Disruption In Construction

Last week I attended a seminar at UK Construction Week entitled 'Why can't we build a skyscraper in 14 days?' The conversation, chaired by the BBC's Stephanie McGovern, focused on the issues of productivity, innovation and collaboration in the UK construction industry.

The seminar was, somewhat ironically, incredibly productive with some fascinating points and statistics raised for discussion between the speakers and the audience. Notably, it was raised that the UK severely lags behind in the worldwide productivity league tables - sitting 22nd overall.

Similarly, with the issue of how technological innovation is failing the industry as a focal point of the seminar, it was noted that although BIM will enable the industry to achieve all the things it wants to on a mass scale, the majority of contractors and supply chain companies are simply not ready to meet the BIM level 2 requirements, which come in to effect in 2016.

A variety of intelligent solutions to increasing productivity were discussed in the hour long seminar. For example, they gave detailed advice to the watching delegates on how to improve collaboration in the supply chain and also how the housebuilding model in the UK could be sped up by utilising off site building techniques but where units have a shorter lifespan of around 30 years, therefore solving both the housing crisis and the product and skills shortage issues the industry is facing.

But perhaps the most interesting point of the seminar was raised by an audience member - Jane Ollis from Rift Accounting. Jane indicated to the panel that research and development in the UK construction industry is woefully under-funded. She claimed that from a total pot of £1.75bn of tax credits for R&D that was offered to SMEs in the UK, only 324 construction businesses took advantage of the payments.

Led by Stephanie McGovern, the panel had already discussed the need for disruption in the construction industry in the same way that companies such as Uber and Air BnB have disrupted the transport and hospitality sectors. But this financially astute comment certainly raised eyebrows and will definitely prompt further discussion amongst some important influencers in the industry.

But this got me thinking, is the main problem here in communications? I asked Jane Ollis if she thought there was an issue in the delivery and understanding of governmental policies within the construction industry. She agreed there was a massive issue and that we needed to start creating a narrative to fully explain how construction SME companies can benefit from R&D funding.

I've seen problems with governmental comms plans before, both from DECC and HMRC for various policies and incentives. The failure to properly invest in communicating directly to the construction and associated industries is leaving many companies under prepared or simply unaware of changes to policy - changes that could benefit the industry a great deal.

I've also have seen, first hand, the amazing innovation and, potentially disruptive, product development that many of CIBs clients are currently undertaking. The potential for many companies to change our industry is huge and with the right funding and comms plan in place, disruption is only round the corner.

So it is up to us in the construction comms business to shout louder, to make more noise about this great industry to encourage more R&D, greater collaboration and better innovation. In the meantime, though, it is important that the industry continues to come together at events such as UK Construction Week to discuss these issues and really start to understand the barriers to disruption in construction.

Watch this space.

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