What does Innovation in Construction Look Like?
Recently announced by the Canadian Construction Association, is a conference titled “The Changing Face of Construction” to get their members to start thinking externally in regards to strategy, change management and innovation. Construction is typically known to lag behind in regards to technology adoption, so what does innovation in construction look like?
The image attached, from Chapter 5 of the just published book; Construction Innovation and Process Improvement, available in e-format from Wiley’s Online Library, represents the different stakeholders within the construction industry that can drive or affect innovation. The drive for innovation comes from the social stakeholders (governments, communities, individuals), who are limited to what the architects and engineers, during the project design and specification development stage, can supply. In this respect innovation in construction for the end users is limited, as construction is the means to an end. Worth further exploration is the ability for innovation within the current business process.
Chapter 5: Innovation, Technology and Knowledge Transfer for Sustainable Construction, focuses largely on the development of strategic partners throughout a contractor’s supply chain, in order to pool knowledge and technology to collaboratively share/mitigate the resources, rewards and risks inherent with innovation. The ultimate theme to achieve sustainability is to be more efficient; saving on material, energy and waste costs. This seems to mesh well with a decreasing and aging labor force, requiring construction companies to do more with less. Larger construction firms are expanding internationally, expanding their supply chains, leveraging their expertise in managing, coordinating, selling and marketing construction projects.
The construction industry by nature is largely project based, and further sub-divided into different contractors responsible for different goals, working independently, while also dependant on each other to complete a project. Mentioned in the book is the relative transparent nature of the business processes used within construction. This is most evident in that typically after 6 months with any construction company, an employee is able to identify the company’s and its subcontractors’ value chains. The most glaring opportunity in this is the ability to automate the current processes being handled by “human middleware”- a solution which involves hiring more staff to manage, coordinate and deal with interactions between people, processes and policies.
The final and most important factor resulting in the lack of innovation within the construction industry is due to its project based nature. Firms enter into partnerships with relatively short term goals (get the project built), requiring a low facility to transfer and accumulate the knowledge and technology leading to innovation. Overall, this is at odds with the ultimate goal of the project owners, as the construction costs (managing and assembly) of a project make-up but a fraction of the lifetime costs of a project, which are largely a result of the materials and maintenance. Enabling long-term project lifecycle partnerships, through sustainable bidding, allows all stakeholders to have a stake in the success of a project and facilitate the required environment to foster construction innovation.