I was delighted to attend, and chair, the #GreenBIM conference in Leeds last week. This was my first gig chairing a conference, and I enjoyed it very much. The event highlights included a nervous moment when 70 pints of Leeds Pale Ale nearly flooded us out, a mad run through the BIM Toolkit, an opportunity to discuss the value of PDTs to designers, and an excellent presentation on behavioural change by Dr Anne Kemp.
When Duncan Reed told me the tradition of ThinkBIM conferences was to get in an entire cask of local ale I was incredulous. It this is what you get for making the effort to travel up north then I’ll do it more often! Before every event a cask of ale is purloined from the local brewery and installed at the venue in the morning, to give it time (min 4 hours) to settle before we all get to pull a pint.
— Biomimicry UK (@Biomimicry_UK) April 1, 2015
If that wasn’t enough, our hosts at the Centre for Knowledge Exchange laid on a delicious curry supper, and venue Squire Patton Boggs UK LLP chipped in with a suite of comfortable rooms, lunch and oodles of refreshments throughout the afternoon. We just had to turn up! During the first breakout session Duncan went to open the cask and fortunately noticed that the tap provided had two spouts, neither of which was capped off. For a few seconds we might have been drowned out by 70 pints of unrestricted ale, but fortunately he noticed in time to arrange for a new spigot, with the right attachments, to be dispatched.
A feature of ThinkBIM events is a series of round table discussions where hosts from across the industry bring their questions and subjects of concern, and delegates get to choose two tables to join. As a result people get more out of the event and have an opportunity to get stuck into the detail. I sat in on two round tables, first Craig Sewell’s session on why specifiers aren’t using your BIM objects, which developed into a fascinating conversation about the actual level of information required from product manufacturers, and then Janet Beckett’s session on Product Data Templates.
PDTs are a subject of some contention. For a start they were originally introduced as an alternative to manufacturers providing BIM Objects, because they focus on the data at the heart of products. But then it was contended that many specifiers need the 3d data too in the form of an object. This is probably true, however Janet argues that even if we don’t adopt BIM (heaven forbid!), a Product Data Template for every type of product you consider will save specifiers and designers hours and hours of time, so we should have them anyway.
So what are PDTs? They are Excel spread sheet templates developed to describe construction products. A template needs to be developed for each type of product. Then when completed with the manufacturers details for a product, the completed spreadsheet is a Product Data SHEET (PDS) belonging to the manufacturer, which they can provide to designers, specifiers, contractors and so on. The benefits of one single format for information are clear.
— Gihan Badi (@GihanTadreft) April 1, 2015
Having attempted to compare product information myself in my specification days, the idea of being able to look at and compare the data from a simple set of spreadsheets seems a no brainer, but if you aren’t convinced, Janet produced two flow chart to show how PDTs and PDSs could dramatically reduce the time taken in choosing products.
Janet is a CIBSE design engineer, and CIBSE originally started developing PDTs to help in the design of M&E systems. Now BIM4M2 (the independent BIM for Manufacturers and Manufacturing Working Group) and others are working with CIBSE to develop PDTs for all construction elements, so that each manufacturers element can be described in a concise, comparable format. I was astonished to hear that it isn’t clear yet how PDTs will integrate with the Building Information Model, but as product data they should, if only because they provide a concise way of sharing product data for product companies. The group had some interesting ideas about PDTs that I hope Janet will pass on to CIBSE and BIM4M2.
Anne Kemp’s talk on behavioural change opened the conference, and what a beginning. It’s the most important thing (in my opinion) that happened on the day. Anne joined Atkins in 1997 when I started my management career, and her specialism is GIS, something I learned about from some of my students at Liverpool in the 1990s. GIS is making big waves in construction as we begin to really understand the power of data and learn how to work with it.
Anne’s talk was about behavioural change and how important it is for BIM implementation. Given that I’ve seen dozens of speakers talk about BIM in the last four years it’s surprising that I haven’t seen anyone really tackle this topic since Randy Deutsch in his book BIM and Integrated Design: Strategies for Architectural Practice back in 2011.
The focus of Anne’s talk was the nature of our construction industry from the perspective of our culture, and the way in which our siloed industry perpetuates ideas of separateness and restricts collaboration. This runs in a vicious circle from the history of our institutions through the education of our students to the perpetuation through their careers. At one point Anne pointed out that for all of us our sense of importance is housed in our jobs, our job titles, and our professions, not in ourselves as people. How are we expected to collaborate, co-operate in the process of integrating our skills into a BIM when our entire education and culture encourages us to compete?
— Su Butcher (@SuButcher) April 1, 2015
Later on in the day during the Q&A Anne contended that the key answer to this problem may be that the younger generation have a different attitude to their jobs and careers, they are more collaborative and innovative and more likely to break out of the siloes. I’ve seen that and documented it in how professionals have survived the recession and are co-operating across disciplines, companies and countries, and I’m optimistic that we might finally be able to break the hold of the professional institutions on our industry and start to truly work together. Its not just the younger generation however, we all have to take responsibility for this cultural change in our organisations.
Here’s Anne speaking at a conference in 2012:
In the meantime Anne (who holds several senior roles herself) is helping the team at HS2 tackle issues of behavioural change in order to efficiently implement what will be one of the countries biggest infrastructure projects of our lifetime.
What about the BIM Toolkit?
There are some parts of the conference that I haven’t covered, including Dr James Harty’s fascinating remote presentation on sustainability and BIM (google your product specification from the model anyone?) and the excellent PechaKucha presentations, but I can’t stop without mentioning the BIM Toolkit.
In the context of Anne’s talk, it was a challenge for Richard Watson of RIBA Enterprises to follow on with a whistle-stop tour of arguably one of the most important software tools in the BIM armoury, the InnovateUK (Government) funded tool to help implement Level 2 BIM, produced by a consortium including RIBA Enterprises.
Casey Rutland has seen the toolkit presented at BIM Show Live this week and written a very good review to kick things off here.
What struck me about his views is that the challenges he identifies in implementing the toolkit are about behaviour. If one has to make a couple of hundred thousand decisions at the start of the process, who is going to make them, and what is in it for them?
Which brought me back to Dr Kemp. The pressure to push through with implementing BIM might be encouraging us to get the technology right, but if we don’t get the culture right, all the technology in the world isn’t going to help us.
I’d be interested in your views on this subject, and in examples of who in our industry is having success driving cultural, as well as technological change. Why not post a comment below?
Read the Storify Paul Wilkinson put together here:
Have a look at the statistics for the event on Twitter
Want to come to the next Centre for Knowledge Exchange conference? Take a look at the diary here.