Women of BIM part 2: Emma Hayes

Welcome to the second interview in our series counting down to International Women’s Day on 8 March: a new interview will appear every Monday morning until then. Emma Hayes is MD of Digital Built Consultants, the Women in BIM regional lead for Ireland and actively involved in academia. Here, she highlights why diversity matters, the benefit of virtual teams and the need for digital champions.

BIM managers, BIM coordinators, and BIM technicians: I hope that these emerging roles will attract new and diverse talent.– Emma Hayes, Digital Built Consultants

What’s been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?

As a BIM consultant, the biggest professional challenge for me has been to try to convince the industry we work in, which is reputed to resist change, to adopt a new way of working. Research has shown that people’s mind-sets and attitudes are one of the main impediments to BIM adoption.

But in my experience, it is also essentially about good communication especially in when working with virtual teams. BIM technology will become easier to use, but unless the team are willing to engage with the processes, it is more difficult to implement BIM.

My consultancy has adopted a change strategy with clear goals for implementation when working with our clients. We use change management models such as Prosci’s ADKAR model to help define a clear structure for BIM adoption. After that, we work with clients to create an awareness of the need for BIM, support change and encourage a desire for adoption. Coaching, practice and time also help lay the groundwork for adoption. 

It’s important to keep reinforcing and measuring so that corrective actions can be taken as you build BIM into the culture of your organisation. It’s a team effort.

Which project that you’ve worked on has given you the most satisfaction and why?

As a BIM consultant, I am not involved in design and construction projects on a day-to-day basis but tend to be more involved with supporting architecture engineering and construction organisations with their digital transition and BIM adoption journeys.

Supporting businesses with the development of a fit-for-purpose BIM implementation strategy and then helping them realise and roll out this strategy with training and guidance gives me the most satisfaction. I am completely invested in the need for the digitisation of the construction sector and understand that the industry needs the support and guidance of champions in the field of digital construction. 

Which digital innovation in the past year has caught your eye and why?

It is very hard to talk about innovation in construction without mentioning how an entire industry’s way of working was greatly changed overnight with the countrywide lockdowns worldwide over the last year and the current restrictions to try to halt the spread of covid-19. Rigorous site safety measures and more widespread adoption of digital construction processes, in particular remote collaborative working, has demonstrated how proactive and agile our industry can be to rise above a problem.

Although virtual collaboration is not a new technology, I believe remote or virtual teams in particular will become more normal for project teams. This ability to work remotely and to continue to collaborate on projects gives the construction industry opportunities to compete in a global economy. It gives us the tools and the expertise to deliver building projects faster and at a more competitive cost by utilising geographically dispersed teams with different expertise or from low cost centres throughout our network.

BIM will also play an important role in this global shift to virtual teams as it allows stakeholders to simultaneously input data into a central repository from different locations. Adopting international standards such as ISO 19650 for information management will allow us to work consistently across jurisdictions, giving us opportunities to export expertise and share knowledge globally on projects.

Name another woman in BIM who you think is doing great work and why.

I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Avril Behan, director and dean of the College of Engineering and the Built Environment, Technological University Dublin, who has been driving BIM and digital construction, both in the academic world and also in the construction industry. We need champions like Avril to keep the momentum of this industrywide digital transition moving forward.

In your experience, is BIM more diverse than the wider construction industry and if so, how does this affect the working culture?

10 years ago, you could not have predicted the changes we have seen in the industry. A changing industry has led to new roles within the construction teams, with BIM managers, BIM coordinators, and BIM technicians now common titles, as well as roles dedicated to managing innovation. I hope that these emerging roles will attract new and diverse talent to the industry, but it is not evident yet.

Networks such as Women in BIM are encouraging women to follow a career in construction through support and mentoring, which I think will make a difference. It is also well documented that if the construction industry is to continue to innovate and become more efficient, it needs to become more diverse. According to the McKinsey report, Why Diversity Matters (January 2015), gender-diverse companies are 14% more likely to perform better than non-diverse companies, and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to perform better.

Who is the person in BIM that you turn to for inspiration/support and why?

I am very lucky to be involved directly with BIM adoption in the construction industry through my consultancy business, but also I’m involved in BIM adoption in academia through my part-time lecturing on the BIM Masters courses at Technological University Dublin, Middlesex University, and the Institute of Technology Carlow in Ireland. For this reason, I can turn both to industry and academic peers for inspiration and support.

Read the previous interview: Isobel Robinson, Winvic Construction:

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