Interview with Emma Hooper, Bond Bryan Digital
Earlier this month, Bond Bryan Digital’s Associate Director and Head of R&D, Emma Hooper, won the Digital Champion of the Year at the Digital Construction Awards. The month before, she was published in AEC Magazine’s Special Report on IFC (Industry Foundation Classes), and shared her insights on the future of IFC at NXTBLD 22. This isn’t everything, Emma also won Highly Commended under the Customer Champion category at the BuildData Team Awards.
Emma is going from strength to strength in her career, clocking up numerous achievements under her wing and establishing herself as a true pioneer for digital transformation in the construction industry.
Here at Bond Bryan Digital, we’re incredibly proud of Emma’s achievements and her commitment to shaping the future of this industry. So this week we caught up with Emma on her journey so far and what she’s got in store next.
How did you get to your current position at Bond Bryan Digital [BBD]?
In a previous role as an architectural technician, I started to get involved in information management. I reached a point where I had to decide which path to take. To keep with design or move into the realm of information. I started reading about information theory, and after this I had so many ideas, I realised this was the route I wanted to go down.
Around the same time, I had started to chat with Rob Jackson about the work I had done around IFC and Revit and eventually Rob offered me a job. I’ve been at BBD nearly five years now and have had such a varied exposure with regards to information management – from the point of view of contractors, clients, organisations, industry and Government initiatives to R&D projects. Every day is different, and I love it.
What attracted you to digital construction?
Digital construction didn’t exist when I started thinking about my career. After completing part 1 of my architectural studies at University and realising it wasn’t for me, I ironically hated computers and wanted to hand draw everything! I started working at a betting shop and during 18 months which felt like groundhog day, I became more determined to succeed. If I wanted a job I really enjoyed I had to dig deep and learn how to draw on a computer. So I bought ‘AutoCAD for dummies’ and saved up to do an AutoCAD evening class. From that moment I became hooked with technology and I discovered I had a knack for using software – I just wanted to learn more. I managed to get a job in the design department at a tier 2 shopfitting contractors and quickly became ‘that person’ which everyone asks questions to. There I was also introduced to MicroStation and later Revit, the latter pretty much changed my life, I genuinely fell in love with a piece of software.
A large part of my career has been dealing with solving day to day interoperability issues with software, whether that was between AutoCAD and MicroStation or later Revit and what seemed everything else! From this I started to gain an understanding of the role that consistent information played in solving these problems and that’s why I moved to focussing on information as a subject and also the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) schema. After witnessing the sheer chaos of information on projects I have been determined to help sort it out. My experiences at the coal-face have very much shaped my current role.
What are you most proud of in your career?
It’s difficult to name just one thing as I have been fortunate to be involved in so many.
Firstly, solving the IFC, COBie and Revit puzzle, because I had come up with a workflow to genuinely help the industry, so people didn’t have to go through the pain I had to. But also having the opportunity to educate people on what good looks like and how to achieve it.
Secondly, working on the first ‘Integrated Project Insurance’ project and being part of the original team, I learned so much from that project and the fact you were allowed to be innovative unlocked something in my brain. The first EIR and BEP I had written was commended by BSRIA, even now it’s ahead of its time in some respects. I achieved everything I wanted from modelling, so I knew after that it was time to move on to pursue information management and where I first had the idea for an information management database.
Also, being accepted onto the BSI standards committee, the AEC magazine IFC special, winning best presentation and the Rob Jackson OpenBIM award at BIM show Live 2020 and of course the Digital Construction Champion of the Year award at the Digital Construction Awards are other things I’m really proud of.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Whenever I’ve had challenges I always try to find ways around them. Early on in my career and working for SMEs with minimal training budgets, I would take annual leave and pay to attend events myself, or I would go online and read books to teach myself.
I suppose the biggest challenge for me is my confidence. From social media people may think I’m a very confident person but that’s not the case. I’m actually a quiet person and prefer to knuckle down and get absorbed into my work.
Especially in the early days at events, I would sometimes feel so overwhelmed and out of my comfort zone. It was exhausting but I loved what I was doing so much I was prepared to keep going. This came to a head when I was selected to present at DCW 2016. I had a presentation which was completely different and so I wanted people to hear it. I prepared for that presentation months before like my life depended on it and since then I’ve grown to love presenting and have done it countless times. My confidence has increased hugely over the last few years. I still have a way to go but I will always stick up for something I believe is right!
What inspires you for the work you do?
I really want to help change the construction industry for the better. It’s as simple as that. I see so much good in it, so many great people and ideas for improving every aspect. If I can help to join the dots to help improve productivity and reduce information chaos to help assets be operated more effectively then I’ve done what I set out to do. It’s great to get messages from people who have read pieces I have written or watched my videos saying thank you and that they have really helped them in their day jobs.
What are you hoping to achieve in the next 5 years?
Currently, my main goal is to educate people about the role of information and data within construction. I think there is going to be huge problems with interoperability in the future because people do not understand the overall information management picture and as a result data models will be popping up all over the place, which don’t talk to each other. We’ve seen now and in the past how much difficulty we have with interoperability between software, hundreds of data models will be impossible to rectify.
I think bringing a more information-science slant to information management will be key to joining-up the standards and really understanding our information to remove the fragmentedness and complexities which exists. The data standards are growing daily, and this is something I want to try and join-up. We are also using relatively primitive methods to deal with complex faceted information. Unless we address this we won’t be able to move on to things like digital twins and machine learning. I presented at NXT BLD about knowledge graphs and the role they will have to play in the future, I would love to pursue this much more.