Innovation is key

Our cover this month refers to buildings as sources of productivity for occupants. A well-designed, engineered and constructed building enhances the performance of people in it, as a number of our expert writers explain.

Several MBStv interviewees have also pointed out that clients who see the link between better buildings and better business performance will put a higher value on the property. It means that they are willing to invest in the technologies that make for better buildings.

Value and productivity are terms the construction industry is hearing a lot these days – mainly in a negative context, unfortunately. Recent reports highlight that construction suffers from low productivity levels compared to other sectors, and consistently under-prices its work.

It seems that a number of contractors are bidding low on complex jobs in the hope that, somehow, the project is simplified as it progresses – effectively relying on ‘value engineering’ to claw back some profit. And yet projects are in fact becoming increasingly complex, requiring more technology, know-how and integration than ever. The industry undervalues its own product and skill, which is a crying shame.

As for productivity, the answer seems to lie in two areas: people and technology. And these two are closely linked. The people in our sector our changing. According to KPMG, the Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964) are at or close to retirement. Generation X (1965 to 1979) and Millennials (1980 to 1994) now make up around 40% each of the construction workforce.

This shift in working generations is changing attitudes towards technology. Millennials want careers in a sector that makes use of all the digital tools, and companies that can demonstrate a commitment to investing in this area will attract the people who can put the tools to work in the most productive way.

It may come as a surprise, but the KPMG report shows that UK construction is leading the world in use of some types of tech, including drones and virtual reality, as well as mobile technology. This needs to extend further into integrated project management systems, which would produce more accurate data on projects, including costs and completion estimates.

It is ironic that the construction industry moves so slowly to adopt technology when its clients have spotted the benefits. Costing projects on the basis that they will change from the original brief to something cheaper is a high-risk approach. However, the industry is at a tipping point and seems ripe for disruption by organisations willing to take a new approach, based on application of IT and people who can use it.

Karen Fletcher

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