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Civil-Comp Proceedings
ISSN 1759-3433
CCP: 58
Edited by: B.H.V. Topping and B. Kumar
Paper I.1

The Business Case for Computer Aided Engineering

P. Gardner

Built Environment Faculty, Southampton Institute, England

Full Bibliographic Reference for this paper
P. Gardner, "The Business Case for Computer Aided Engineering", in B.H.V. Topping, B. Kumar, (Editors), "Computer Techniques for Civil and Structural Engineering", Civil-Comp Press, Edinburgh, UK, pp 1-8, 1999. doi:10.4203/ccp.58.1.1
The past 20 years or so have seen quite startling developments in computer hardware and software to support civil and structural engineering design. Running in parallel with these technological developments has been the gradual infiltration of these systems into design offices, which has resulted in a fundamental shift in the way design is executed. At the same time the business environment has become increasingly competitive, particularly with the gradual move away from scale fees and the introduction of fee competition, which has tended to focus attention on costs and operating efficiency.

IT has affected almost all aspects of engineering design and has provided both opportunities and threats to engineering personnel and organisations. Computer systems provide opportunities for quite significant productivity gains and also to enhance analytical capabilities. However to achieve these benefits sizeable capital investments must be made. This paper investigates these issues and supports its arguments with data from a large survey of UK engineering consultants.

IT is often credited with the ability to provide competitive advantage, but this is sometimes difficult to achieve in an industry that has many providers, each capable of supplying a quality design service, all having access to off-the-shelf computer systems and who operate in a highly competitive market. However, the data and analysis suggest that as the infiltration of IT systems is far from uniform across the sector there are opportunities to develop competitive advantage by maximising the benefits offered by the developing technology.

As with all powerful tools there is a potential for misuse. The paper investigates this issue with examples of the consequences of inappropriate operation, some of which have resulted in catastrophic failure. Procedures are being developed and adopted by the industry to ensure that maximum benefit is obtained from the technology whilst minimising the inherent risks.

Other industries have been dramatically restructured as a result of the introduction of computer technology, and there are signs of structural change within engineering design firms. There is however no indication that the steady state has been reached and this suggests that further changes to working practices and business structures are inevitable.

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