IT in Construction conference, London

I’m at the 4th annual conference organised by Construction News conferences on IT in Construction – an event that used to be organised in partnership with the IT Construction Forum (now part of Constructing Excellence). There are around 70 delegates from across the industry in the room at the Earl’s Court conference centre in west London, with a fair sprinkling of IT vendor representatives.

0945am BST: Perhaps recognising the previous role of Constructing Excellence, the opening presentation is from CE’s Peter Cunningham, putting IT into context alongside other post-Latham and post-Egan industry changes such as partnering – a collaborative working approach that is slowly growing. He says “frequent informed clients” are today increasingly engaging main contractors at project inception (though there is still a time lag before specialist contractors and suppliers are brought on board). Collaborative working tools (including extranets, mobile IT, even BIM) are becoming part of the array of common processes that are deployed by such teams.

Peter has also talked about the Uniting Construction Information initiative (see post), set for launch shortly, he says.

Looking forward, he has also covered in some detail the ICT and Automation working group of the National Platform – an initiative with which I was involved (see post). He explained that this was a starting point for industry inputs to developing new products and services, and addressing the related cultural issues.

11.00am BST: Interesting descriptions of rapid set-up of IT and telecoms on-site by Neil Pawsey of Jackson Civil Engineering and Zoe Turnbull of Shepherd Construction (both participants in Comit), covering a new, rapidly deployed package (‘Project Cheetah’ – yet to launch) from BT, a competing system called Project Greenbox (a day one, fixed price solution delivered in a Portakabin, from – I think – Private Mobile Networks) and EMS’s i-MO.

12.30pm BST: Tim Cole of Causeway talked about collaboration at the transaction processing or structured data level, using Causeway Tradex as an example.

Simon Lawrence (today of Llewelyn Davies Yeang Architects, but formerly of Chapman Taylor Espana) talked about the sharing of information on a Panama scheme: Los Faros de Panama – a massive residential tower project. The scheme was being designed by a multi-national team involving staff spread around the world, including people from CT, Arup and Gleeds, among others. Having experienced problems with FTP in the past, CT and Arup reviewed different solutions and chose the 4Projects collaboration platform, and then persuaded the client, contractor and others to adopt the system.

So it was a case study of the use of 4Projects collaboration platform – pretty predictable in its outline of benefits, limited need for training, revision control, etc. The capacity of drawing viewing tools was raised as one issue as some in Arup were using ‘See & Share’ – a tool that allowed people to share and mark-up a drawing live online (something that wasn’t available in the viewer used by 4Projects). Statistics: 21,000 uploads, 45,000 downloads, 11 organisations, 95 users, 10,200 drawings, 500 documents.

13.15pm BST: Afternoon session includes Mace’s Rob Owen (one of several industry figures who participated in this week’s CN debate on How can IT work for the industry) looking at BIM, Glyn Jones of Bovis Lend Lease focusing on IT and sustainability, and, finally, Arup’s Darshan Ruikar looking at achieving innovation through use of ICT.

15:15pm BST: Afternoon session has looked at different dimensions (literally in the case of Rob Owen’s discussion of 4D: time, 5D: cost and 6D: FM) in the use of ICT. Kicking things off, Rob looked at use of BIM on projects, illustrated with some fascinating examples of use of modelling on projects, including development of the London 2012 Olympics site, mentioning developments in Europe (PSI Bouw, Stand Inn) and suggesting the UK is lagging behind work in the US and Scandinavia.

Glyn Jones focused on how construction organisations might address sustainability issues (social, economic and environmental). His points about up-skilling staff (eg: document controllers to information managers) seemed to attract most interest (Glyn was also kind enough to credit me as the source of some of the information he used – drawn from the ICT and sustainability paper I wrote late last year for BERR, acknowledged here). Harking back to earlier comments about engaging main contractors at project inception, Glyn also said there was still a danger that such involvement wasn’t whole-hearted with contractors “silo-ed” away from input to the design.

Darshan had a detailed look at the nature of innovation and outlined how ICT needed to be adapted to suit people and processes (not vice versa), particularly when looking at major complex projects – he is involved in Land Securities‘ Ebbsfleet Valley project, a scheme with a 15-25-year time span.

[18.30pm BST: updated to add a few links, tags, etc.]

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