The chief executive of global design software giant Autodesk has said he believes the introduction of blockchain technologies will represent a significant opportunity to stem corruption in the construction industry, and reduce the lack of trust between players in the sector.
Speaking in a roundtable discussion with journalists at the 2018 Autodesk University event in Las Vegas, CEO Andrew Anagnost, a PhD in aerospace and astrospace engineering, responded to queries about why Autodesk had not yet considered blockchain as part of the future of its widely used architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) software suite.
“Oh, we are,” said Anagnost. “We just don’t have a point of view we have stated publicly.”
Autodesk is the maker of design software for manufacturing, architectural, engineering and construction industries, as well as for the media and entertainment industry.
The company’s AEC software category has been evolving alongside the wider industry to not only deliver 3D-modelling of product designs and buildings, but also include building information modelling (BIM), which tracks data on materials used in construction and building fit-outs.
This shift has assisted an industry trend in large sets of shared data through the cloud, and with such collaboration comes the need for greater trust and accountability.
The industry has been discussing various ways of bringing blockchain into construction processes, particularly around the use of smart contracts and identity. For Anagnost, it is about boiling it down to delivering greater trust to a low-trust work environment.
“What is blockchain good at? It’s a distributed, trusted ledger that cannot be altered and allows traceability and accountability,” he said. “A technology like that in an environment like construction where various people involved in the process don’t trust each other is going to find some kind of application.”
Anagnost said Autodesk has been working on its own non-blockchain digital “escrow” systems as one step along the path towards improving the trust environment in the construction industry.
“Let’s face it, corruption in the construction industry is not uncommon,” says Anagnost. “When people are paying hundreds of millions of dollars on large projects, something is always happening somewhere that isn’t quite right. There’s always someone bleeding off resources or money in some inappropriate way.”
In fact, Anagnost suggested one of the biggest roadblocks to improving traceability and accountability in construction is the people who don’t want to be tracked.
“They don’t actually want a clear record of who did what, when and how. It’s going to take a lot of us enforcing this and making it not optional to trace who did what and when.”
“I’ve been on construction sites and I’ve been with quality checkers,” says Anagnost. “They’re taking pictures and I notice sometimes they log the issue and sometimes they don’t. So I ask them – why didn’t you log that one? ‘Oh, because I know that guy, I’ll go tell him about it.’ So the subcontractor he knows doesn’t get their issues logged, but the subcontractor he doesn’t know gets logged.
“This happens all the time and it makes it very difficult to track who is responsible for what, so one of the big technological problems we’re going to have to solve is making sure it is not optional to provide traceability and accountability.”