OktoBIMfest - thoughts from a busy month in BIM

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John Adams, Director of BIM Services for Niven and BIM Strategy, reflects on a busy month in the world of BIM.

‘October has proven itself once again to be a firecracker month of activity and action in the digital construction world.

Exhausted and hoarse, I’m sat making the familiar journey of the northern BIM troubadours, up the East Coast mainline back from London.  The few hours’ enforced stillness is a blessing for my back, and offers a great opportunity to tell you about a truly epic month of BIM adventuring, which has left a real impression. 

 TL:DR summary, looking back in the immortal words of Alan Partridge, ‘that was classic…’.    

This year I had the exciting opportunity to chair day two of the BIM and Digital Construction Summit, and today rounded off a whirlwind of events and presentations which needed nearly 200 new presentation slides to hit the mark.  It is a very good job I have an understanding wife… 

I’ll go right back to the start.  

Way back last summer the BIM Strategy and Niven studio hosted an evening event, #BIMTees.  This was our first big attempt to excite the Tees Valley about the value of BIM adoption.  Convincing a full region in a couple of hours was of course beyond realistic, but the CIOB and CENE representatives enjoyed the no nonsense approach of the event and asked whether we could reprise the event in Newcastle.  As is often the case, one thing led to another and a new conference was born. BIM- From Confused to Comfortable, or #BIMCoCo, became an agenda led, jargon free educational event for anyone who was right at the start of their BIM journey, or hadn’t started it yet.  

The content of #BIMCoCo needed to have maximum impact for the attendees since they’d be taking a day out of the office to learn about my favourite subject.  I agonised over the programme content before approaching speakers, and gave titles to the best speakers from the region in each field.  We have a wealth of expertise in the North East, and my high expectations were more than met as they all came up trumps with new content to match the titles.  For my big part on the day, I bit off the challenge of breaking down BIM Level 1 and 2 to their fundamentals inside 30mins to start the day,  this was no mean feat and needed a blank slate.  

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The mammoth effort turned into a great event and subsequent feedback has led to a distinct possibility that #BIMCoCo may go on the road.  Watch this space.  

After all this there was no rest for the wicked.  I’d bagged myself a coveted slot at Digital Construction Week by offering a fresh perspective on how to get the most from BIM software providers.  My career diversion a few years back into the technology sector has given me a quite unique view of both sides of the fence and where the best points for mutual benefit lie.  Both sides of the deal have people with challenges and frustrations, and I thought that clearing that up seemed like a good win for everyone.  Of course, in true OktoBIMfest style, not a single slide existed to help me tell this story… 

What I hadn’t really thought through prior to my weekend PowerPoint extravaganza, was that I was going to expose how to manoeuvre around the software industry’s defences to get heard and impact their development roadmaps.  In a conference where all the construction software companies, including my former Viewpoint colleagues were exhibitors, one false move and I’d have left with a dozen hatchets in my back.

File>New>DCW_0.1; note to self, tread wisely, say what you mean, mean what you say.  

Fortunately for me and my back, I got a great crowd of BIM folk, new faces and tech companies, so much to my relief, proper preparation and a useful message paid off.  I was allowed to stay and I even received a thank you from a software Product Manager for telling his story.  It was great to hear, and made the disturbed night sleeping under the landing path of London City Airport worth it.  

I always love DCW and the 2018 instalment didn’t disappoint, but alas, I could only stay for day 1.

No complaints though, the day job doesn’t stop whilst I’m not at my desk.  Another train journey from London Excel to Durham provided a chance to get on with my presentation for London Build.  The tube is a different matter altogether though.  I’m way too northern to work in the unreal heat, plus it’s fascinating to see a whole carriage of people from all over the world adopt the unwritten rules; don’t speak, don’t touch, smiles will not be returned.  

I’d decided to share some strategic advice about getting real world benefits from adopting BIM.  I attended last year, and it’s not the same crowd as DCW, it’s an industry melting pot across all tiers and the exposure to digital construction concepts and BIM is varied. It’s great to be immersed in this crowd, because it buzzes like a fridge.  Everyone knows their piece of the puzzle and is there to meet and impress new people, everyone hoping for a new lead or two with 2019’s defining word likely to be uncertainty.  Uncertainty and innovation are curious bedfellows, but the right attitude to using any available slack to improve processes can make all the difference. 

My thoughts were that I must be compelling or get a whole load of excuses for not doing BIM in the Q&A.    Building a team, prioritising activities and taking the right attitude to support innovation diffusion were the key messages.  This kind of pragmatic advice is what I’ve been building the BIM Strategy business model on since I joined in 2016, so you’d think I’d have slides aplenty.  Sadly no, most of it is wrapped up in BIM execution plans and other documents I’ve worked on, but slides full of copied and pasted text would never do, so back for another powerpoint marathon.

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Frankly, London Build was a total hoot.  I felt my presentation at the start of Day 1 hit the right tone, as presentation after presentation had a common thread, that everyone should get on with doing BIM properly for the sake of design, safety, efficiency, analysis, engagement, future proofing or quality.  It felt like a wind had changed, no controversy (except Shaun at BIM Open Mic of course), no one trying to reinvent the definition of BIM, no wild cries to scrap COBie, nobody focussing in on the discrepancies in the standards. 

It was especially good to see some new faces, who didn’t try and score points by disagreeing with the other presentations. Their stories were those of people who had learnt from those who went early and are finding the waves less choppy.  Chairing day 2 was a cast iron pleasure.  Perhaps the competitiveness around who’s BIM is the best BIM has hit its high-water line and receded? 

The question is, are we finally ready to drive BIM adoption across the industry?  To find the issue together, and bring everyone along for the ride, or, have I just experienced an exceptional series of events?  Looking back at OktoBIMfest in a year’s time will it appear to be a false dawn?  I don’t know yet, but as my train pulls into Durham, I have an exhilarating feeling that something has happened in 2018 that won’t be undone by whatever 2019 throws at us.’

Niven & BIM Stategy