James Austin tells us what makes BIM important to our industry
James Austin is one of the founding partners of BIM Show Live, and we caught up with James to ask for his views on what BIM and digital construction means to him and what lies in store for the wider industry.
Can you tell us about your involvement with BIM delivery and how this impacts on your current role?
In my role as Product Manager for Autodesk, the key responsibility is about communication. I speak to people involved in BIM all the time – from customers to people within our own company. My job then is to try and keep abreast of workflows and requirements from all of those inputs, and clearly communicate those back to the development teams for the products I work with, so that we make relevant solutions.
When did you first start working with BIM?
As an architectural assistant working at Waring and Netts, my first encounter with BIM was in late 2004, when I sat down with a (at the time) very young architectural technologist named Adam Ward.
I distinctly remember Adam showing me Revit for the first time, and telling him it would never catch on. He frequently reminds me of this!
Of course, we didn’t call it BIM then, but it began a journey that brings me to where I am today.
In your opinion what has been the greatest benefit to the AEC industry by the introduction of BIM and digital construction processes?
For me it has to be change. Construction has for too long lacked momentum, and been resistant to change – this is evident in lots of data today. BIM has challenged so many preconceptions, and has to some extent forced a shift in attitudes. The conversations I have today with contractors, designers and engineers centre around data, information and technology. It’s hard to imagine that happening as recently as 10 years ago, and whilst painful for many I think it is long overdue in the industry.
Do you have a particular stand-out or flagship BIM-led project?
Not really. I don’t mean to avoid the question, and there are so many out there that are pushing the envelope, but I struggle with the term BIM-led. For me, we haven’t yet seen the embodiment of BIM across an entire project – the Industry is so young in those terms if you think about it – most major projects last longer than five years. Who started out in 2012 properly?
I think the answer is ahead of us, but it’s exciting to see that it is now becoming part of the conversation from cradle to grave, with contech and proptech emerging amongst all the BIM chatter too.
What technologies in the AEC industry currently impress you the most?
For me it’s all about cloud and the opportunity that brings – automation, machine learning and the promise of more from less.
I am massively biased here, but I have a unique insight into what’s possible, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s less sexy than speaking about a specific product or gadget, but my interest in architecture has moved from the built world to the software world. There are so many possibilities, and right now we’re just scratching the surface. I’m constantly looking at how companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google are building what’s behind the products, and what that might mean to the world – it’s fascinating when you start to daydream about the implications in a positive way.
Are you optimistic the industry is moving in the right direction in terms of digitisation?
Yeah, I think so. I always think it could be quicker, and it always frustrates me when I see academic arguments about standards and so on get in the way of progress, but generally I think there is a balanced march forwards going on right now. There is a blend of bleeding edge adopters and laggards out there in our space, and it’s an interesting dynamic in many businesses today. A lot of establishments are being challenged and back to my first answer – change is somewhat constant in all we do today.
What do you think will be the next big thing in BIM and digital construction?
I think there are massive shifts going on in the political world and the financial world right now. Construction today is intrinsically linked to both, and indeed is a driver for them too.
I believe the emergence of technology in such a static industry, amidst the backdrop of that society is the most exciting part. Over the next few years, I expect we will see major disruptions outside of our industry, and with what is happening inside added to the mix, something unexpected will challenge how we are working today.
James is presenting at BIM Show Live on Thursday 1 March at 14:30 in the Next Generation stream on: When I grow up I want to be a Spaceman! See the full programme for further details on this talk.