Many thanks to everyone who attended our conference on the 24th & 25th of May. We were back at one of our favourite venues, the Hallam Conference Centre in London and well over 100 delegates joined us on both days.
Day 1 - Thursday 24 May
The first day of our conference was jointly chaired by Christine Gausden, Senior Lecturer at the Department of the Built Environment at Greenwich University and George Holder, Corporate Activity Analyst at Costain.
Space Construction: It's not Rocket Science... is it?
The conference got off to a great start with a brilliant key-note presentation by Dr Ravi Margasahayam who was a Payload Engineer at NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center. Ravi is an official NASA spokesman and has been involved with over 100 Space Shuttle missions and has helped to launch over 700 astronauts into space. His presentation focused on the relationship between exploration, innovation and space and earth-based construction technologies.
Ravi has worked for NASA for more than 28 years and is a leading expert on Rocket Launch-induced Noise and Vibration Technology. As well as a fascinating presentation he also showed a video during the lunch break which tested the Hallam's auditorium speakers to the limit and gave the audience an inkling of the power and noise involved in a Space Shuttle launch!
Dr Ravi Margasahayam
BIM and the Productivity Challenge
Ravi was always going to be a hard act to follow, but after a break for coffee Nick Tune, Digital Engineering Director at Atkins, brought us back to earth with a presentation about BIM and productivity.
Nick pointed out that productivity in construction has not increased in over 50 years and that BIM, which was meant to help has so far failed to do so. Nick suggested some of the reasons for this and the way in which BIM, or rather Digital Engineering, might help.
ICE Project 13 - A Better Approach to Delivering High Performance Infrastructure
Next up was Jennifer Macdonald from Mott MacDonald who talked about the ICE Project 13. This project is looking to develop a new enterprise-based business model for construction as opposed to a traditional transactional one.
Jennifer's presentation covered a lot of ground and touched on a number of issues the industry faces, not least the low level of digitisation. The core message was one about a shift in thinking toward a more mature model that focuses on the long-term and delivers customer, productivity and sustainability benefits.
Iain Miskimmin tries out Clicks & Links VR bike tour
Thanks to our exhibitors there was plenty to keep delegates amused during the coffee and lunch breaks. Clicks & Links were inviting people to take virtual cycle tours and FULCRO had the Full Max VR Cave in attendance. There were also stands being manned by Script & Go, PlanGrid, the British Army and Dropbox.
The role of a Cyborg Ethnographer
After lunch Felicity Heathcote-Márcz from Atkins explained what it is to be a Cyborg Ethnographer. Understanding how and why people work the way they do is essential in the face of rapidly changing technology and the change in workplace culture and behaviours that often follows it. Felicity's work revolves around understanding the relationship between digital solutions and the political and social worlds of people in organisations in order to improve organisational success.
Get digital. Get mobile. Get productive
Felicity was followed by Benoît Jeannin who is the founder and President of Script & Go. Script & Go currently own the Site Diary solution which those familiar with COMIT will know grew from COMIT and Costain's work on the EU funded MobiCloud project.
Benoît explained how his inspiration for creating the company in 2011 come from a belief in the importance of intuitive data input - namely hand-writing and speech recognition. He feels that many small-step advancements are being overlooked in the rush towards technological solutions for construction and that taken as a whole, smaller developments can have a large impact on the efficiency and the well-being of workers.
A slide from Sarah Fox's presentation showing an early construction contract
If banking can do digital, why not construction contracts?
Amazingly something that we have never addressed at a COMIT conference before is the fundamental role that contracts themselves play in "contracting". Sarah Fox, Contract Strategist at 500 Words Ltd, gave a fascinating talk about the origin of contracts and why this often overlooked aspect of our industry is a source of so many problems.
Using the banking model as an example Sarah presented a compelling argument for why Digital Contracts could help address a lot of constructions' issues - instead of actually being the direct cause of many of them as is the case with traditional contracts.
Future Vision - Now!
Last up but by no means least on Day 1 was Fran Rabuck. Fran needs no introduction to anyone who has been to previous COMIT conferences where he has appeared - once met never forgotten! Fran has a voracious appetite for technological innovation and an uncanny ability to pick up early trends. As usual his presentation was a tour de force covering many current and emerging technologies and their likely impact on construction and the wider community.
Robotic Uncle Albert - who looks a bit like Fran Rabuck
In particular Fran picked up on the blossoming promise of AI - a theme touched on by other presenters - and some of it's potentially less obvious implications. He even brought along a couple of mechanical friends - one of whom (Uncle Al) bore a remarkable likeness to Fran himself! Among other areas Fran covered were BIM, education and the rapidly changing landscape of business models.
We closed Day 1 of the conference with a soirée with free drinks and nibbles. Most delegates took the opportunity for additional networking and to spend more time visiting the stands of our exhibitors.
Foreground left to right: Stuart Young, Sarah Fox, Steve Slater
Day 2 - Friday 25 May
The second day of our conference was jointly chaired by Phil Jackson, Director of Intra Tream IT Consultants and Dr. Sonia Zahiroddiny, BIM Strategy Manager at High Speed Two Ltd.
Transforming Infrastructure Performance
Our keynote presentation for Day 2 was delivered by Terry Stocks, Delivery Director for Level 2 BIM at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Terry covered the the Transforming Infrastructure Performance report which outlines the government's plan to boost construction sector productivity and improve the delivery and performance of infrastructure.
Terry discussed the historical importance of construction to the UK economy and the constant search for improvement, which dates back to at least the early 1930's. Construction productivity generally lags other sectors and this gap has widened in recent decades. That gap is currently costing the UK construction industry approximately £15 billion a year.
Terry discussed the ways in which the government is trying to address that gap and the Transforming Infrastructure Performance (TIP) programme. He also emphasised that BIM Level 2 still part of the picture and is an important foundation.