The latest CIF Digicon brought an acknowledgement of the progress made in the construction industry alongside excitement about what’s to come next
The latest Construction Industry Federation Digicon 2023 started with a bang with summit chair, and broadcaster, Jonathan Healy, announcing next year’s event will be an expo, expanding upon the event’s popularity.
Speaking to the large attendance gathered in Croke Park on Thursday, June 15, Healy said it’s been a mix of progress and reverse for the construction industry.
The current objectives are clear – the industry can’t stand still, and moving forward requires embracing new technologies that will prepare the next generation to reach their full potential.
This set the stage for the opening address from CIF President Joe Conway, who referred to the day’s theme of alignment.
While it’s more than achievable, achieving that shared interest will require the golden thread, where factors like transparency and traceability are key.
“How, as an industry, can we hope to succeed without alignment? In truth, we don’t,” he said. “Digitalisation, like any industry, presents challenges and ultimately offers opportunities to flourish and develop a more sophisticated offer for our client.”
The keynote address was delivered by Dr Clare Eriksson, director of Build Digital and the Head of the School of Transport and Civil Engineering at Technological University Dublin (TUD).
During this, she took the opportunity to launch two initiatives: the first was the Digital Education and Training Inventory, a database of all the upskilling and education opportunities and courses in digital construction in Ireland.
The second was the Digital Construction Pack, which was launched in collaboration with CI. Dr Eriksson described it as “important for any company on their digital journey, it’s comprehensive and relevant to all companies no matter their stage of digital development.”
With collaboration as the cornerstone of her talk, she presented international case studies. She mentioned that it requires buy in and openness from all stakeholders to create a construction industry that benefits the future.
“The pace of technological change races ahead, and we as a sector cannot afford to be left behind or miss the opportunity to meet the challenge,” she said.
“The opportunities are immense, and I call on each and every one of you to get involved and play your part with Build Digital. This is bigger than each of us, there is a role for everyone in making this work.
“We are future-proofing Ireland’s construction industry and all the economic and societal benefits the sector provides for future generations.”
This paved the way for the first panel session, which looked at delivering next generation projects. This included Belinda Dillon, BIM information manager at Jones Engineering; Dan O’Brien, co-founder and managing director at Lidan Designs and Joseph Mady, CEO at DCT Group.
Dillion echoed Dr Eriksson’s earlier point about collaboration and education: “Overall, it’s about not working in silos, we need to make sure we’re engaged, and that we’re one team on a project. You can’t pick and choose who you help.”
Following this was a conversation on Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) featuring Céline McHugh, principal officer from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and Geraldine Larkin, CEO of the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI).
When asked about Ireland being behind other countries in certain areas, McHugh said that could be an advantage in some instances as we can learn from the experience of others, and that requires participation and engagement from all.
“The only way to dispel fear is engagement, and it is happening,” she said. “It’s not just creating demand, it’s that wider environment that needs to change and enable that.
“It’s not just picking one technology over another, it’s making sure that what we’re building is the best we can do.”
Before the morning coffee break, there was room for two more talks.
The first was an international case study focusing on Estonia, described by WIRED magazine as ‘the world’s most digitally advanced society’ and delivered by Regina Viljasaar-Frenzel, programme manager for e-Leap in Construction at the Department of Construction & Housing, Ministry of Economic Affairs & Communications, Estonia.
Mentioning how 99 per cent of its services are now online, she said that a key component is making it as simple and usable as possible.
“[What we heard from users is] they found it great, but it made them change their workflows, so it pushed the principalities to update their workflows,” she said. “All the interfaces must be normal, simple, usable to someone who isn’t as proficient in BIM.”
Following that was Jonathan Reinhardt, chartered architectural technologist at Diatec Group, who spoke about how critical digital collaboration is to digital success.
When talking about AI, he brought up examples of AI tools producing mock-ups of houses in 15 seconds. While the speed is impressive, there’s a long way to go with its output.
“Effectively, what I see AI technology lacking at the moment is specificity and context,” he said. “That’s what it’s lacking, and I do believe that is going to change.”
Skillsets and smarter insights
With the crowd refreshed with coffee and tea, it was on to the next batch of talks – the first by Cillian Kelly, Head of Digital Project Delivery Ireland & Europe and Warren Judge, both from John Sisk & Son.
Regarding BIM’s value, Kelly mentioned how important it was to create awareness and the governance structures from the beginning so that data extraction, usage and implementation go smoothly.
Following up was a panel forum on aligning technology and skills to help empower your workforce. This included Lis O’Brien, DASBE Manager of the Digital Academy for the Sustainable Built Environment for Technological University of the Shannon: Midlands Midwest; Liz Carroll, network manager for Construction Professionals Skillnet and Yvonne Foy, contract training officer for Laois Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB).
Regarding busy professionals trying to make the time to upskill, O’Brien mentioned how there are now short programmes that are easier to digest and make time for.
“The idea of not having time, we run a lot of short programmes where you do a certificate or a module,” she said. ‘It’s bite-sized, and we do them in the evening, so it might be one or two hours in the evening time, and we always have this practical element. It’s not just theory.”
After this, there was a fireside chat with students in the construction industry featuring Damien Reidy and Daniel Breen, both from South East Technological University, and Mila Downey from Mount Sackville Secondary School.
With different backgrounds, Downey mentioned how she worked with RPS in Dun Laoghaire during her Transition Year, which revealed a world she wouldn’t have realised.
“It opened up a world of possibilities,” she said. “It just showed me how much is involved in being in the construction industry, and it’s not just a builder on a work site, it’s something I can be involved in.”
The last panel session of the day was on aligning the delivery of capital projects with consumer needs. This featured Aisling Joyce, technical coordinator at Cairn Homes; Mark O’Brien, director of global engineering at MSD; Mark Regan, BIM programme manager at Intel Corporation and Michael Murphy, head of information management and data analytics for Digital Project Solutions at BAM.
Talking about visualisation, Joyce mentioned it’s not just about digitalisation but processes as well, how you can extrapolate and use data to help you work smarter and better.
Tying in with this was the day’s final presentation on the building of the new children’s hospital delivered by Tony O’Rourke, director of estates, facilities management and sustainability at Children’s Health Ireland (CHI), and George Harold, co-founder and CEO of Fexillon.
Talking about the purpose of the new children’s hospital, O’Rourke spoke about the hospital as a digital-born hospital, that is, everything that can be digitalised will be, using that data to help understand trends, work priorities and optimise performance across the board.
The afternoon was broken up into five main sessions. The first looked at using AI to build a sustainable journey and was chaired by Ingrid De Doncker, head of research and innovation at Future Planet.
The second roundtable focused on how firms can bring secure connectivity and best-of-breed technology at all stages of a construction site.
It featured Bill Kenny, connectivity solutions expert at VEI Global, and Chris Bignell, senior sales engineer at Cradlepoint. Roundtable three looked at how firms benefit from BIM adoption, delivered by Jonathan Reinhardt, chartered architectural technologist at Diatec Group.
At the same time, the fourth roundtable saw John Foley, director of Lifesize Plans Leinster, discuss how state-of-the-art collaborative walkthrough technology can reduce construction cost and programme duration for designers, constructors and end users.
The fifth and final roundtable focused on how 360° reality capture and AI simplified coordination between the field and digital team, chaired by Tamas Borodi, regional manager of OpenSpace.
With CIF Digicon finished for another year, it was PJ Rudden, external member of Project Ireland 2040 Delivery Board for the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform, delivered the closing remarks mentioning the strong ratio of men to women at the conference and the importance of embracing change and providing a better and more robust construction industry for all.
Pictures by Maura Hickey