Construction Today hears from Usman Shuja, Bluebeam CEO, about how to navigate the AI evolution and strengthen its efficacy  

AI is undoubtedly becoming one of the most revolutionary developments happening in construction. With each new update, the software is able to inform, improve and innovate operations across the sector. But what are the implications? This month’s Main Interview platforms Usman Shuja, the CEO of Bluebeam, a construction software business, who discusses how we can best utilize AI as a force for good in the industry. 

In a recent exchange with Usman, this magazine learns about his ambitious vision for reshaping construction. With a dedication to innovation and sustainability, Usman’s expertise is set to assist the evolution of technological advancement, specifically in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) projects. “My professional journey includes more than a decade of innovating and bringing AI products to market, including spearheading Honeywell’s Connected Building, a substantial software business within the company,” he begins. “I also played a foundational role in the inception of another AI-focused technology company, SparkCognition. Finally, I’m currently serving as an advisor to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, contributing insights into the commercialization of advanced AI applications for national security projects.” 

Usman Shuja
Usman Shuja

Reflecting on his journey to the role of CEO at Bluebeam, Usman articulates his enthusiasm for driving transformative change. He notes, “With factors like inflation, high interest rates, a shortage of skilled labor and the increasing push from investors for sustainability and profitability, it’s clear that change is overdue,” he says. Usman adds that for the last 20 years, Bluebeam has remained a catalyst for digitization and efficiency within the AEC sector, having already played a central role in helping the industry transform from paper to digital. 

When asked about what he enjoys most about his role, Usman outlines how his business is making a difference in the industry’s digitization movement, and although the changes are small and incremental, they are meaningful. In more practical examples, he aims to empower users with intuitive solutions that streamline workflows with the help of Bluebeam’s flagship PDF tool, Revu, and AI-driven features like Auto Align. “I believe in intelligence in simplicity, making our products easier to use with simple changes that maximize efficiency and productivity.”  

Revolutionizing project management 

Usman is also aware of the challenges facing the construction industry, particularly when it comes to environmental sustainability. Quoting data from the World Green Building Council, he shares the urgent need for waste reduction and lifecycle assessment to mitigate carbon emissions associated with construction activities. “Approximately 39 percent of the world’s total energy-related carbon emissions stem from buildings, with around 11 percent of that falling under the category of Scope 3 emissions. Predominantly originating from the extraction, manufacture, delivery, installation and disposal of construction materials, these emissions raise a significant environmental challenge,” he says, advocating for a holistic approach to sustainability. 

To combat these challenges, Usman highlights: “We’ve got to change how the construction industry thinks. Instead of demolishing, for instance, let’s look at buildings through their whole life; what can be reused or repurposed? What’s more, going digital in construction is one way to help.  

“Digitization will play a significant role in decarbonization. It’s not just about saving trees by cutting down on paper – although that’s tremendously important and helpful. It’s also about making teams more efficient and projects faster. Digital tools help us keep an eye on energy usage throughout the project lifecycle. One of our clients mentioned that Bluebeam has eliminated printing paper completely, which they believe is equivalent to several thousand trees. Digitization is going to play a pivotal role in reducing rework and waste, which will improve the industry’s sustainability posture significantly.” 

It is important to note that while the tech evolution has made impressive strides, there are aspects that can always be improved, and Usman’s key concerns regarding its dependability is threefold. “It’s important when selecting the right AI applications, programs or platforms that AEC firms carefully consider three criteria to determine feasibility. First, these programs must address a specific pain point that provides a tangible competitive advantage. It’s all about having a well-defined purpose and a strategic approach to leveraging AI. 

“Building on the first point, a crucial aspect is understanding the required data to effectively tackle the identified problem. This involves considerations of data availability, privacy, compatibility, and the rights to use the data. And third, organizations need to carefully plan for implementation and adoption. Many AI projects falter due to a lack of support from the field and inadequate change management. It’s important to select opportunities that can be successfully carried out, considering organizational culture, change management and on-the-ground realities.” 

That said, he is optimistic that the benefits vastly outweigh the negatives. Looking to the future, Usman predicts a shift in the role of AI within construction. He says, “AI is poised to enhance project completion by adding to labor force productivity and reducing waste and rework, thereby lowering costs.” With the emergence of generative AI and advanced data analytics, Usman expects many applications that will revolutionize project management and decision-making. “AI can help us to bring order and clarity back to project execution in a time where projects are becoming more complex, and deadlines are getting shorter.  

“Besides that, I anticipate new use cases to solve jobsite pain points such as getting information from sites through sensors, cameras and other IoT devices. Collaboration across the value chain and limited on-site visibility are two major inefficiencies in the construction space. AI use cases will focus on those in 2024 and beyond, and I anticipate seeing even more applications emerge.” 

In addressing concerns surrounding AI ethics and regulation, Usman also acknowledges the need for transparent and unbiased data practices. According to him, “ensuring that all AI tools are built on unbiased and balanced data is crucial, not just in construction but across various industries.” He therefore calls for industry-wide collaboration to establish robust regulatory frameworks that safeguard against algorithmic biases and uphold ethical standards in AI development. 

Customer-centric innovation 

With these considerations in mind, Usman is determined to continue his commitment to customer-centric innovation and service to the construction sector. “In 2022, early 2023, our company went through a major business transformation with our switch from perpetual licenses to a more modern subscription model, or SaaS. We focused on getting that right. Now that it’s running smoothly, it’s time to get back to a full focus on innovation, enhancing our product to create a delightful experience for our customers. We want to consistently deliver value and hear them say, ‘let’s Bluebeam it!’ when it comes to mark-ups, collaboration and digital workflows. We want Bluebeam to be the brand synonymous with advanced construction technology across the industry.”  

As AI continues to develop, it is important to remember its shortfalls, and work to strengthen them, which is why leaders like Usman serve as pioneers to ensure the software is supportive, inclusive, and trustworthy. With a commitment to innovation, sustainability and customer satisfaction, Bluebeam appears ready to shape the future of construction technology, one digital blueprint at a time.