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The Impact of Digital Technology on Creating Virtual Environment in the AEC Industry

Elrefaey, Omar
A Master of Science thesis in Construction Management by Omar Hesham Elrefaey entitled, “The Impact of Digital Technology on Creating Virtual Environment in the AEC Industry”, submitted in April 2023. Thesis advisor is Dr. Sameh El-Sayegh. Soft copy is available (Thesis, Completion Certificate, Approval Signatures, and AUS Archives Consent Form).
The construction industry has been incorporating technology over the last two decades, albeit gradually, as ‘technology-push’ continues to overcome traditional passivity typical in the sector. Advanced technological tools are crucial to generate a simulated virtual environment that allows for better collaboration, communication and data processing which ultimately leads to less errors and more successful outcomes. The objective of this thesis research is to investigate how digital technology is making headway in the construction industry because of COVID-19. Particularly, the study aims to investigate the extent of use of technology in three periods – pre-COVID, during-COVID and post-COVID. The second objective of this thesis is to examine which digital technology tools impact the virtual environment within an Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) firm the most. For this research, digital technology tools are divided into three groups: data acquisition, processing, and communication. The methodology involved conducting two questionnaire surveys among the construction professionals in the UAE. The first survey’s results show the increasing level of usage of digital technology in the AEC industry from pre-COVID, to during COVID and post-COVID periods. Among the three categories, communication technology indicated a higher extent of use as compared to the other two. It was also noticed that there was a slight drop in the use of communication technology from during COVID to post-COVID time, apparently as some of the functions and operations are expected to return to normalcy after the pandemic. In relation to the contribution of digital technologies to the virtual environment, the second survey’s results were analyzed using AHP and found that the most significant digital technology level with the highest impact on enhancing the virtual environment is BIM level 3. While the digital technology level that was the least significant was data collection level 1 (manual/paper-based). Furthermore, the results also revealed that 23% of the companies studied in this research displayed a low virtual environment level (10-40%). While 50% of the companies included in this research displayed a medium virtual environment level (40-70%) and 27% of the companies displayed a high virtual environment level in their construction projects (70-100%).
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