News Roundup: May 2010

12 May 2010

Firms save by outsourcing IT

Construction businesses are increasingly planning to shift their IT expenditure from in-house server rooms and support staff towards “virtual” data storage and software accessed via the Internet, according to a new survey. 

Based on responses from 200 firms in the contracting, housebuilding and professional services sectors, the Building on IT 2010 report looks at expenditure across hardware, software, staff, data networking and telephony. 

It found a trend towards outsourcing, driven by the prospect of cost savings. This can take the form of paying a monthly fee to a service provider for data storage and other network management, or buying “Software as a Service” (SaaS) as an alternative to user licence fees. 

Half of the respondents are considering “Cloud” data storage and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, while one in four said they had considered switching to a managed service arrangement. 

The report was produced by the Knowledge Practice, an IT consultancy; Construct IT, part of the University of Salford; and the National Computing Centre. The lead author was Ken France, formerly chief information officer at both Bovis and Laing, and now a director of the Knowledge Practice.  

France explained: “If people are accessing services over the web, then they don’t need as many technical staff in the field. Plus, if you use SaaS, then it’s easier for everyone in the supply chain to access the same software. 

“Boards are throwing down the gauntlet to the IT department, asking them to provide more for less. If they move from a centralised server infrastructure to the Cloud, operating costs can be 20-30% lower. Modern services treat IT like an utlity – you pay on demand, on usage, and don’t pay for what you don’t use.” 

Clare Watson, vice president marketing at collaboration vendor 4projects, said take-up of its SaaS solution was increasing. “According to a recent survey in Information Week, the number one reason behind the rapid growth of SaaS is speed of implementation. As companies come out of recession, often with smaller IT departments, this factor could become even more important.”

“Avoiding large upfront capital investment by operating on a simple monthly charge… means that SaaS is a good fit with these difficult times.”


More clients assemble tender lists

The number of clients using the Constructionline database to assemble tender lists of contractors for projects has risen by 28% this quarter compared with the last quarter of 2009. 

Local authorities, housing associations and major contractors that use the service also created 68% more tender lists in the first quarter than in the same period last year. 

Philip Prince, sales and marketing director at the database, said: “While the industry is still some way from recovery, there are pockets of significant growth, especially in areas like refurbishment and maintenance.” 

Constructionline has added over 2,400 suppliers, bringing the total to 19,000. It also reports a growth in the number of larger contractors pre-qualifying their supply chains through the online service. 


Noble Francis

Q&A: Noble Francis

Noble Francis is economics policy development director at the Construction Products Association. After a string of gloomy economic reports, the CPA’s spring quarterly forecast was marginally more optimistic than winter’s. 

Spring is in the air, and the election is over. Are we turning a corner? Don’t expect dramatic improvements. Over the next decade the construction sector’s recovery will be slow. We see 2011 as a critical year as that’s when the private sector will start to recover, housebuilding will continue to increase, and there will be more  industrial and commercial work too.

We’re braced for post-election cuts, but remind us how bad it will be? Last year public borrowing hit £164bn, which compared with £32bn six years ago is unsustainable, so the government will be making  sharp cuts and construction is likely to suffer more than other industries. Labour’s March budget predicted public sector construction spending will fall to 1.25% of GDP by 2013/14, a 50% drop compared with 3.6% of GDP in 2009/2010. This is very worrying – once spending goes below 2.25% of GDP, public facilities – that’s schools, hospitals and social housing – start getting into disrepair.  

Please give us some good news. We expect infrastructure work to grow 42% by 2014, and rail work will more than double over the next five years. The finance for infrastructure comes from pricing to the end user, from train tickets, water rates, energy prices, all set by regulators. So these sectors are more isolated from spending cuts. Water and rail operate on five-year spending plans, and both have been allocated money up to 2014/2015.

What does the future hold for PFI? The financial crisis has had a big effect on the financial viability of many PFI projects. PFI will remain, but in a modified form. Given massive cuts to public sector spending there will have to be private sector provision of public facilities.

Building Schools for the Future? There has to be a big question mark over the long-term viability of BSF. It was supposed to cost £52-£55bn over 15 years, and we simply don’t have that money any more. But projects already signed off will provide growth over 2010/2011.


Cubism in construction 

Education and training organisation Think Up is looking for partners interested in deploying the Big Rig, a three-storey scaffolding cube designed as a flexible environment for hands-on outdoor construction learning. 

The cube was piloted in March during a two-day event in Londons’ Docklands, where 45 unemployed Londoners competed in two teams to build a solar-powered shower using a skip full of low-carbon technologies and building materials. 

Based on the success of that event, Think Up is now eyeing possible events focused on sustainability or the construction diploma syllabus, says associate Oliver Broadbent. The team hopes to interest schools, Further Education colleges, and training organisations as partners.  

“It’s a three-storey transparent classroom, you can see activity happening at all the levels. Big Rig can be fitted with many different types of project cubes, each of which can be tailored towards a different audience or subject. We’re currently keen to plan an event based on the entire concept of sustainability, covering all the issues and technology. The cube is also an ideal space to teach subjects on the Construction and Built Environment diploma, or even as a  hands-on teaching tool at CPD events,” he said.

He characterises the Big Rig’s approach as “action learning”, compared to passively receiving information about career options in a classroom. In addition, the game-show element of competing teams helps people to get over their initial hesitation and become involved.   

Think Up is part of group of companies known as the Useful Simple Trust, which also includes Expedition Engineering. More information, including a 7-minute film is available at


Photo entries flood in from around the world

The CIOB’s Art of Building photography competition has captured the imagination of a global audience, with a flood of images submitted since its launch last month.  

Professional photographers and enthusiastic amateurs with an artistic eye have submitted more than 200 shots so far, prompted by widespread publicity of the competition in photography magazines, online news stories, tweets posted on social media sites and university newsletters. 

Photos have been submitted from countries including China, India, Argentina and Korea.  

The competition remains open until 31 May. Entrants are asked to post up to three of their best images on the dedicated website,, to be judged by an expert panel. 

The top 12 images will be put to an online public vote, with a winner announced in July. The winner will receive £500 and all 12 finalists will see their photographs published in CIOB publications and in the national media. 


BAM cuts carbon footprint by 11% 

Leading contractor BAM has announced that it managed to cut its overall carbon footprint by 11% last year in comparison to 2008. The reduction of 2,243 tonnes of CO2, saved from BAM’s own premises and its site operations, could fill 440 hot air balloons. 

Normalised against BAM’s turnover, the year on year reduction is 13%. Jesse Putzel, BAM’s climate change manager, said: “This is great news and is testament to the hard work everyone has put in to reducing energy use and raising awareness of good practice. It is a real sign that we are becoming more efficient.” 

Measures implemented by BAM  include remote monitoring of energy use, providing an in-house management advice service to sites, reducing the use of generators, and improving the efficiency of its fleet. 

BAM is currently building signature “green” buildings for the Co-Operative Group, Network Rail, Severn Trent Water, and Great Ormond Street Hospital. GOSH believes that its new buildings will be the greenest hospital facilities in Europe. 

It is also building Montgomery Primary School, Exeter, which hopes to utilise Passivhaus ideas to reach zero carbon. 


Month in numbers 26


The percentage property asking prices rose in April, signaling the start of the traditional moving season, said property website Rightmove. Average asking prices rose by £5,898.


The percentage increase in development plannned by supermarket company Tesco this year through a £1.6bn expansion programme. Much of the work will involve restarting schemes put on hold, particularly major mixed-use developments.


The percentage of developments put on hold in the United Arab Emirates as a result of the downturn, according to research published by UAE-based Proleads Global. 


The address on Lincoln Road in Miami of what’s being billed as the world’s most stunning car park. Designed by Tate Modern architect Herzog & de Meuron, the mixed use scheme will feature 300 parking spaces, apartments, shops and restaurants.


The amount, in pounds, demolition contractor Ivan Pope was fined for allowing his son to work on a pub roof using an excavator’s upturned bucket as a platform.


The value, in pounds, of a major redevelopment planned for the British Film Institute on London’s South Bank. The BFI is seeking a design team for the 12,500m2 project. 


The value, in pounds, of a super-laboratory to be built at King’s Cross, north London. Five teams are bidding to build the UK Centre for Medical Research & Innovation scheme.


RMD Kwikform has worked on several prestige projects in the Middle East, including Yas Island in Abu Dhabi

Exporters’ royal recognition

Three UK construction firms have received a Queen’s Award for International Trade after demonstrating outstanding growth in overseas markets. Formwork and falsework specialist RMD Kwikform, design and engineering consultancy Scott Wilson Group, and steel window manufacturer Crittall Windows feature in a list of 95 companies recognized for their growth in overseas earnings and commercial success, writes Stephen Cousins.

To receive an award, firms must demonstrate “outstanding” growth relative to the size of the business and the sector it operates in. Applications are based on the firms’ performance over either three or six years.

RMD Kwikform increased its overseas business by 185% in six years. It has offices in 17 countries, including Chile and Morocco, and uses these bases to sell to another 13 markets, including Russia. “It’s a global industry now, you can’t think about UK construction alone,” said managing director Steve Dance. 

He believes the company’s achievement is down to its ability to adapt to different languages and cultures. “Roughly 80% of our business is overseas, so customers in Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Spain all have different requirements and expectations,” Dance said. “We’re a very entrepreneurial company and try to adapt to new markets, so in Spain we have a Spanish MD, and Poles run the Polish business.”

The company believes in speaking to customers in their own language. It has recently launched a Spanish-language website, while Dance – who previously worked in Latin America – posts Spanish-language videos on the company website.

Scott Wilson Group expanded its overseas business by 130% over six years, more than doubling its revenue. The growth followed a radical change in the company’s structure.

“We basically changed the way we operate,” said chairman Geoff French. “We’ve had an international presence for over 85 years, but the market never grew at same rate as the UK. Then four years ago we floated company on the London Stock Exchange with the ambition to achieve more of a balance between UK and abroad.

“After that we sent several senior UK managers to other markets to support and supplement local expertise. It would have been difficult to grow at the rate we did without organizing ourselves like this.”

Crittall Windows’ award recognizes its significant increase in export earnings from the notoriously protective US market, where it is now the second largest supplier of steel windows, even though it doesn’t have a permanent office in the country.


Aecom notches up first BREEAM project in China

Consultant Aecom has become the first BREEAM assessor to register a building in China, after being appointed to advise on a mixed-use commercial development in Tianjin (right)  in the north-east of the country.

The H2 building, located in the Tianjin Economic - Technological Development Area (TEDA) Modern Service District, will include 12,000m2 of retail, exhibition, restaurant and office space.

Aecom staff from London, Hong Kong and Beijing will assist TEDA’s design team with the design and assessment, aimed at achieving the highest possible BREEAM rating.

UK project director Lionel Delorme said: "We are very excited to bring our 20 years of  BREEAM experience to China, working with a very proactive client and our local sustainability colleagues. ”

Low carbon technologies include a high-performance building envelope, automatic external blinds, ground source heat pumps, photovoltaic panels and a building-integrated wind turbine.  Aecom helped develop the original BREEAM in 1990.


Putting CDM at the foundation of archaeological excavation

The CIOB is forming a working group to clarify the muddy question of how the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations relate to archaeological digs. The group aims to produce clear guidance on the question for both construction and archaeology professionals.

The group will include a range of stakeholders, including representatives from the Health & Safety Executive, CDM coordinators, English Heritage, the Institute for Archaeology and archaeological contractors. 

“We hope to produce official guidance for the construction sector on how the CDM regulations apply to archaeological work, as well as guidance for archaeological practitioners. We need something in published form, that can be disseminated to the people affected,” says CIOB ambassador Andrew Townsend, a project officer at Bristol & Region Archaeological services.

Howard Prosser, chair of the CIOB’s health and safety advisory committee, added: “Site managers, clients and CDM coordinators need more clarity on whether the regulations apply or not. The idea is to produce guidance for all archaeological work, both on and off construction sites. If you think about a typical Time Team site, in the middle of a field, does the guidance apply there?”

The impetus behind the working party began last year, at an exploratory meeting attended by a cross section of stakeholders. In April, Stephanie Rafferty, an HSE principal inspector in construction in the CDM unit, presented a paper to the IfA conference on the HSE’s viewpoint.

 Andrew Townsend is hoping that the working party will reflect a wide cross-section of interests, including specialists such as marine archaeologists.

“We want to expand the work, and ask people to write papers on certain topics to take things forward. The more input we can get, the better.” Anyone interested in the working party can contact Townsend at [email protected]


CIOB takes leading role in careers portals

The CIOB is lending its support to two new online ventures aimed at spreading awareness of construction as a career option.

The Institute plans to support the built environment section of, a careers portal aimed at 10-14 year olds. Promoted via ITV programming, the site takes young people who log on through interactive online challenges to give them a flavour of different careers. Major employers such as BT are already involved in the scheme.

In addition, the CIOB is sponsoring a new website,, promoted by a consortium of professional institutes. The new site is part of their response to the  critical report on Fair Access to the Professions published by the government last year. It aims to offer clear  information to school leavers, graduates and career changers of all backgrounds.


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