“One of the best and worst aspects of having a role with ‘Innovation’ in my job title is that I get the; ‘Can provide us with some insight on future innovations?’ question on a fairly regular basis. Why does ‘worst’ even come into it? Because all too frequently the discussion about innovation in construction descends into a downward spiral around defining what counts as innovation? how do you measure it? who should lead it? how do you share it? why do we keep on reinventing the wheel? etc. usually culminating in a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders and an acceptance that our industry as a whole is not very innovative.
I find it more helpful to take Bill Gates’ overview into account:
‘We overestimate the change that will happen in the next 2 years and underestimate the change that happens over the next 10 years. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.’
With this in mind I am going to focus on one innovation trend, digital technology, and how it enables improvements in productivity;
10 years ago we had the introduction of the iPhone. It wasn’t the first smartphone but it was the one that probably changed the market. Smartphones are now almost everywhere and are becoming the primary device for capturing and accessing data.
This trend will continue – we use mobile devices as the means of capturing all sorts of data, from progress photographs, to daily diaries, inspection records, attributes for inclusion in BIM data structures and, via our own app, Improvement Opportunities. Provided that this data capture process is seamless with ‘back end’ systems, each of these provides an improvement in productivity by enabling the same work to be done in less time.
Capturing data, digitally and at source will extend further to include wearable technology, for example to measure the wellbeing of workers through to providing access to guidance and instructions on how to complete tasks. Capturing data is the easy part of the process. To be really effective, the data has to inform decision making, whether that is by humans or machines (artificial intelligence –AI). We can now connect data capture directly to enormous processing power via cloud computing. In turn, this means we can use machine learning to analyse options and provide feedback to our people on not only the options available but what look like the best ones. Capturing the results of choice closes the learning loop and enriches the data set for future decisions.
To some, this may sound like some sort of Orwellian nightmare, to others a technological utopia. Whether you have to engage with this degree of technological innovation probably goes back to Bill Gates’ observation. You can probably avoid it for a couple of years but if you want to be part of the industry in 10 years from now you will need to unleash your inner geek!”
Rennie Chadwick is the Director of Innovation & Performance at Osborne.