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Oct 23 2015

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Dwindling construction week

Digital Construction Week 2015 has ended. DCW15 officially opened with a (for some) Guinness-fuelled flourish at a packed Irish Embassy reception on Tuesday evening and petered out at London’s Business Design Centre at 4pm yesterday afternoon.

DCW2015 logoAutumn is a difficult time to run any event – perhaps doubly so for an ambitious new multi-day event and its attempt to build a fringe programme (post). It was just two weeks after the UK Construction Week show in Birmingham, and had competition this week from the ICE’s BIM conference (now in its, I think, fourth year), the second MIPIM UK property show, and a steady stream of autumn industry awards events. Bentley and Autodesk also have major customer events in the next six weeks. And, of course, the industry is booming and many busy employers will be reluctant to release already over-stretched staff from ongoing project commitments for a day or two.

DCW attempted to move the industry conversation beyond building information modelling (did any conference session not mention BIM?). It attracted a broad mix of both established AEC IT business exhibitors and some more recent start-ups. Familiar collaboration faces (to me) included Asite, Business Collaborator, Union Square and Newforma, and major AEC players such as Bentley, Autodesk and Trimble, but also several newer faces (expect some new posts on some of these….).

DCW: dwindling construction week

However, an Autodesk leadership conference planned for Tuesday 20 October was cancelled, as was a concluding DCW awards event, the ‘fringe’ was sparse, and I was told major keynotes from the CEOs of Autodesk and Bentley were cancelled (an article by Autodesk VP Phil Bernstein was published in the DCW blog). Yesterday’s main conference sessions seemed thinly attended. I chaired a conference breakout session on Big Data, with a three-strong panel of Kim van Rooyen from Turner & Townsend, Rolf Jerving of dRofus, and Patrick Mays of Dassault Systemes, and we had an audience of around 30, but some breakouts got half that.

In recent years, BIM conferences have been crowded affairs, but perhaps this was one event too many in a crowded month, maybe some ‘BIM fatigue’ is setting in, or conferences have to be priced more attractively (the full DCW delegate rate for a two-day conference pass was £395, plus VAT; £225 for public sector employees), with some concessions to attract SMEs.

Sadly, the exhibition reminded me of past construction IT events (Construction Computing Show, for example, which finally died in 2007; the Construction Computing Awards programme continues). Islington’s Business Design Centre was hardly bulging at the seams. Several exhibitors told me the event was poorly attended in terms of overall footfall, though some were pleased with the quality of the contacts they’d made (and I certainly found it good for networking). As an industry marketeer, I’ve long doubted that construction IT buyers attend such events, but perhaps exhibitors build or maintain brand awareness by their presence – I talked to a handful of exhibitors that I hadn’t previously encountered.

My saddest reflection relates to post-show views expressed by a small group from one IT vendor’s sales team in a nearby pub. I was told: “BIM is not going to attract many people”, “They’re just preaching to the converted”, “Digital construction and BIM mean nothing to most construction businesses”, and – perhaps worst – “if they renamed the show ‘Build stuff cheaper’ they’d get more people through the doors”. It seems even some AEC IT salesmen aren’t confident about the current digital push, and believe most customers are just interested in delivering projects at lowest price (attitudes sadly redolent of most of the industry currently known as construction, TICKAC).

#DCW16

The DCW team has tweeted its intention to run the event again, slightly later in 2016 in mid-November (16-17th) instead. This may avoid date clashes with some of the previously-mentioned events (though there will probably just be different competing ones), and I am sure the team learned from this year’s delivery. I think they were right to look beyond BIM (the UK government BIM mandate comes into force in April 2016) and with almost 13 months to plan next year’s DCW they will hopefully build a stronger event that reaches out to a wider audience yet to encounter, let alone cross, the digital divide.

[Disclosure: I was on the DCW15 steering group, and had a free conference pass.]

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2015/10/dwindling-construction-week/

4 comments

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  1. Mesut

    Hi Paul,

    I was hoping to attend this event but I had to give it a miss because of my study commitments. Normally I plan to attend at least two events a year and the DCW event was certainly on my radar as a good one to attend.

    I think one of the main reasons for poor attendance in this type of events is the amount of repetition (in terms of content and speakers) and nothing new to attract techno-savvy audience to attend. In majority of the cases, these events are led by technology vendors who, in addition to providing content, primarily aim for marketing and selling which, in my personal opinion, drives many people away from attending in the first place. There are whole host of other inter-dependent factors as you already mentioned (timing, cost, other events going on etc.), but I think collaboration between academia, industry and technology-vendors is the first key step in organising a technology focused event. It makes the event much more interesting and lively when these three groups come together and participate in open discussion about challenges, drivers and opportunities for technological solutions to industry’s problems.

    Kind Regards,

    Mesut

  2. Paul Wilkinson

    That’s a really good point, Mesut.

    Last week, I attended a BIM event at the University of Westminster organised with input from industry (addressed by a client, a contractor, a consultant and a former Autodesk-er, Richard Lane, representing the BIM Task Group). It was the first in a series aiming to develop discussion of BIM from first principles (hashtag #BeginBIM), and attracted around 100 people. With the right objectives and the right mix of contributors, we can extend the conversation beyond the tech-savvy.

    I agree vendors delivering presentations that turn into ‘sales pitches’ are a big turn-off. Even when working for a vendor, I tried to get customers/end-users to present about their use of technology – this way, it became a real-life case study delivered ‘warts and all’ (and all the more credible for being so) by someone working in the industry, not employed by the technology vendor.
    Regards – Paul

  3. Terry

    Paul

    I would like to know how many clients attended the event or how many had been invited, sayings it is the client through issuing a so called EIR that kicks this BIM thing off.

    Regards
    Terry

    1. Paul Wilkinson

      That’s clearly one for the DCW organisers to answer. Some clients who regularly procure projects will employ digitally-knowledgeable staff and some of these will have attended DCW – less likely, the ‘occasional’ or ‘one-off’ client, unless well advised by industry people.

      I would hope clients were well up to speed with BIM before issuing EIRs.

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