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Takeaways from BILT NA 2019

Matt Sweeney, PE, our Production Technology and Innovation Manager, recently attended BILT NA 2019 in Seattle, Washington.  Below are some of his takeaways from this exciting and informative conference:

BILT NA, DBEI’s (Digital Built Environment Institute) primary conference in the US, is probably the most interesting as well as the most practical technology conference for the Architecture/Engineering part of the AEC (Architecture-Engineering Construction) industry. There is definitely some construction talk involved but it truly feels like it has more for the designers, which is a welcome change from some of the other major AEC technology conferences out there. This was my second year attending and my only regret is I skipped last year in favor of another conference. This year’s event was in Seattle, WA, offering a cool shift from the sweltering heat the Southeast was experiencing when the conference was being held.

This year I had the opportunity to attend one of the pre-conference events. Along with the three-day BILT conference, the organizers run a few pre-conference tracks: Data Day, Design Technology Summit, and Building Content Summit. I chose Data Day as one of my secondary focuses because lately I’ve been working with company data and finding better ways to analyze and put it to good use. We’ve been dabbling in some PowerBI and are working through a few use cases and proof of concept, so it was very relevant. It just so happened one of the early presentations from Doug Williams at Leo A. Daly was about some amazingly similar initiatives and dashboards they’ve built up. So, it didn’t take long before the day returned on the investment of the prior day’s extremely late flight and minimal hours of sleep.

Being a pre-conference event also meant there were fewer people there and most of them were focused or interested in similar things. So, the networking part of the day offered great opportunities to trade stories on similar work problems and successes. I managed to come away with some insight on issues I wasn’t sure had workable answers.

The conference ran Thursday-Saturday with four one hour-long learning sessions each day. With the exhibition hall, networking, and evening events it made for a very full week. This event was really thought out and they made loads of information easily digestible. We were given booklets with all the sessions laid out for each day so you could easily see what was going on. It also made it easy to pick out sessions you couldn’t attend and bookmark them in the app so that when the materials are made available after the conference you can retrieve them.

Sessions I attended included Advanced Revit usage; introductions to practical machine learning; Microsoft PowerApps; a roundtable on computational design; Dynamo usage and implementation; how to use Dynamo with our structural analysis tools; a session on how a mid-size firm can value in R&D; some generative design talk; and more. This was a very wide-range of topics but all of them are right in my wheelhouse. They largely pertain to ideas PES is currently working on in the office or items that we’d like to learn more about fitting into our workflows.

This was the second time I participated in one of the roundtable sessions and it’s definitely a session format that I’ll continue to attend. It’s extremely valuable when you have a group of folks diving into a deep discussion about related topics. It generally reveals a few perspectives rather than the singular perspective of the speaker. It also helps you get an idea of what other firms/teams might be doing in those areas. Many times in these “roundtable” style sessions, there has been at least one “naysayer,” which is a good thing in my opinion, as it gives you that necessary counterpoint and gets you thinking and thwarts collective groupthink.

As usual, one of my favorite parts of the event was getting to talk with other folks in my position and discuss some of the tools they’re using. We had meaningful conversations about how they’re working out and what workflows they’ve created. This level of communication can be hard outside of the open environment provided at BILT. Especially for an introvert like myself, it can be hard sometimes. In a lot of cases the sessions really provide a good starting point for a deeper conversation. It’s easy to ask someone you saw in your session what they thought of it, or how they’re implementing a certain problem-solving strategy. You know you probably have a common interest already.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention just a little something about the location. This was my first trip to the famed Pacific Northwest and boy do I wish I could have stayed longer. With the conference being so full it was tough to get out and explore much; however, being from the East Coast and not adjusting well, I was up at 4:30 am pretty regularly. So, I took it as an opportunity to get out for a morning jog, use Uber Bikeshare, or take a walk down to the Pike Place Market just before it opened. Being a seafood lover, that market was like a little peek into paradise. I’m already thinking of how to get back there for a vacation.

It’s difficult to put too much into a short post about all the topics I touched on, but if you’re interested, don’t hesitate to reach out about anything I mentioned above. I can be reached at