Spring Conference 2018

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.

Terry Stocks, speaking on Day 2

Digital Delivery - A value driven approach

Terry was followed by Stephen Kennedy, Head of Digital and Innovation at Stantec Treatment. Steve picked up on theme of productivity and described how Stantec have changed the way they deliver projects in the Water Industry, taking advantage of digitisation.

Stephen gave examples of how collaboration and early engagement with the supply chain have benefited all parties. He also described how Stantec plan to move on to Digital Handover and Digital Operation and how this will deliver further benefits.

Morning coffee break on day 2

Digital Transformation in Energy & Infrastructure

After a break for coffee we continued with the theme of transformation with a presentation from Andrew Holt, Digital Data Consultant at Assystem and founder of REBIM®. Andrew discussed Assystem's investment in the next generation of scalable cloud technologies and how they are being used.

Andrew covered a number of areas, including digitisation and BIM Level 2 - using a case-study from the Nuclear Industry to illustrate his points. He concluded with an overview of Assystem's future direction which included moving toward a microservice architecture.

Funding Innovation & Growth Post-Brexit

With another first for a COMIT conference Tracey McRobert, Director of First Impressions Business Consultancy Ltd, looked at the situation with funding for SME's. Tracey covered the kind of European, Regional and Local funding available to small businesses and not-for-profit organisations.

Tracey also covered government incentives such as R&D tax credits and showed by way of case studies just how significant the combination of different grants, credits and funding can be to a start-up or non-commercial entity. Although aimed at smaller organisations Tracey noted that many large organisations create charitable spin-offs that can also benefit.

The FullMax VR Cave

As on Day 1 there was plenty of technology on show to keep delegates interested during the coffee and lunch breaks. Both Clicks & Links and FULCRO had interactive exhibits here were also stands manned by Script & Go, PlanGrid, the British Army and Dropbox.

After lunch Michael Quadt, Chief Solution Expert at SAP showed how SAP are incorporating emerging technologies into their tools. Technologies like IoT (Internet of Things), augmented reality and advance analytics can provide real-time project management controls to help improve construction productivity.

After Michael we had another familiar face at COMIT events, Dr. Max Mallia-Parfitt who is Director of Applied Technologies at Fulcro Group. Max had been briefed to create a bit of controversy ahead of the panel session and proceeded to do so with aplomb.

After taking aim at a nameless (construction) company over their clumsy and legally dubious approach to GDPR ("it's opt-in guys, not opt-out - get it right!") Max gave a whistle-stop tour of Artificial Intelligence and its allied technologies when applied to construction. This included Blockchain, Deep Learning, IoT, Smart Dust, Autonomous Vehicles, Brain-Computer Interfacing and the Augmented Workforce.

Our last slot of the conference was a panel session manned by our chairs for the day - Dr. Sonia Zahiroddiny and Phil Jackson, along with Iain Miskimmin, Ravi Margasahayam, Fran Rabuck and Dr. Max Mallia-Parfitt. Questions from the audience were eclectic and reflected the breadth of material covered over the two days of the conference. Questions ranging from space construction and badly mannered autonomous vehicles to the silo mentality within construction and whether or not professional institutions are doing enough to help.

Panel left to right: Dr.Ravi Margasahayam, Dr.Max Mallia-Parfitt, Fran Rabuck, Iain Miskimmin, Dr.Sonia Zahiroddiny and Phil Jackson

After the panel session the conference formally closed but the networking continued for an hour or so with tea and coffee served for those not in a hurry to catch a train.

The conference was a great success and the feedback from delegates has been extremely positive. Regular attendees often claim that the COMIT Conference is their favourite construction event, which can't be bad!

Many thanks to all of our delegates, presenters and sponsors. Special thanks to Ravi Margasahayam and Fran Rabuck for travelling all the way from the US to join us. Many thanks also to Su Butcher, who live-blogged both days of the conference and to Paul Wilkinson who joined us on day two and tweeted from the conference. Together they ensured our social media coverage was top-notch.

Photographs from the event and most of the presentations are now available on our website. We look forward to seeing you all again next year!

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