An Interview with Phil Read, BILT North America

June 21, 2017

Phil Read, Marketing Director, BILT North America shares his thoughts on the issues & challenges that exist in the AECO industry, the reasons behind RTC’s success and why Canada offers a good choice for holding the next BILT conference.


Karan: Give us a brief introduction into your background


Phil: My entry into design technology began in the fall of '91 when I took an AutoCAD course at a local technical college (mostly out of boredom and self-interest). That technical background served me well, working in civil engineering as I began to study architecture in the fall of ’94 at the University of North Carolina. I graduated in the spring of 99 with a Masters Degree in Architecture. 


I discovered Revit in the spring of 2000 and by February 2001 was working for Revit Technology in the consulting group. Pretty soon I found myself traveling around the world training, implementing and supporting early adopters in Revit. By the spring of 2002, I found myself working for Autodesk and their newly formed consulting group. 


The early adopters of Revit were a pretty small and enthusiastic group in those days. I think I met Wesley Benn – the founder of RTC Events Management - in the spring of 2002. When Wes decided to expand what is now BILT into North America in 2011, he asked me, Jim Balding and Steve Stafford to form the North American Committee. 


These days I work with the Executive Committee and look after global marketing and communications as well as work with the North American Committee. RTC Events is overwhelmingly a very dedicated and incredibly skilled group of volunteers that want these conferences to be the best in the world.

Karan: What do you see as the most pressing future trends in the AECO industry?


Phil: Sustainability, automation and the growing trend of smaller teams being accountable for more information. The amount of people that are required to coordinate drawings is shifting to a significantly smaller group of people now required to coordinate information. At the same time buildings are far more complex than they were just a few decades ago.

Karan: What are the key industry sectors that you are seeing as most innovative? General contracting? Design? Technology? and what's happening?


Phil: From design, to fabrication and construction, every industry sector is looking for ways to save time, money and solve problems. No one is sitting still. Every once in a while I see trend graphs that indicate that the building and construction space hasn't become as efficient as other industry sectors. I don't believe this is the case. Other industry sectors (such as agriculture) are shifting from highly manual environments to significant automation. It's not as simple in the building construction industry where the changes are more incremental. Drawing coordination has become much more automated. Fabrication even more so. The challenge of the construction space is mediating automation with the manual labour required for onsite assemblage. 


I keep seeing a lot of information on 3-D printing buildings but at the moment it seems to be mostly theoretical. The downside of automation is that you can get an ugly building fast. 

Karan: What are the elements that have been key factors to RTC and BILT's success?


Phil: Well first of all there's the people. The reality is that the best and the brightest of the AEC space attend BILT. Internationally recognized authors, speakers and technology companies attend this conference because they know that the industry influencers are going to be here and are willing to collaborate and share ideas.


Don't you hate it when you attend a conference and forget your cell phone charger and it takes you 45 minutes to go get it and come back? We specifically design every conference so that we're not spread out across a large and impersonal convention venue. Typically this means a conference hotel where we have run of house. Run of house allows us quick and easy access to classrooms, lectures and sessions as well as exhibition space. It also provides everyone ample opportunity to network and discuss ideas in the evening.


We don't want to be the biggest – we want to be the best. But we also want a critical mass of attendees and sponsors in order to be relevant.


Karan: Why post an event in Toronto?


Phil: In practical terms– North America is more than the US! A few years ago the North American event was in Vancouver and it was a wonderful success! 

Karan: What does BILT think about Canada's position globally with regard to technology adoption?


Phil: Canada has an interesting advantage with the adoption of technology. 


First of all, Canada's population is about 1/10 of the US (a bit less than the population of California). From an outsiders perspective– Canada's politics don’t seem as contentious. As a result there's been some interesting legislation that has allowed the advance of BIM and construction related technologies to be adopted at the national level. Overall I think Canada's size allows the country to be considerably more nimble when it comes to the adoption of technology. 


The US tends to take a more speculative and capitalistic approach to the adoption of technology. Sometimes we move faster but we break things in the process. Canada is well-positioned to learn from the mistakes of its southern neighbour and be a fast second to market.


Karan: What are the key obstacles to adopting Technology in the AECO industry?

Phil: People. The hardest part is that most people probably don't care. They're not trying or motivated to innovate, they're not trying to identify and improve processes and remove inefficiencies. 


But the other thing is that change forces change. Sometimes we've invested too much in our existing processes, which in practice turns out to be less efficient than anticipated. But by this time the capital expenditure has been made and we've no resources left to change direction a second time.


The other big challenge that software and technology providers seem to forget is how to innovate in meaningful incremental change. They keep preaching the need to “disrupt" the market. In my opinion, disrupting the market is an overrated strategy. It's all “Blue Ocean” bullshit. Stop it. The real goal is simply to remove inefficiencies and increase convenience. 


Karan: How is BILT encouraging innovation across the different life-cycles of the construction industry?


Phil: The RTC teams knew from the beginning that it wasn't just about design. At that time it was too early to start reaching further down the ecosystem into fabrication, construction and operations. But now that the design technologies have really matured– it's time to look at the downstream implications of what it means to design using BIM and separate fact from fiction.


Starting this year we’ve strategically introduced learning opportunities for people in the fabrication, construction, and operational industries. We don't want to get too far over our skis–and head off in a direction that hasn't been tried and tested. 

Karan: What does BIM mean to you (at a personal level). Why is it important more than ever now?


Phil: I try not to over complicate it. BIM is just geometry + data. It's important now because if you haven't started figuring out BIM you're probably too late and it's going to be really hard for you to survive and be relevant after this decade.


Karan: Lastly, How do you see an association with CanBIM useful?


Phil: We view CanBIM as a steady hand in a market that can teach us a lot about collaboration and innovation. Once you've proven your ideals in practical terms the rest of the North American market is eager to scale your successes!


Thank you Phil. It was a pleasure talking with you!


About Phil Read

CEO, Read | Thomas

Executive Director, Marketing & Communications – RTC Events Management



Phil Read is the co-founder of Read | Thomas - an AECO consulting group focused on connecting designers, builders and owners through cross-discipline and technology integration. Phil has 25 years in Architecture and Engineering including 17 years' experience using and implementing Autodesk Revit: the world's only fully parametric and integrated tool for the design of buildings. While working in Civil Engineering, Phil completed his Undergraduate and Masters Degrees from the University of North Carolina. Soon after, he went to work with Revit Technology and later Autodesk where he had the fortune of providing Revit training, implementation and support for clients and projects around the world. A frequent public speaker, Phil has presented at Autodesk University and RTC on topics ranging from "Best Practices and Large Project Management" to "Parametric Design Iteration in Architecture" and the "Business Dynamics of Transitioning from 2D CAD to Building Information Modeling". Among other high profile clients and projects, Phil played a lead role in providing training, implementation and ongoing support for the Architectural, Mechanical and Structural Engineers on the Freedom Tower World Trade Center Initiative in New York.