The Digital Built Environment Institute was founded in 2016, and now is incorporated as a not-for-profit entity on 4 continents, but it is in fact the outcome of a process that began much earlier.
In early 2003, Mr Wesley Benn (Founder and Executive Chairman of DBEI), a Sydney-based architect and (former!) expert user of both Graphisoft® ARCHICAD® and Autodesk® Revit®, setup a Revit User Group (RUGs) with the support of AEC Systems (since merged with KarelCAD to form A2K Technologies). Like most technology-oriented user groups, RUGs members met once a month to discuss their design and documentation platform, to share stories, tips and tricks, and to commiserate over the problems they faced in using a platform new to the market with limited support and knowledge resources. This was before Wikipedia was popular or Youtube was founded, before any expert users had yet written books on the software, before blogs, vlogs, and podcasts. If you wanted support you had your local colleagues, and your user group. As a result, the members of RUGs became a close-knit group and, after a couple years of meeting, began talking about doing something more than a monthly couple hour long ‘wine and whine’. Wesley grabbed a couple of staff members from his office and a couple of friends to form a committee and in August 2005 the first ‘Revit National Congress’ was run at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. 79 people attended a 2-day event, focused on deep dives into technical aspects of the use of Revit across design and documentation. There were sponsors, a small exhibition space, a user content competition, and a big social event in the evening (that lasted until just past sunrise). Everyone agreed it had been a great experience and that ‘we should do it again’.
And so it began …
Over the following six years events were held annually, moving between cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, as well as a roadshow in 2007 that included single day events in Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. The name of the event was now the Revit Technology Conference, as it was recognised right away that ‘National’ was a limiting term, and that ‘Congress’ wasn not a very well-regarded institution! In 2009 Mrs Heidi Earl, a professional events organiser, joined the new RTC Events Management company as an Event Director, and proceeded to build up a team renowned for creating the best events dedicated to the AECO space. Now Managing Director, Heidi continues to oversee a team that in 2019 put on 12 events in 5 countries.
By 2011, the Revit Technology Conference was being recognised internationally for its quality and value, with many international attendees, and through the urgings of two people in particular, Mr Steve Stafford and Mr Jim Balding, the first international running of the conference was held in Huntington Beach, California, USA. This event mirrored the now established format of 3 days, running from Thursday through Saturday, with an exhibition hall and social events every evening, and attracted 287 attendees from 32 US states and 11 countries. In 2013, after a long push by the indefatigable duo of Martin and Silvia Taurer, the first European event was held in Delft, The Netherlands. Attracting 182 delegates from 23 countries the event gained traction quickly and also spawned the start of the BILT Academy in 2018, about which you can read more here. In 2015 a fourth region was added to the portfolio, Asia, with the help and support of Singaporean local, Mr Phil Lazarus. The Asia event runs in a slightly different format to other regions, being biennial and consistently in Singapore to date, but otherwise provides the same high-end knowledge sharing and community building that characterises all DBEI events worldwide.
During this expansion phase there were other changes occurring that have helped to define and expand who we are and what we do. As you can see above, our addition of international regions has always been driven by those local communities reaching out about running events locally, as well as the passion of local champions who could help us to understand and respond to the particular needs and development of their local communities. Indeed, all our events have always been driven by regional committees comprised of industry participants that provide a diverse representation of discipline, platform, geography, and gender. This ensures that as an organisation we will always hear and represent the industry’s needs, not an arbitrary interpretation of it applied by an unengaged third party. It has also helped us to focus on continuous improvement and the broad nature of those needs. For instance, while the genesis of the organisation was in the running of Revit technical conferences, it was recognised and acted on from day one that no single tool would ever be all you need to fill out your toolkit, and so the Revit Technology Conference from the very beginning included discussion of many other tools and processes, including some that might have been considered directly competitive to Revit. Our goal has always been to put the best tools and processes in front of our community, regardless of derivation.
This then led to some other changes: The shortening of the event name from Revit Technology Conference to RTC, and then, in 2017, the change to BILT (Buildings, Infrastructure, Lifecycle, Technology) an evolution of name that reflected our longstanding broad focus on tools other than just Revit, and the need to be more inclusive in name, as well as in deed. Also during this period various community members began approaching us in relation to other gaps in knowledge and community that they hoped we could help fill. As a result, there are several event series that now run annually including BILT, the Design Technology Summit, Data Day, the Building Content Summit, the BILT Academy Summit, and the DBE Hackathon. In 2021 further event series will be commencing, inline with the expanded mission of the Institute.
And so we come to 2020, a year that it is likely everyone will be looking forward to putting behind them. As COVID-19 went from being a novel coronavirus along the lines of SARS and MERS – previous viruses that made the inter-species jump and threatened global chaos before being contained and controlled – to a global pandemic unlike anything seen for a hundred years, the global economy began to shutdown. Travel, then tourism generally; events, then social gatherings of any kind; cafes and restaurants, then nearly all shops; manufacturing, then nearly all production.
The world went quiet.
The globalisation and economic momentum that fuelled improvements in all industries, and improved the living conditions of a huge portion of the world’s population (while still leaving behind many disadvantaged groups) became the vector the virus used to accelerate its advance in ways we now know we were ill-prepared for. Naturally, there have been economic repercussions, with much of the world moving into recession, and faith in the economic outlook at a historic low. A degree of tribalism and protectionism have inevitably followed close behind, and questions now centre around how the re-opening of economies and the reintroduction of travel can be effectively managed when we do not yet have a vaccine, or even, for many countries, effective control of the original outbreak. The world holds its breath in fear of a possible ‘second wave’ and all its ramifications.
RTC Events Management and the Digital Built Environment Institute entered this period as a group still entirely dependent on revenue derived from gathering large groups of people into small spaces (not a great model in the time of a global pandemic), but we had a plan. In the period from 2015 onwards it had become obvious that, while we had enjoyed great success within the context of the event environments we had created, what we had done was in fact to create something that was, or that could be, a great deal more.
Research shows that the global design, construction and asset operations industry, while employing around 1 in 10 people, accounts for slightly over 1/2 of the world’s energy production, and more than 1/3 of the worlds generation of both solid waste and airborne pollution. Further to this, the increases in productivity that globalisation and innovation has brought to the rest of the world’s major industry groupings has largely left us behind. While there are a few reasons that we could begin to elucidate here, they are likely beyond even the rather lengthy origin story you are reading now. Instead, we should begin to wrap this story up. Yet, it is indeed just the beginning. One takeaway that we hope you take from this is that what we have done to date is to get us to the starting line. There is so much we can do, so much we must do.
RTC had built a community of thought leaders, innovators, and implementors. A global community focused on making things better – for them and their organisations, for the industry overall, and for the entire planet. DBEI could take this core and expand it. Leverage the passion, the energy, the collaborative instinct to build a collective voice for our industry that transcends the silos within which we have been trapped. Work together to build an organisation whose purpose is the collective good of our industry and thus our planet.
In 2020 DBEI has created several online activity sets: from ‘Discover by DBEI’ – webinars to keep you up to date with new, exciting, innovative tools, processes and activities; to BILTx and our online events that replace (for now) the in-person events that would have run this year; to ‘DBEI Insight’ – a highly curated, themed series of webinars running biweekly through the end of the year. We are also deeply excited to have seen the recent introduction of the BILT Academy Podcast. These activities will continue in 2021 and beyond, in concert with the anticipated return of our in-person events. At the same time, the DBEI Community platform has been released. A membership program that will be introducing many resources and supporting structures for industry over the coming years, the program will also be driven by its members. It is our hope that we can use this platform to widen our outreach to all participants in the built environment industries, and to foster and support the changes we need to improve productivity, efficiency, and sustainability.
If you have managed to stick it all the way through this story, thank you! It has been a lengthy journey, and yet, as I mentioned, it has only just begun. To finish off with a more personal note, what I see ahead of us now is a glorious sweep of horizon and the sun, peeking through a fading layer of cloud. I can feel the wind starting to fill the sails, and the creak of the rigging as the ship comes alive. I hear the slap of the waves and the smell of salt fills my nostrils. I am energised, I am full of passion, and I am smiling.
Come on the journey with me.
Founder and Executive Chairman
RTC Events Management and the Digital Built Environment Institute