Originally posted Thursday, 12 January 2012

Written by Nick Dorman

This November, Owners from across the country met at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, for COAA’s 2011 Fall Owners Leadership Conference. The theme of the three-day conference was “Tools and Information + Critical Thinking = Successful Projects,” and although tools and information were well represented in the session topics, the overriding concept of critical thinking took center stage. For every exploration of a new nuance of BIM, there was equal exploration of what constitutes the judicious and intelligent use of BIM in light of the ultimate goals of the project. And for every new tool discussed, equal emphasis was placed on the necessity of having the right team in place to implement and fully utilize that tool.

Among the most popular sessions were “Lean It or Leave It! How Crate & Barrel Reduces Transaction Costs,” which focused on how lean principles and technology have allowed Crate & Barrel to reduce transaction costs and conflicts, as well as eliminate redundant and inefficient workflows; and “Evaluating Critical Projects: How the U.S. State Department is Using Macro BIM,” about the massive embassy rebuilding program that has occurred since 9/11 and the use of cost- and schedule-loaded 3D models of entire multi-structure projects to detect conflicts at the project level and keep these large and complex undertakings on schedule and budget.

As new technologies and methods have proliferated, COAA has taken the initiative to ensure that their nuances and full potential are known and available to its members, but also that Owners understand their pitfalls and the necessity of applying them smartly. “This conference was stacked with sessions on BIM and other technology-based tools, but we wanted to remind ourselves and the attendees that the people part of our industry still matters most,” said Howie Ferguson, Senior Project Manager at the University of Florida and Chairman of COAA’s Conference Committee. “Experience, communication, thoughtfulness—all the great tools at our disposal can’t replace these and other human elements when it comes to successful projects.”

Tony Yorba, Principal Architect at Jensen Yorba Lott in Juneau, Alaska, saw the benefit of the conference’s focus on collaborative approaches. “What I take away from these meetings is that rather than just seeing things from a design perspective, at the end of the day a building has to be operated; it has to be managed; and it has to be flexible for all these evolving needs. And that’s probably as important as, if not more important than the delivery of that first product. If you take the long view, the initial cost of the project itself is dwarfed by the operations and maintenance costs. It’s an ongoing, fifty-plus year endeavor.”

The use of BIM on renovation projects was also highlighted in two sessions. “Next Steps with BIM: Use on Renovation Projects and Team Selection Tips” included a case study involving the use of BIM on a small but complex renovation project, as well as a discussion of recent advances in laser scanning to produce models of extant structures—an increasingly prevalent practice. And the session titled “Using New Tools to Manage Owner Risks on Historic Renovation Projects” pointed to the use of BIM to document existing conditions on renovation projects as a way of avoiding claims, delays, and change orders.

Local interest came in the form of a tour of Hoover Dam, arguably the greatest civil engineering achievement in America’s history, as well as a conference-opening presentation titled “Flavor of Las Vegas,” which highlighted recent events in construction and development in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson. The session focused on the unique challenges posed by the geography, politics, and demography of Las Vegas, as well as the opportunities they present.

The perennial favorite, the Owners’ Roundtable, closed the conference on the final day. This unstructured, openmic discussion allows participants to gain a deeper understanding of previous session topics by raising questions that may not have been answered in the Q&A portion of those sessions, or simply to ask anything else that might be on their minds. Participants can text their questions in and participate online, as well.

First-time attendee Tim DeBuse, Managing Director of Real Estate for the Corrections Corporation of America, saw plenty of reason to come back for future conferences. “As first time attendees, we’ve been very impressed with the organization, the topics of the presentations, and the people who are here. We’re very happy with the conference.”

The opportunities the conference presents, of course, are not limited to the sessions. The networking available at COAA conferences is unique, as it’s one of the few places to find such a large group of Owners from across the nation gathered in a single place. But for those members who could not attend the conference, the presentations are available at COAA’s website, www.coaa.org. Log in, select “Members Only,” then “Archives” to download the files. Don’t forget, the 2012 Spring Owners Leadership Conference will be held May 9-11 in Dallas, Texas.