My Digital Life: Neil Thompson, Atkins

Stepping into the spotlight this week is Neil Thompson, director of digital construction at Atkins and head of Construction Innovation Hub programme. He tells us about the joy of geochaching and raises the question: "Who really is your customer?"

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

I am torn between two. First is nPlan, a really cool organisation that is going to change the fabric of how we manage contracts. Their technology uses AI to read construction plans and work out your probability of success. It’s generated an opportunity for one of my teams to think about how we enable customers to make smarter decisions around project delivery. The second is XYZ Reality – a UK-based engineering grade AR start-up. I know AR in construction isn’t a new thing, but the founder is so much fun to work with and their tech is very cool. Both of these platforms are going places.

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

Keep the investment going, empower those that are driven by change and focus on achieving realistic goals. For example, aim to make design 100x faster and measure it… then work out how to do it. Step by step. Also knowing whom the customer is key, sometimes when you really think about it… you discover your customer is someone unexpected!

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

That’s a tough question, there are so many people out there and I can’t list them all! The AEC Hive is a hotbed of connections right now, and I guess I cannot leave out the Digital Twin Fan Club! I would also consider getting into Clubhouse: John Egan introduced me to it and I can’t explain how many tangential debates I have witnessed about the future of our sector.

What was the last app you downloaded and why?

Geocaching – it’s like Pokémon Go but even cooler. If you like hunting for Easter eggs, this is for you! A great way to explore unexpected places… either alone or with the kids. You just have to download it to find out.

What’s the tech bane of your life?

Email: I have more than 22,000 unread emails since November 2020. I honestly can’t wait until that technology is dead. 

Mac or PC/iOS or Android?

I’m on the Apple ecosystem, which I did think about leaving on my last iteration of tech. But the cross-platform/hardware integration is too good. I’d also miss trolling Johnathan Munkley [digital solutions director at RSBG] about his fitness on my Apple Watch.

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

I have a nexus of connected systems which are commonplace now. I’m about to update my version 1s of… everything. It is weird that my preference for ‘personal tech’ is Apple but my house is firmly on the Google ecosystem. The latest smart gadget is a Concept2 Model D rowing machine… which doesn’t seem smart at first but it has an automated sync up to Strava and the telemetry is pretty detailed.

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