Monday, February 18, 2013

Highlights of the ‘BIM in Practice’ Conference

A critical review of this recent conference in Sydney that gathered key national and international experts to  share their progress on implementing BIM on a variety of projects.

I was delighted to close out the inaugural ‘BIM in Practice’ Conference with my presentation on: Why clients shouldn't pay an extra cent for BIM (and why they should). Key national and international experts from a broad range of professional backgrounds shared their progress on implementing BIM on a variety of projects.

The conference organisers IQPC managed to gather an excellent and varied line-up of speakers. It was noticeable though that the hefty price tag (at points ticket prices for the two days were above 3k per person) seemed to have warded off potential attendees and the number of speakers (around 20) seemed to be equalled by the number of audience in the room.  The event thus had somewhat of a seminar character rather a conference.

After a short introduction to the current National BIM Initiative by John Mitchell (buildingSmart ) and a short discussion about Collaborative Contracting, Andrew Guttridge and his colleague Michael Carlotto from Arkhefield provided the most compelling presentation of the entire conference, highlighting their approach for architect driving design coordination with early sub-contractor involvement and in consideration of requirements to Facility Management. 
Image by Arkhefield
Day one was followed by a series of presentations related to the intricacies of BIM adoption by various industry players and government agencies. Most notably, Simon Lloyd-Evans from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, New Zealand introduced us to their GeobuildTM framework to bring together building information and geographical and environmental data. It is interesting to witness of these areas are currently converging and how they add new impetus to the adoption of BIM type technology by adding new dimensions of associable spatial information (such as GIS and environmental data).
Later in the afternoon, Arup’s Ricci Piper updated us on the work undertaken to assist Health Infrastructure (HI) in NSW to provide guidance to consultants and contractors about their BIM mandate that came into place at the end of January. Ricci summarised the content of four documents that HI had put forward for review by their key stakeholders. HI issuing these documents is a major step in Australia; (to my knowledge) it is the first time that a State Department related organisation releases a document that clearly outlines their (not only project specific) BIM requirements while at the same time mandating the use of BIM on any of their projects (above 30 Million AU$) as of now. It would not come as a surprise if Health Departments in other states will refer to these documents in one way or another when issuing their BIM requirements in the future.

Day two of the conference was marked by several more presentations on either strategic, or project related BIM implementation progress on the consultant and contractor side. One issue in particular became apparent:  The overall knowledge level about BIM in Australia is increasing. A solid number of key players (mostly the tier 1 consultants and contractors) are progressing steadily in adopting BIM related policies, standards and in advancing their in house skill level. As much as this is clearly a positive development, it leads to the problem that one starts to get confronted with a substantial level of repeat information over the duration of a 2 day conference. Truly new aspects of BIM and its context become harder to cover and the audience seems to consist mostly of a circle of converted. Clients were still under-represented at the conference as a target audience.

In retrospect, the above observation leads to the question if 2-day conferences with generally themed BIM topics will remain relevant in the future. Given a price tag of 2k or even 3k plus, I’d expect for the audience to walk away with a bag full of new ideas, great references and a number of contacts of potential collaborators. This is certainly the case when one considers user conferences such as the Revit Technology Conference (RTC) that is built on substantial peer to peer support as well as a ‘Principals Stream’. In the case of the BIM in Practice, conference I believe that despite best efforts of the organisers, the industry may well be beyond the point where such general introductions are still necessary. With BIM seminars and user meetings held 2-3 times every week in most major Australian cities, the ‘market’ seems to become fairly saturated. I’m not arguing in any way that we are already well enough informed and I truly see extensive requirement for educating the industry about BIM; it may well make more sense in slightly different formats and for a target audience that constitutes a few fresh faces (and in particular: clients, project managers and lawyers)

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