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.
Autumn 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).
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.]