Productivity houses the answer to the government’s new targets
Philip Hammond’s vision to build 300,000 more houses in the UK each year is a major step in tackling the country’s housing crisis, and the construction sector will rise to this challenge, says Steve Cooper, General Manager at Aconex, the construction management platform.
However, it’s vital that this wave of new housebuilding hits tight budget and timing targets, as these have been an enduring problem for too long in our industry. Indeed, a national programme of new housebuilding needs to take account of how the sector must continue to work at overcoming problems of low productivity and build quality.
Construction is famously weak on productivity. While other core markets such as banking or retail have carried out digital transformation to keep pace with consumer demand, the construction industry has fallen behind. Low productivity equates to low output, late project delivery, reduced profits and costly delays. Magnifying the situation is the unpredictability of the construction sector, which is seen in its structural and leadership fragmentation, low margins, adversarial pricing models and financial fragility. Add to this picture an apparent lack of a collaboration and improvement culture and an often-dysfunctional training, funding and delivery model, and it is clear why the problem is so ingrained.
But the industry is not damaged beyond rescue. All markets have their difficulties, and the construction industry has the ability and the capacity to become as fast-paced as others. It simply requires the right facilitators to achieve its goals. Improving productivity, even by a small percentage, will lead to better built assets, delivered on time and on budget, and more profitable contracts.
While the sector is being asked to enable more citizens to get the homes of their dreams sooner rather than later, greater digitisation across all facets of the construction sector, small and large, should be encouraged – as the government does in other parts of the economy. Productivity will come when the industry as a whole takes major steps towards digitisation. When this is used to create a single platform and source of information about a project or across a programme, construction workers will be more productive and saving time and money through greater team collaboration.
Digital technologies can make organisations better at managing change. But first, project owners need to build entire teams that possess digital competencies. Re-orienting an organisation to become digitally savvy is no small feat, but it can be accomplished by developing individuals with relevant digital skills and building upon an organisation’s technological capabilities.
It is encouraging to see the Chancellor recognising the importance of training to fill the construction skills gap. The £34M allocation should spur the conversation around how we can get more digital skills developed in the construction sector. Furthermore, the newly announced Construction Sector Deal has stated that it will help modernise the industry and recruit and train the next generation of high-skilled construction workers. Having the talent to be able to harness the latest digital innovations in collaboration, on & off-site fabrication, project control and supply chain management can transform the construction process, reversing what have been the accepted norms of construction projects: shooting overbudget and coming in late. Investing in digital construction skills, therefore, can play a crucial part in delivering the overall goals of the ambitious national housebuilding programmes.
Digitally-skilled employees can leverage numerous existing collaboration technologies designed to improve productivity. These collaboration platforms can be used to improve the design, engineering and construction process by integrating working practices and project communications across the wide range of disciplines and supply chains. What this facilitates is the ability to optimise working practices, which is crucial for productivity.
Designers and constructors must work together to design for optimal construction. Utilising improved processes designed around building information modelling (BIM) offers them the ability to capture and structure vast amounts of data around projects and assets, enabling businesses to improve decisions and processes. With the increased level of data now being captured, managed and assimilated, BIM is helping the industry implement new working practices, communication processes and control functions. Embracing many of BIM’s 4D & 5D capabilities also cuts costs and saves time from the start of a project so that teams can work more effectively from the get-go.
For projects to be productive, a multitude of contractors, architects, engineers, subcontractors and suppliers need to be able to communicate and work together within a framework typically shaped by contract relationships. Although each one may have different objectives, their goal will be the same: to complete construction and deliver the built asset with the highest possible quality within the time and budget available.
For Hammond’s plans to be fulfilled, we can all do our part to champion the benefits that digital transformation can bring to the sector. This is not just about automating or codifying improved working practices, processes and information flows – it’s also about a change of mindset and an openness to technological alternatives to traditional ways of working. With these elements in motion, the industry can begin to reclaim its image and step into a modern world.
Image: © 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com
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