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Okana: the new name for BIM Academy as it looks to shape tomorrow

The Okana logo - Okana is the new name for BIM Academy

BIM Academy has revealed its new name, Okana. Along with the name change, the consultancy will focus on bringing global perspectives to local built environment challenges.

As well as BIM Academy’s established services, Okana will offer more advisory services, including place-shaping, economics and management strategy.

Okana also takes over, with immediate effect, from its sister company Ryder Architecture, the leading role in what was the Ryder Alliance – an entrepreneurial global network.

The business will continue to be led by Dr Graham Kelly, who will steer the transformation from BIM Academy to Okana. In this exclusive interview with BIMplus, Dr Kelly said the renamed business’s core thread is still digital: “Everything we do will be digital by default.”

Dr Kelly said the Okana team is excited by the new development. “Everyone internally is really excited about unifying under a single brand. We can wear this new brand with pride, united. It allows us to do what we’ve been doing which is delivering pioneering consultancy services for the built environment.

“Systems are changed at the edges, and the edges are those gaps between services. For example, how do you combine digital and safety to make a project safer? Or how do you combine safety and sustainability to make it more resilient? These are the kinds of things we’re really passionate about.”

“How do you combine digital and safety to make a project safer or safety and sustainability to make it more resilient? These are the kinds of things that we’re really passionate about.”

Dr Graham Kelly

Place-shaping

BIMplus asked Dr Kelly what the short-term targets are for Okana. He said: “The first wins, the quick wins will be around growing the place-shaping and advisory elements, and securing new Okana partners (there are some identified gaps in location and expertise) – it’s got to be the right partner with the right values.

“Empathy, curiosity and excellence are our values and that’s what we want in a partner. Building on those quick wins, next is driving some more of those forward-thinking clients with regards to strategy and place-shaping. That could be cities, countries, or large institutional clients (big universities, hospitals), working with them strategically to support how they think about the future of the built environment.”

How will Okana address those place-shaping challenges and opportunities? Dr Kelly said: “Clients are really struggling with how they react to the way that the world is changing. What are the interventions they make within a space – whether that’s a building or new area of a university or a city? How does this make the biggest impact?

“Universities are really interesting: for some, there’s a huge accommodation crisis – they haven’t got enough space for students – but we know the world is becoming more remote, the way people learn is changing. So how do you think about the future of a university without thinking about the economics, the strategic set-up? We know that university space utilisation is down at 10-11% for their entire campuses. How do you do more with less? We feel that we can make a difference with these types of challenges with our diverse range of services, people and partners, who are best in class.”

“Okana is more than a name change. We’re combing visionary thinking with economic viability and a diverse range of expertise areas to offer unparalleled support.”

Dr Graham Kelly

Knowledge sharing

As an example of the knowledge sharing between Okana and its partners, Dr Kelly noted: “If you look at Canada and Australia, where we’ve got partners (Ryder Canada and I2C), they’re both going through huge challenges at the moment around indigenous regeneration. But there are amazing opportunities to share knowledge and experience around how to do that best, sensitively, within the partnership.”

What does the ‘Okana’ name mean? “Okana doesn’t have a specific meaning, for me it is an open, welcoming, agile, intriguing and international word that gives us the ability to continue to diversify services and collaborate with more partners as time goes on,” he said. “We wanted something that sets us apart from the multi-national consultancies. Okana is more than a name change. We’re combining visionary thinking with economic viability and a diverse range of expertise areas to offer unparalleled support.

“We’re committed to helping our clients design, build and maintain better around the world. We’re continuing our work in shaping the built environment across borders on projects of significant scale and impact, while addressing the needs of a rapidly changing world, setting new benchmarks in global consultancy.”

Cool people, cool projects

Dr Kelly said the new name reflects the evolution of the business. BIM Academy was born in 2010 out of a partnership between Northumbria University and Ryder Architecture, with the intention of establishing a centre of excellence for digital construction and transformation.

“We bring a global perspective to local problems. We’re excited for this next chapter as Okana continues to work towards a better world.”

Dr Graham Kelly

“In 2013, we won the Sydney Opera House contract, and ever since we have built up to working in 40 different countries. We’ve delivered some outstanding projects, almost 1,100 in total, to a construction value of more than $10bn. Which is why we’re renowned in the BIM field for being a thought leader and trusted provider of BIM and digital construction services,” he said.

Alongside BIM Academy’s development since 2010, Ryder set up the Ryder Alliance with Australian architect I2C. “The alliance was like-minded organisations that wanted to work together across the globe, collaborating and bringing together sector expertise, a global perspective to local problems and working with cool people on cool projects,” Dr Kelly explained. “Over the years the Alliance has grown, recruiting organisations from South Africa, Thailand, the Far East and Europe.

“Meanwhile, my team within Ryder that included BIM Academy had grown and diversified in terms of services beyond BIM and training into health and safety, sustainability and MMC. We’d gone beyond just BIM, so there was already a plan to change the name.”

New stimulus

In July last year, Ryder bought out Northumbria University’s shares and became the 100% owner of BIM Academy.

Meanwhile, post-covid, the Ryder Alliance was looking for new stimulus.

“From that, the decision was made to combine the two elements to create a global built environment consultancy with collaborative partners across the globe,” Dr Kelly said. “Re-branded as Okana, we bring a global perspective to local problems. We’re excited for this next chapter as Okana continues to work towards a better world – so join us, and let’s shape tomorrow.”

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