and technology. Technology is the third leg of the stool, supporting the people and their re-engineered processes. When you have clarity on what your organization looks like in the future, you can start developing your own digital core and tie it into the Digital Building Life Cycle that then creates that long-term vision for your digital transformation.”

This approach delivers clarity on the future of the organization. That way, you can start developing a digital core, which creates that long-term vision for digital transformation.

Catch More Content from the Autodesk Connected Construction Forum

Ready for more insights from the Autodesk Connected Construction Forum? Don’t miss out — you can watch the event content including the fireside chat and master classes for the next few weeks on the event site.