An Industry of Variable Resistance

  • Building Design Expert
  • 3 years ago

We often refer to people in the construction industry who seem to be impervious to change as dinosaurs. Whilst some dinosaurs died out tens of thousands of years ago, it is true that we still have some around today. The ones that have survived have evolved and grown to suit their environments. They have reacted and adapted to changes that could have overseen their demise, and somehow stabilised their existence. If this is not ringing any bells, then it should be, particularly if you have served any time in the construction industry, which in itself is it’s own sleeping dinosaur. It’s awoken from time to time by a new technology, new legislation, or perhaps some key changes to industry influencers.

The Public Corporate

Your key industry influencers will always vary dependent upon where you are placed – Building designers, specifiers, manufacturers and contractors, for example, all retain a somewhat unique view of what goes on, and importantly how it’s dealt with at any given level. Public sector construction rewards can be higher, with large value contracts often providing the higher profit margins that help dull the undoubted pain that working in this environment can impart. “He who pays the piper calls the tune”, and government departments dictating that projects must be executed through the use of BIM by a pre-determined date, with reduced carbon footprints, and any other number of edicts that they consider might save the public purse and therefore their bacon come election time, by default lead the way by in effect forcing innovation.

The corporates strike a similar profile, with the public purses exchanged for those belonging to the shareholders. So perception of innovation and “doing the right thing” is a key driver.

Corporate Aspiration

It can be a long jump down from that platform to the next operating level that feature those aspirational enough to want to be involved with the cutting edge. They have the perception that their voluntary adherence to a code, or directive, will allow them to at least try on the big boys shoes. That’s great, after all a western economy without ambition will soon cease to impress.

A Private Trend

The take up of technology will invariably mean investment. – Investment in training, equipment, software; the list isn’t endless and is undoubtedly pricey. Case studies do sometimes demonstrate a tangible ROI, and also act as a catalyst for the wannabes to join the queue. For those that ‘must have’ it’s the BIM queue that the case studies lead us to believe will yield not only cost savings, but important early adopter industry kudos. Those pioneers are long past the “spinning TARDIS in space” stage, but the attraction that 3D presentation of our building designs remains a huge attraction and indeed a supreme diversion from the absolute BIM pathway, which would be far better represented as a ‘Model of Information’ rather than a model of a building. If the acronym was not invented by a 3D building modelling software company, just perhaps it might have not been quite so misleading. There have been a raft of alternatives to “BIM”, but my favourite has to be just a one word change to ‘Construction Information Modelling’; a more accurate descriptor, but then again you can perm any eight of your own from ten.

The Have No’s

The shear numbers of architects, technologists, consultants and SME builders and sub-contractors dominate their own end of the construction industry. Many are laid down with one of those sleepy dinosaurs, or adopt the stance that there would be limited, if any ROI on an investment made on what amounts to ‘Technology’. A contract administrator walking onto site with his or her drawings stored on an iPad, is guaranteed to cause a raised eyebrow. I know this, because the wind changed and a couple of joiners have never looked quite the same since that event took place!!!

The “Have No” Money, Interest, Will, Inclination or, and probably most importantly – Incentive, to change anything they do, is therefore probably very understandable.

The construction industry game at the highest level offers little room for manoeuvre to the top players; their business investment dictates that. The SMEs, however, often have a choice, and the micro-enterprises can generally observe it all from a discreet distance; opting in and out as and when it suits.

The big players, it must be said, have the will. They have the will to engage with ‘BIM’, and to engage with the challenge of ‘zero carbon’. This is largely because they have little choice. The lucrative business based around execution of government contracts demands compliance with government directives. Designers and Contractors that play in this arena have long since learned that they need to have suitable resources in place, and active, in order to meet those demands. But the bumpy slide down the different sized links of the industry development chain and you will find an industry of variable resistance.