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My Digital Life: David Owens, Costain

Jumping into the hot seat this week is David Owens, head of automated design and BIM at Costain. Here he calls for the contractual framework to drive productivity and R&D, and highlights the need for interoperability and his love of Linux.

What new built environment digital innovation that you’ve seen recently really excites you? 

Where do I start? I am a massive fan of anything coming from Bryden Wood and the Ramboll team behind Site Solve. They have really inspired me over recent years and have inspired us at Costain to set up our own team of digital engineers and computational designers.

For pure digital tech geekiness, Hypar.io and Speckle Systems are exciting tools integrating design processes and data. Bond Bryan’s Information Hub, a database-driven requirements management tool, shows that industry is changing, and the best tech is going to come from left field, not from an existing big player.

‘The industry is changing, and the best tech is going to come from left field, not from an existing big player.’

David Owens, Costain

As a member of the BuildingSMART UK & Ireland committee, it would be remiss of me to not mention the work on OpenCDE: APIs that could offer the greatest single boost in productivity to those of us in the information management space. This has the potential to remove the waste we build into our projects, moving files from document management system to document management system.

What single thing would help accelerate construction’s digital adoption? 

I’m a big believer in two things: contract is king, and research & development is risky. If we are to improve the performance of the industry, we must change contracts and reward productivity (handsomely). Every design contract I know of pays by time, therefore has little incentive to reduce time.

No other industry tries to improve its methods when the production line is running, but the built environment tends to when in contract. We need better margins to improve R&D and then to improve our methods away from the potential risks at the coalface.

Who do you follow on social media about BIM and digital construction – and why? 

Considering how dark and negative social media can be on lots of subjects, I’ve found Twitter has been a support network for those who are passionate about BIM, digital engineering and construction. The community that we’ve built up can be challenging, even critical, but always supportive and welcoming. I’ve given clues to who I follow above, and I have great affection for Duncan Reed from Trimble/Tekla and Dan Rossiter from BSI.

What was the last app you downloaded and why? 

The National Trust app: my family and I are members and have been for years. Now that we can start to get back out there, we’re going to make the most of the wonderful things we have around us!

What’s the tech bane of your life?

Getting software to work better together. I want to use the best tool for the job, and I’m prevented from doing that by closed software platforms. I’m frustrated that we continue to struggle with the interoperability of data about the built environment, particularly as industry foundation classes (IFC – ISO 16739) have been around for years and contain the collective wisdom of so many people. I urge people to go to the BuildingSMART technical site and dive deep into the IFC schema, look at the risk property set and see if that doesn’t remind you of every risk register you’ve ever seen.

Integrating design tools to improve productivity and eliminate repetitive manual tasks is something my team and I have set out to achieve, we’re inspired by IFTTT and Zapier and my all-time favourite tool, Feature Manipulation Engine. We love tools which give a simple interface to programming and that make it easier for us in architecture, engineering and construction.

Mac or PC/iOS or Android?

I’ve never owned a Mac and have always had a PC. If I had the time, I’d love to try setting up and running a Linux server.

Do you have any smart home features or other digital gadgets? 

I’ve had a Network Attached Storage (NAS) for a few years to keep family photos and videos safe. However, much to frustration of my family, the process for getting content on to it is a pain.

Smart speakers are my new favourite toy, mainly because I can access Spotify on demand: a tune pops into my head and I can just shout out loud play that song!

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