Vox pop: How can innovation be encouraged and nurtured within construction?

2 June 2015

Alexander Siljanovski, founder and CEO of BaseStone

My academic background is in technology and entrepreneurship, where I’ve learnt that across all industries large organisations struggle to innovate internally. So it is essential that the main contractors have a willingness to engage with smaller companies, which often have more flexible working practices, and are not bound by blinkers or a “it’s always been done this way attitude”.

The big companies have the money and the most to gain from innovating. They need to have involvement with outside companies, and then bring in the technology when it is appropriate.

By being first, the larger company gets a competitive edge and will be known as a thought leader. However, they can’t smother the innovation. Smart companies will get innovators involved and then leave them alone.

Alex MacLaren, architect at Wyatt MacLaren and member of the BIM 2050 Group

We’ve got to incentivise innovators. So when approached with a new idea, whether by a motivated school-leaver, a digital geek or a cultural speculator, let’s listen to them and not just cite our conventional rules. We want to challenge the status quo and create a fluid, flexible framework for our industry to respond to social and technological change.

Let’s encourage curiosity, reward experimentation and support initiatives that question established practice. If we see something exciting, let’s celebrate it, regardless of which country, discipline or company achieved it.

Robert Hairstans, head of the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre

The industry needs a collaborative approach, and to invest in basic research that results in applied research and commercialisation. Innovation can be product, process or a combination of both. Regardless, there will be a number of actors involved, whether it be subcontractors needing training toolkits or supply chain members modifying their product to match a new system approach.

To get innovation to happen, all the partners need to be on board and investing in it because they all stand to benefit. This benefit should be sustainable: environmental, social and economic. A holistic approach should be taken to the research required, fed by primary data that is robust, credible and ideally transparent. This is why BIM could be a tool to support innovation.

Ultimately success will depend on the level of buy-in and the level of rigour. This is why working with a knowledge-based partner such as a university can underpin the whole process and should be considered where possible.

Stephen Good, chief executive, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre

True collaboration is the one thing that will encourage innovation in the construction industry. By collaborating with government, the procurement process could be made simpler which will in turn break down some of the barriers that prevent businesses from making innovation a reality. 

By collaborating with academics, research and development will become more accessible for industry and should become embedded in industry culture. By collaborating with each other transformational change is possible, without it “business as usual” activity prevents innovation from delivering real commercial value to industry.

The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre is supercharging growth across the construction industry by blending demand driven challenges with world-leading academic expertise and a joined up public sector support network.

Ian Rogers, director and global venturing leader, Arup

Developing new techniques and tools is essential to remain ahead of the market. Our industry is not short of ideas. But ideas are like seeds: they need to be nurtured before they can bear fruit.

As organisations we have a responsibility to create an environment that supports its employees and their ideas. We need to put in place processes to filter these concepts and assess their viability to ultimately benefit from the time and money invested. Ideas are out there. Advances in 3D design, BIM, simulations, building physics and fluid dynamics only exist because of research and development. We need to empower employees if we are to reap the rewards.

Dan Gamson, environmental manager, Speller Metcalfe

Businesses within the construction industry need to take an inclusive approach, and look to their newest and youngest employees to help drive new ideas and practice forward.

Our directors realise that some of the young eyes within the company have a different approach and can see and solve problems in different ways. Our input is as important as those more experienced to help keep the company innovative.

I’m part of our new Innovation and Excellence Board, which has been a catalyst for such changes. It proves that by motivating your staff and creating an ethos where all opinions matter, great ideas can be generated and implemented.

Read about the CIOB/BRE Innovators Meet Dragons event here

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