Comment: How engineering firms are harnessing AI in 2024

AI adoption is impacting the future of work in the engineering sector and engineers are optimistic about reaping the benefits of the technology, says Neil Davidson, group vice president, Deltek.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) was the ‘eminent’ digital transformation topic in 2023 with engineering companies around the world exploring how the technology could benefit the sector. In 2024, that exploration has become application.  

According to Deltek’s Clarity 2024: Trends & Insights for Architecture, Engineering and Consulting Firms report, 97 per cent of engineering firms are actively using traditional AI and Machine Learning (ML) in everyday operations with applications varying across organisations.

Widespread use across engineering  

With the engineering sector being quick to adopt and adapt to new technologies, it is no surprise that the industry is ahead of the curve. Most firms surveyed already recognise the role of digital transformation in driving innovation with 67 per cent believing they will lose market share within two years if they fail to make significant progress with digital transformation. 

It is clear from the report that engineers are optimistic about reaping the benefits of AI to become more productive and profitable. Firms are using AI and ML applications to simulate or analyse building performance (40 per cent), provide insights into their operations (38 per cent) and predict project outcomes (35 per cent).  

Adoption of generative AI is also gaining pace. 92 per cent of engineering firms are using generative AI with applications including data analysis and exploration (52 per cent), automating repetitive drafting/modelling tasks (41 per cent), and extracting/summarising data from documents and/or drawings (40 per cent). 

Clear business benefits for AI 

In a year where engineers identify business risks as being unable to automate processes that need it (67 per cent), rises in bank interest rates (69 per cent) and being unable to cope with sustainable growth (58 per cent), AI not only presents business opportunities but solutions. From AI investment enabling firms to expand the services they can deliver to the market (64 per cent), to giving the business a significant competitive advantage (74 per cent), respondents are showing optimism for the year ahead.  

Over the next 12 months, 81 per cent of firms expect to increase profits with 47 per cent believing that successful AI implementations are key to achieving this. However, the opportunity does come with risks – 69 per cent cite concerns about competitors implementing new technologies faster than they can.   

Outside of the technology itself, the human role is primary in the use and management of AI. As our assistant, AI can provide significant performance improvements in our everyday tasks, allowing us to do better, faster and achieve a competitive advantage. 

The importance of human oversight to get the best out of this technology must not be underestimated. AI can’t be replaced by human logic and reality, allowing us to identify glitches, unrealistic suggestions, and hallucinations when they occur. It is a tool that can provide vast inroads in simplifying work and opening a new world of possibilities in the right hands, becoming a business assistant and not an employee replacement.   

In the right hands, AI could fundamentally change how engineering firms operate. From automating manual processes through to providing critical business insights, AI can provide vast inroads in simplifying work and opening a new world of possibilities, helping firms to exceed project management KPIs.  

Taking adoption to the next level  

The project lifecycle is the single most important function in any engineering business. Operating projects efficiently enables firms to be informed, productive and profitable. As such, an efficient project lifecycle has become a priority area for AI and ML investment.  

With most firms now using AI to take adoption to the next level, leaders need to focus on purposeful innovation. Hundreds of thousands of pounds can be spent on developing an AI application that simply may not deliver the efficiency boost firms need.  

As AI continues to evolve, the importance of technology-provider partnerships remains paramount. Working with enterprise partners, who have AI tools available, is a simple and quick way to implement traditional and generative AI capabilities, increasing productivity in a matter of weeks, rather than months. Whether that implementation is a project management digital assistant, enabling the business to interact with its system through intuitive text or voice commands, or a solution that identifies and mitigates risks by analysing the company’s historical data the performance improvements are substantial.  

To keep up with competitors, it is essential to move at pace with AI, but not without carefully considering the return on investment, particularly when it comes to generative AI. It is an exciting time in the engineering industry, one that requires organisations to focus on business impact and human management so that they can evolve in line with the latest, most beneficial technology as it emerges.  

Neil Davidson, Group Vice President, Deltek