Eight steps towards innovation in construction

Produced by the ICE President's Apprentices, the 'Innovation: Stepping up the Industry' report examines the importance of investing in innovation to ensure that the UK construction sector is able to compete on global stage.

What can be done to boost innovation?
What can be done to boost innovation?

'Lowering costs, faster delivery'

The manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and technological sectors all boast reputations as leaders of innovation. The construction industry is lagging behind. Why is this? What are the other industries doing differently? Can the construction industry replicate their work ethic and maximise the opportunities for new innovative methodologies and production techniques?

The global construction market is forecast to grow by over 70% by 2025. In order for the UK to be at the forefront of this growth, the government and industry produced a joint strategy, Construction 2025. This sets out how they will work together to meet the aspiration of the UK being a leader in the global construction industry. The strategy includes a clear and defined set of targets for the industry – 'lowering costs, faster delivery, lower emissions, improvement in exports'.

To meet these targets, the industry needs a drastic transformation. Sharing and encouraging innovation and innovative practices to increase productivity is vital.

What is innovation?

Innovation is the process of translating an idea into goods or services that meets a new or existing need and creates value. The idea could be, for example, a brand new product, the adaptation of an existing service, or a change to a management process. Innovation is not necessarily invention and creativity may well lie within a different application of an existing approach or technology. Value may be seen in an improved company reputation or repeat work, time or cost efficiencies, improved safety, or an increase in paying customers, all of which ultimately result in increased profit.

Building blocks of innovation

There is no single way to create an innovation culture, but rather a collection of changes that when addressed together, can influence organisations and our ability to innovate. Listed below are the eight building blocks that can make this transformation happen, turn barriers into drivers and, most importantly, unlock innovation across the UK Construction Industry.

  1. People
    A successful project is often marked out as one with a highly skilled workforce, where there is diversity of thought and the project is driven by a strong leader or leadership team.
  2. Strategy & Delivery
    Innovation is not simply about generating ideas but also about demonstrating the business case and delivering an output. For the best results the process can be systematised.
  3. Procurement
    Procurement strategy can greatly influence the scope and capacity for innovation within a project. Often the greatest opportunities for innovation to occur are during the initial concept phase. Critically, this can either foster or stifle innovation. Several elements in particular play an important role:
    • The Role of the Client
    • Contract Types
    • Integrated Supply Chain
  4. Investing in Innovation
    Investment is a crucial input in innovation. Investing in people and platforms, as well as traditional Research and Development initiatives, will create an environment where innovation can thrive.
  5. Knowledge Sharing
    Traditionally, the construction industry has not been particularly proactive in sharing and learning from its successes and failures. The lack of knowledge capture from previous projects results in ‘reinventing the wheel’ and repeated mistakes.
  6. Research and Development
    Currently, the UK construction industry does not invest heavily in Research & Development (R&D). This is proven at both a national level where construction lags behind other industries and internationally where, despite increased investment, the UK as a whole “ranks only 13th within the EU member states and has not currently set a target for 2020”[1] for the level of R&D intensity as a measure of GDP, for all industries”.
  7. Standards & Regulation
    Standards and regulations that are highly prescriptive can stifle innovation. There has been little incentive or reward for exceeding or diverting from standards, encouraging the same tried-and-tested solutions to be re-used to meet requirements and prohibiting advances in technology from being driven forward, especially when not supported in regulated industries.
  8. Embracing Technology
    BIM, sensors, and smart construction technology will transform the way we design, construct and manage assets. With the rise of the digital economy and the need to move towards the Digital Built Britain agenda, embracing the technology that is already available to us in this industry will enable innovations to move from concept to reality.

Step up the Industry

This content is an excerpt from the report ‘Step up the Industry’ produced by the ICE Presidents Apprentices in 2015.

Each year the ICE President selects a group of graduate or technician members to act as apprentices during their presidential year. In 2015, David Balmforth tasked his President's Apprentices to discover more about the state of innovation within the construction industry and how it could be improved.

The apprentices spoke to a number of influential people, both inside and outside of the industry to ascertain their views and their companies' views about innovation. They also undertook their own research.

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Additional information

Watch the launch of 'Innovation: Stepping up the industry' and hear David Balmforth and his apprentices discuss the report and issues that it seeks to tackle.

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As part of efforts to improve the delivery of major infrastructure projects, ICE is leading efforts to make improvements to the procurement and supply chain process.

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[1] Engineering UK 2014 – The state of engineering, Part 1 – Engineering in Context, 3.0 UK Engineering research and innovation, 3.3 The international context, Pg. 24 and Fig3.0. Found at: http://www. theengineer.co.uk/Journals/2013/12/06/v/x/t/ EngineeringUK_Report_2014.pdf.