Notes on attending a Microsoft-hosted construction ICT event

“Ooh, a free conference on construction ICT! And it’s at Microsoft’s London office!” – probably the reaction of more than a few people when emails dropped into their inboxes earlier this year. I attended last year’s event, having heard of the event through friends at COMIT (Construction Opportunities for Mobile IT), so I was clearly on the mailing list for this year’s version (held last week), again organised by Microsoft reseller and COMIT member ObjectiveIT.

Of course, such a free event was likely to have a strong Microsoft flavour, and so it proved, with several sessions plainly devoted to extolling the virtues of the latest Microsoft software.

Former Stent/Balfour Beatty technology leader John Findlay did a good job in talking about the industry’s need for innovation and collaboration, though I was disappointed (but not surprised) that only eight people out of 50-60 had even heard of, let alone read Andrew Wolstenholme’s Never Waste a Good Crisis report (published by Constructing Excellence over a year ago). John also mentioned the National Platform ICT & Automation report that I helped produce a couple of years ago.

Then we were into the ICT stuff, with Simon Kalp of ObjectiveIT talking about leveraging the Microsoft platform. It seems like ObjectiveIT is targeting the construction market with the Microsoft solution stack (lots of discussion by him, and later by Microsoft’s Tony Cocks, of unified communications, Lync, SharePoint, of Generation Y and “presence”, etc). Had to smile when they talked about architects sharing drawings online and doing mark-ups as though this was something new – the construction industry has been doing this for 10 years and more by adopting Software-as-a-Service, which Microsoft resisted for so long!

The award for most-contrived research acronym goes to ORFEUS for “Optimised Radar to Find Every Utility in the Street“. Orpheus features in Greek mythology as someone who ventured into the underworld, so this was a fitting name, perhaps, for projects on ground-penetrating radar. Howard Scott from Osys re-awakened the latent civil engineer in me with his talk about radar and horizontal directional drilling for trenchless installation of pipes and cables (using a “Grundodrill” – good name!).

As seems usual at COMIT events, we heard presentations on real-time location-based services (a joint presentation by Costain’s Tim Embley and John Mills from Masternaut) and on remote site ICT system set-up (Speedy Canopy, described by Jason Maddison). I think I preferred these practical examples of applied ICT to the more abstract Microsoft-focused sessions.

The final speaker was David Neve from Balfour Beatty’s Mansell division who gave a very elegant presentation about the challenges faced by IT directors such as himself in incorporating rapidly changing hardware and software and new end-user demands into an enterprise ICT environment.

Pointers for next year:

  • How about a bit of social media marketing to extend awareness of the event? (en route, I tweeted about the event, and got replies from at least two people saying they’d wished they heard about it earlier).
  • No wifi was a big downer. Despite being in the swanky London office of an ICT superpower, there was no wifi for guests attending the conference. I got round this omission by using a 3G dongle, but the signal was very weak, which restricted my efforts to share highlights from the event.
  • Agreeing an event Twitter hashtag for the event would have been useful (though, of course, this pre-supposes that any Tweeters even had connectivity – at least three of us did).
  • And what about a post-conference Tweet-up next year? Identifying a nearby pub for a bit of informal networking would have meant a less abrupt finish to the event.

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