Reviewing BuildingSMART 2008

I have now had a couple of days to reflect on Wednesday’s BuildingSMART conference in London (see my live-blog posts here and here). My thoughts….

UK lagging behind – Given that it’s an organisation’s annual event, you would expect a lot of the same people to turn up each year, and there were a lot of familiar faces. Yet I felt there were fewer UK people than at last year‘s event. This is perhaps one reason why I got the impression that BuildingSMART’s vision of interoperable building information modelling (iBIM) is much nearer achievement in other countries (notably, Scandinavia and the US), while UK presenters are still talking about overcoming barriers to BIM adoption (the parallel BuildLondonLive event sort of confirmed this geographical divide – 9 of the 12 listed teams were completely drawn from outside the UK, only one appeared to be solely UK in origin).

Sustainability and FM – The sustainability theme that ran through parts of the event was welcome, particularly as it also encouraged contributors to talk about the long-term, across-the-asset-life-cycle use and re-use of information. Too often we seem to focus on use of information during design and construction and forget that we should also be looking earlier, during planning and concept stages, and later, throughout the operational life and onto eventual demolition or dismantling of an asset.

BuildingSMART rejuvenated – I talked briefly to Chris Groome and he agreed that the emergence of Building Information Modelling had given the old International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI) a new lease of life. My BIW colleague, chief executive Colin Smith was briefly co-opted to the IAI’s board earlier this decade, but quickly became disillusioned with the then slow pace of change. The change of name has helped give the organisation a new image, and the active involvement of UK AEC ICT companies like Synchro and Asite is a positive sign. As and when BIM capability starts becomes a competitive requirement domestically, both among AEC companies and ICT providers, then perhaps BuildingSMART will start to grow in stature and influence in the UK.

Low attendance – I arrived quite early and there appeared to be almost 100 badges on the registration table, but periodic headcounts during the day showed attendance in the auditorium peaked at about 60. Some individuals dropped in for only part of the day (eg: some BLL participants), but I did wonder, yet again, about the continued wisdom of running conventional conferences on industry ICT. Just as exhibitions appear to be dwindling in importance within the AEC ICT sector (see: The Great Construction Computing no-show), it appears conferences also struggle to get backsides on seats.

BuildLondonLive – More encouraging was the extensive international interest with the BuildLondonLive project – maybe the future will be more about combining real and virtual events, with a corresponding change in how events are organised, funded and hosted? I was looking to see how the BLL teams might embrace some Web 2.0 technologies, but we saw little evidence of take-up among them (perhaps they used them, but we didn’t see?). The BLL blog and Twitter feeds were enthusiastically updated by staff from co-sponsor Asite, but the wiki wasn’t touched.

UCI? – Sadly, apart from the new badge appearing on conference literature and some PowerPoint slides, there was no Uniting Construction Information presence. Maybe recent downsizing at Constructing Excellence, one of the enablers behind the initiative, was a factor?

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