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Digital Construction Week comes of age

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On the train home from DCW 2017, the thought is setting in that this event has changed a lot since it hit the scene and fast became a calendar highlight for the rapidly expanding tech savvy scene in UK construction.

Some of you may remember when Christiano Ronaldo joined Manchester United. He was a young man full of energy and confidence who was photographed crossing the road holding him mum’s hand – then he set foot on the pitch and showed wonderful skill before being unceremoniously kicked up in the air and landing in the hoardings. 

Now that skinny young player, who was so entertaining, albeit wasteful, has grown in stature in every aspect and is already regarded as one of the greats. 

Digital Construction Week showed all the signs of mirroring this journey with its latest incarnation at the Excel in London. It was bigger, stronger, more impressive and better quality; the construction equivalent of Ronaldo’s pointless stepovers was possibly the only thing missing from a tremendous two days. Maybe this is a reflection of our industry treading a path to digital maturity?

There were so many great talks across the stages that building the best itinerary, stopping to see vendors, chatting to friends old and new and somehow getting a bite to eat took us all well into the night. 

Over the course of the two days, two major themes emerged. First, we were no longer attending tech demos of solutions looking for problems to solve – the startups had either found their way since 2016 or were no longer there. 

We were seeing tech vendors with products they have shown to work almost chastising us for not investing enough in technology, and pointing to the evidence and data to back themselves up that we are only harming ourselves with our woeful R&D budgets. 

What was doubly fascinating was the same data on construction productivity and its relationship to tech investment was popping up on stages where the speaker had no tech to sell.

At last the professionals and the vendors are looking at the industry through the same lens. This is genuinely exciting because we appear to have weeded out the snake oil salesmen and are truly focusing on a shared goal together. 

Keep a watchful eye out for snake oil returning labelled as Level 3, IoT, Industry 4.0 or Digital Built Britain solutions.

The second big theme was BIM. Not the theory of what’s going to happen, but instead real case studies and learnt wisdom. Great presenters from across the industry telling the room that the Level 2 BIM standards and supporting technology do in fact work, and anyone still complaining should focus their energy on making it work instead. 

It’s not all perfect, but it’s proving to be better than the traditional approach, as it’s designed to be, so not doing BIM is starting to look like a terrible idea at best, and negligent at worst.

Start the process too late, it fails. Don’t help the client get over the ‘can I have some BIM please?’ phase, you’ll both regret it. Fail to make BIM contractual, people will revert to type as soon as the job gets a bit choppy.

Interoperability works if you put your data in the right place, so treat your data seriously. Really great advice by the bucket load. 

Digital Construction Week has grown up. The content and the audience has grown with it and in two days it has shown that our industry isn’t hiding from our challenges and waiting for Google Construction or Amazon Design Group to form and destroy us. 

We’re stepping up and applying drones, scanners, virtual reality and robots to issues we actually have, and we are innovating our way out of our current limbo somewhere between our analogue and adversarial industry and the digitally collaborative industry on show in the Excel.

Many of us may miss the slightly wacky and frivolous DCW of last year, but I’m sure we all wish the new, impactful and frankly quite brilliant Digital Construction Week a long and exciting future. 

See you all there in 2018. 

By John Adams, director, BIM Strategy

Digital Construction Week has grown up. The content and the audience has grown with it and in two days it has shown that our industry isn’t hiding from our challenges and waiting for Google Construction or Amazon Design Group to form and destroy us. – John Adams