10 Years of RTC AustralasiaAECbytes Viewpoint #75 (June 4, 2015)


James Vandezande
Director of Design Technology, HOK


I first met Wes Benn­— the founder of RTC Events—in 2003 at Autodesk University in Las Vegas. Revit Technology was acquired by Autodesk the prior year and momentum was just starting to build around this new thing called "BIM." A small group of enthusiasts had gathered for an unofficial Revit Mixer and this Aussie fellow showed us some really cool Revit projects, which seemed more advanced than what many of us were doing in the US.

In July 2005, Wes and the leadership of Revit User Group Sydney felt that their passionate users deserved a much more formal event, which ultimately led to the first Revit Technology Conference being held a few months later. It had 89 users and a single stream of sessions. Each year thereafter, attendance and the amount of content have steadily increased. In addition to the Australasia conference, RTC Events now conducts conferences in Asia, North America and Europe as well as smaller think tank groups such as the Design Technology Summit and an upcoming startup Building Content Summit addressing BIM content.

2015 RTC Australasia

This year's RTC Australasia event was held in Gold Coast, Queensland—a beautiful and vibrant seaside resort city on the eastern coast of Australia. I made the 20-hour trek from New York to see how the event has matured through the years.

I arrived at Brisbane International Airport at 06:40 on a delightfully cool Thursday morning. I was whisked away for the hour-long drive to Gold Coast in hopes of being able to catch the opening keynote. Success!! I arrived just in time to hear David Philp, Director of BIM for EMEA and India at AECOM and Head of BIM for the UK Government's BIM Task Group. Whilst his presentation contained so many charts and diagrams, my head was starting to spin, his message was clear that our industry needs to focus on OUTCOMES, not OUTPUTS.

Figure 1. David Philp delivers the keynote address.

From there, I was fully engaged into the depth of classes and labs for the three-day conference. This year, RTC Australasia's 400 delegates got to choose from 96 educational sessions from 69 speakers. Among the educational sessions were lectures, panel discussions and 16 labs where you could get some hands-on experience with new tools or techniques.

Figure 2. Hands-on labs provide more educational opportunities.

For events with multiple streams, it's difficult for one person to prepare a comprehensive review of the full scope of content provided. I even presented two classes on business management and participated in another panel discussion. I will do my best in this article to summarize my experience.

Not Just Revit

Even though RTC events have a history as Revit-centric conferences (more on that later), I was pleased to see so many presentations about BIM applications and workflows that went beyond Revit. There were a few topics that addressed the use of international buildingSMART standards such as IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) and BCF (BIM Collaboration Format). Rob Jackson from Bond Bryan (UK) demonstrated the real world interoperability with Revit via a demonstration of ArchiCAD. Jon Mirtschin, founder of Geometry Gym Pty Ltd., delivered an in-depth class called "IFC Unearthed" as well as a lab on Grasshopper BIM (a plug-in for Rhino).

I heard plenty of positive feedback on a new tool that bridges between Revit and Navisworks using Dynamo. The creator Adam Sheather calls it “DynaWorks” for obvious reasons, but a web search turns up a different software provider by the same name. You can learn more about this software by watching this video or downloading it from Github.

Kyle Bernhardt provided some highlights of what's coming in the near future from the Autodesk development team including performance upgrades, better team work with A360 Collaboration for Revit, and making IFC data a “first class reference” via linking rather than conversion.

Figure 3. Kyle Bernhardt from Autodesk shares some updates about Revit development.

I attended a few classes in the business management stream that addressed the implementation of model handover and BIM execution plans. While the presenters seemed to have quite interesting outlines or agendas, I didn't feel there were many conclusions reached or takeaways other than a stating of the aspects one should address when planning a project for advanced BIM use. It’s imperative that presenters provide a story with real world results and I expect Wes and his team will address this with the presenters going forward.

Identity Crisis

When I attended and presented at RTC North America in 2012, the collective pool of speakers debated with the RTC Events team about the name of the event. Even though the abbreviation (RTC) is used instead of Revit Technology Conference, the vast majority of attendees still understand that it's a conference about Autodesk Revit software.

Does the RTC Events team want to broaden the scope and become more about best practices and industry standards? Or do they want to maintain their success at being a home for subject-matter expertise on Revit? I observed that feedback on this question, from 2012 right up to the current day, seems to have public opinion evenly divided. Those who desire an event where they can mix it up with the Jedi of the Revit world are equal in number to those who want to see cross-over with the likes of ArchiCAD and AECOSim as well as a more diverse mix of theory and case studies to match the how-to content of current day RTC. Others would like to see the conference broaden downstream from the design ecosystem into manufacturing, fabrication and construction. It’ll be interesting to see how RTC grows.

I sense another dilemma as well. RTC remains the go-to conference for those seeking to improve their skills using Revit software, while at the same time the pace of news and exciting features in Revit has slowed. As a result, it seemed there were fewer high-level, advanced classes at this RTC.  The expert software users and BIM managers will come away with a few new nuggets, tips or tricks, but not as many as in the past probably due to the fact that functions in the core platform haven't changed much in the past 5 years. While this is great for the broadest group of people just beginning to learn Revit (imagine that!) I find myself missing the days of being surprised by new and exciting features being demonstrated the first time in a room full of eager early adopters.

Another dynamic is that many of us early Revit adopters have moved on from being “technical gurus” to being business and people managers. 10 years ago we were all eager to talk about new features and demonstrate ingenious workarounds. Now, many of us are in management roles dealing with the realities of budgets and deadlines. Of course we still use Revit on a regular basis – but we’re managing the gurus now. In the process, we’ve learned success is less about technology and more about improving collaboration. And speaking of collaboration, I’m pleased to see Autodesk making improvements in this area.

Exhibitors

The cast of exhibitors was somewhat average, with 26 booths mostly focused on software platforms such as Solibri, Newforma, Oasys MassMotion, and even ArchiCAD,  to value-added resellers such as Ideate and Consult AEC. There was even a booth from regional BIM services provider Atlas Industries. Since RTC events are still mostly focused on the architectural and engineering demographic of our industry, the exhibitors are mostly software providers or value-added resellers seeking to service those in the design community.

Compare this with something like BIMForum in the United States, where the majority of focus is on the construction side and you will find a more robust mix of exhibitors not only on the design software side, but also encompassing on-site technology such as augmented reality, surveying, robotic layout, and more. I think it would be useful if RTC grew in this direction as well.

Fun with Gadgets

A neat feature of every RTC event is the Glorious Gadgets session. The event team invests significant resources in bringing some of the most cutting-edge gadgets to the conference delegates. At this conference, we were treated to some fantastic video from a DJI drone copter launched from a roof terrace at the hotel and then buzzing by the delegates enjoying a break outside at the ground level.

Figure 4. The Glorious Gadgets session highlighted some cutting edge technology.

Wes also demonstrated a new human interface controller, the Myo Gesture Control Armband. This device is an arm band that reacts to hand and wrist gestures such as “clench and twist.” This is an interesting alternative to, but doesn't seem as flexible as a Leap Motion Controller; however, it seems like it is intended to be used as a presenter’s device. It was unfortunate they couldn't get the final gadget to work on stage, but in the Gadget Lab in the exhibit hall, delegates were able to gear up for a high-def driving simulation with an Oculus Rift headset!

That Special Touch

It is said in change management that the efforts are 10% technology and 90% sociology. If this is true, why do so many BIM conferences in the AECO industry focus almost exclusively on the technology?

What makes RTC events so unique and successful is the dedication to the overall experience. Each evening is an opportunity to decompress and network with peers who are also working on some of the largest and complex projects in the world. And they’re willing to honestly share their successes (and failures) away from the spotlight and stage of the lecture hall.


Figure 5. The traditional RTC Gala Dinner.

As in life, RTC is not just about technology – it’s about people. Of course there are classes and labs for every level of user. But at the end of the day, success is not about being in the presence of a technical guru for a few hours. It’s about being an equal among peers who are simply trying to solve problems and help move things forward. RTC is about what often happens when two people come up with a solution that neither would have discovered on their own.

RTC is about the proper balance between people and technology that makes for a more interesting life. If you go an RTC event—the next RTC North America is in Washington, DC—you’ll see exactly what I mean.

About the Author

James Vandezande is the Director of Design Technology at HOK. He is a registered architect, and has worked in architectural firms for 20 years in various roles. Over the years, his experiences have grown in scale and scope from full services on residential projects, to specialized technical architecture on massive projects, to leadership roles in technology and process innovation. He is an author of the popular "Mastering Autodesk Revit Architecture" series of books and the founder of the New York City Revit Users Group. He has served as an adjunct lecturing professor at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU and currently serves on the leadership committee of the AGC BIMForum.

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