Driving Innovation in the Construction Industry
The construction industry is prone to mistakes. These mistakes can lead to quality issues, project overruns and lower productivity.
Are the industry’s lingering problems down to the fact that we are slower to embrace change than other industries? The stats suggest this might be the case: less than 1% of construction companies’ revenue goes back into technology research and development. Compare this to the 3.5% invested in innovation by the automotive industry and 4.5% by aerospace companies.
We Need Innovation More than Ever
If technology and innovation are evolving slowly you can’t say the same for the scale of the challenges we face. Worker shortages, denser urban environments, rising material costs, acute needs for infrastructure improvements, and increasingly complex project scopes make the task harder, not easier.
We are at a fork in the road. One road is to adapt and prosper, the other leads to a very dark place.
In other industries that have experienced sweeping digital transformation, it was the first organisations to embrace new technologies that gained a strong competitive advantage. Those that opt to play catch up rarely do.
Reasons to be Optimistic
Mindsets are changing. The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) project lifecycle is becoming more digitally enabled with a shared vision of the project from conception to completion. Companies large and small, new and old, global and local, are touting their pioneering efforts to drive innovation. This is a good narrative and one that needs to be nurtured.
To increase momentum, we have to be clear about what will drive purposeful innovation. Three elements seem to be critical: early collaboration, testing and culture.
Moving the AEC lifecycle to a cloud-based environment means we all see the same pictures and documents. There’s no argument about whose version of the truth is the right one. Designs and changes can be scrutinised for practicality and clashes. But this only delivers a meaningful benefit if contractors and supply chain partners are selected and appointed early in the process and have a collaborative mindset and an opportunity to contribute.
A construction site can be a proving ground – a real-time lab for testing new ideas. That’s how some of the industry’s best solutions, from new processes to new technologies, were created. But everyone on site has to be open to experimenting and questioning.
Without the willingness to test onsite we wouldn’t have self-climbing cocoons that are transforming the safety of high-rise construction. From wearable technology to drones, huge advancements are being made to protect workers onsite.
The only way to figure out if an innovation or process can be implemented or altered in an exciting way is to create an environment that allows for experimentation.
Ideas are not innovations until they are nurtured, accelerated and carefully crafted into a service, product, or technology. This calls for the right kind of culture that not only encourages ideas and creative solutions but also nurtures them so they can achieve their potential.
We’re on the precipice of a new wave of innovation. Some innovations will be big and ground-breaking, some will be smaller scale practical improvements. By being open to innovation we can transform our record on productivity, quality and safety.
We may not eliminate every mistake, but we can certainly deal with the misunderstandings, miscommunications and lack of collaboration that multiply their effect.