I was inpired by a talk given by Darren Lester, founder of Specifiedby.com, at Scotlandbuild 2016, which looked at running a digital company in the construction industry.
Darren Lester opened his speech by referencing the recent Farmer report, which looked at the labour model and skills shortages.
“The construction industry is in dire need of change. What is clear to me following the nine months spent conducting this review is that carrying on as we are is simply not an option. With digital technology advancements pushing ahead in almost every other industry and with the construction labour pool coming under serious pressure, the time has come for action. The construction industry doesn’t have the impetus needed for this change; it requires external action to initiate change.
– Mark Farmer
In his talk, Darren looked at a raft of easily adoptable digital tools that any company can use to work collaboratively, productively and efficiently, starting right now.
Collaboration is a term that has been used a lot with the introduction of BIM but a collaborative mindset must be adopted in everyday working as well as for specialist design and construction disciplines. Construction News Editor Rebecca Evans recently wrote:
Calls for greater collaboration… are frequent and well-meant. The term was heard in almost every debate, discussion and presentation at last weeks Construction News Summit. What is needed is practical action by individuals right now, combined with a medium to long-term overhaul of the way all players in the built environment interact and take responsibility.
From print to digital publishing
Digital innovation and productive working are topics that hold great interest for me. During my career, I started as an editor focusing on printed product directories aiming at construction industry specifiers. The rise of digital publishing and search engines created huge disruption in the publishing industry, which was forced under duress to adopt digital methods of working and create online products.
Many companies died. The ones that survived were able to move away from print publishing and adopt digital publishing. I have lived through a shift from old ways of working to new. Other new disciplines included:
- well-designed metadata and taxonomies that give easy-to-navigate websites
- robust and organised databases
- efficient and innovative software development
- search systems
- search engine optimisation
- social media marketing
I have recently joined a large construction company and can see opportunity in every direction. As per the Farmer Report, many contractors have to modernise, and the good news i the hard work to begin this process has been started.
Top 3 free collaboration tools
Slack – instant messaging that can help you organise discussions into topics, teams and sub-teams. Helps to reduce the pressure that our email exerts on us.
Google docs – functional and effective file sharing system for collaborating on documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Files can be downloaded
Trello – productivity tool that organises team tasks on Kanban-style boards.
Adopting a digital culture
For a large organisation, moving towards a digital mindset is more than just adopting new software and processes. It is also about a change in culture. As I see it, some of the most important things to adopt are:
- Communicating freely outwith the confines of your team or department. Tools like Slack, the messaging software mentioned above; and Skype and Zoom, videoconferencing tools; are other ways to communicate without the need to be in the same place.
- Setting up systems that allow location-independent working – at home, on the move, on site or in another office. Most modern software is ‘in the cloud’ – in other words, you can access your information from wherever you have an internet connection.
- Sharing information in more productive ways – less email attachments, more file sharing; less information hoarded on our own hard drives, more on shared drives and systems
Slack, Google Docs and Trello are largely free apps that small construction businesses can easily adopt if there is a will and aptitude to learn new systems.
For large organisations, the Microsoft Office 365 suite of applications provides a secure system to satisfy corporate needs and gives remote access. Office 365 offers many innovative features that offer much more than just remote access to Word documents. But that’s for another blog post.
With a collective effort, the construction industry can move forward together to learn new ways of collaborative, productive working.