Originally posted on Thursday, 11 September 2014

Written by Chris Towery

Recapping COAA’s 2014 Spring Owners Leadership Conference in Houston

This May, Owners from across the nation headed to Houston, Texas, for COAA’s 2014 Spring Owners Leadership Conference. Held at the luxurious Omni Houston at the Galleria, the conference packed a year’s worth of education and networking into its two-and-a-half-day duration. In fact, the Houston show proved so popular that the 260 people who showed up set a new record for COAA conference attendance. The event’s theme, “3-2-1 Liftoff: Commanding Project Success,” referenced Houston’s storied history with the space program, and its content was tailor-made to help Owners lead their project teams to the highest levels of success.

Preparing for the Future

With the capital construction industry in a state of constant evolution, one of COAA’s aims is to prepare Owners for the latest changes and trends impacting the industry, and Thursday’s opening presentation, “It’s 2024: Where Does Your Organization Stand?” was specifically focused on helping Owners ready themselves for the future. The session, which was presented by Ron Magnus, managing director of FMI’s Center for Strategic Learning, discussed how Owners can best position themselves today to take advantage of changes that will impact the industry in the next 5 to 10 years. From the globalization of the marketplace and the rapid advance of technology to the coming retirement of baby boomers and volatility of the economy, the session highlighted the importance of long-term strategic planning and explained what Owners should be doing to prepare for the next decade.

It can be challenging to conceive of planning so far ahead into the future, but the session outlined specific steps an Owner can take to ensure that its organization has a long-term vision that will endure and produce results for year to come.

“I found it motivating to see how other organizations plan for the future, like our military, which plans for decades ahead,” said Elizabeth Mahn, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for Ada County, Idaho. “As it relates to the construction industry, the presentation made me much more mindful of planning projects—not just for the next couple of years, but much longer term.”

Space Age Technology

Set in one of the country’s hubs for the NASA program, it was fitting that the conference included presentations covering the ways in which Owners can take advantage of the latest advances in technology. To this end, the event included multiple sessions on Building Information Models (BIM) and how such technology can be used not only for design and construction, but also for Facilities Management (FM). The sessions “OK, I’m Using and Requiring BIM, Now What” and “BIM-to-FIM Sounds Interesting, But How Do I Get Started,” both offered valuable lessons from Owners who are utilizing BIM to capture data and integrate it into the operation and maintenance of their facilities.

“Prior to attending this COAA conference, I was completely unaware of the ongoing discussions regarding the potential usefulness of BIM for facilities management,” said Melanie J. Ford, Interim Director of Construction, University of Georgia Office of the University Architects. “I was blown away to see how it could be used to enhance data retrieval capabilities, and I was even more impressed to learn that there are already universities that have begun to implement BIM and incorporate the data within it into their facilities inventory information.”

COAA honored the 2014 Albert E. Phillips Scholarship winners during Thursday’s lunch. Pictured (L to R): COAA President Kevin Lewis—Loudon County Public Schools; Scholarship winner Rachel Sommer—Pennsylvania State University; Scholarship Committee members Becky Koller—University of Nebraska and Joe Sprys—National Heritage Academies. Not pictured: scholarship winner Ted Kilcrease—University of Arkansas.

When designing a project, construction safety should be explicitly considered alongside more traditional design issues.

With multiple sessions on BIM, the conference provided useful information for those Owners already well versed in BIM technology as well as offering tips for those just beginning to incorporate the technology into their projects.

“I was really impressed by all of the sessions covering BIM’s application for projects and facilities organizations,” said Shane Weissinger, CADD Manager at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“There were several nuggets of information that could be pulled into our conversations and discussed to determine validity for our environment. Every organization is different, so seeing the different approaches and lessons learned provided needed insight into what we may encounter.”

Designing for Safety

One highly popular presentation on Friday focused on a relatively new topic in the industry: Prevention through Design (PtD). Titled “Prevention Through Design: A Leadership Opportunity for You,” the session discussed how Owners should consider construction safety in the design of a project and make design decisions based in part on the design elements’ inherent safety risk to construction workers. The session’s speaker, Michael Toole, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering at Bucknell University, stressed that when designing a project, construction safety should be explicitly considered alongside more traditional design issues.

“What it comes down to is constructability,” said Toole. “Facility professionals routinely evaluate a design’s constructability for cost, schedule, and quality implications. PtD means evaluating a design for safety constructability. It requires that the design be evaluated to ensure it can be constructed as reasonably safely as possible.”

Because construction is one of the most dangerous industries, with about 300,000 serious injuries and nearly 1000 deaths occurring each year, the topic should be both a practical and ethical concern to Owners. During his session, Toole offered several common examples of PtD, described tools and processes for implementing it, highlighted projects where Owners have successfully embraced PtD, and showed how to overcome some common obstacles. For an in-depth discussion of PtD and its potential applications for your next project, check out Toole’s feature article in this issue on page 21.

COAA Owner Training Institute®

In the days preceding the conference, COAA continued with the expansion of its Owner Training Institute (OTI) curriculum by launching two new courses: Cost Management and Schedule Management. These two new courses, along with the previously launched course Project Management: An Owner’s Perspective, were held at the Omni on the Monday and Tuesday before the opening of the conference. Each course was conducted by COAA’s signature three-person team of instructors. The Project Management and Cost Management courses were led by an experienced Owner, along with an architect and contractor, while the Schedule Management course instructor team consisted of an Owner, contractor and attorney.

The rollout of these new training classes is part of a larger expansion of the COAA OTI® curriculum that will eventually include a total of 14 courses specifically designed to educate Owners’ project managers. The remaining three courses will be introduced in 2015.

Making Connections

Outside of the educational opportunities provided by the sessions and the OTI courses, another big benefit of COAA’s conferences is the opportunity the events offer attendees to meet and develop relationships with others in their field.

“One of my favorite parts of the conference was meeting new people from the industry during the breaks and receptions,” said Heather McCarthy, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for Ada County, Idaho. “I think there is tremendous value in being able to discuss the different projects people are working on and learn more about their on-the-job experiences.”

Indeed, while the presentations provide an overview of many important issues facing the industry, the networking that’s available at the events gives attendees a chance to interact with other professionals who have firsthand experience with these topics. Such personal connections allow attendees to get much more in-depth perspectives on the conference topics and see how others are dealing with issues similar to the ones they’re facing in their own projects.

“By getting to meet other attendees, I was able to discuss different approaches organizations were taking related to BIM integration,” said Weissinger. “It’s apparent that a good number of COAA members are forced to feel their way around this BIM endeavor going on in the A/E/C industry. It does directly affect how projects can be delivered, and we need to know what to do to make sure we benefit from it beyond the project.”

For those members unable to make it to the Houston conference, the presentations are available on COAA’s website, www.coaa.org. To access these files, log in and select “Members Only Content” and then “Archives.” While you’re there, don’t forget to reserve your spot at the Fall 2014 Owners Leadership Conference, which will be held November 19-21 in Nashville.