Tuesday, 28 January 2014
A recent article in www.entrepreneur.com gave some interesting predictions regarding forthcoming trends in business. One of the areas identified was of particular interest to those of us who operate in the contruction design field. The prediction suggested that traditional platforms such as AutoCAD would become outdated and replaced by design tools such as Minecraft. (many of us have already come to the conclusion that AutoCAD is not the right design tool for us) For those who are not aware of Minecraft it is an online game particularly popular with young gamers. Whilst at first glace this may seem a crazy notion, however, I believe there is more than a strong likelihood that development of software will move in this direction. Young people are far more comfortable with these interfaces and are able to manipulate and understand space far better than generations previously. The design skills I developed when growing up involved coordination of pencil and brain and the subsequent communicating in 2D on paper. We then developed additional technical skills to suit PCs and then laptops. Today’s generations are virtually born with tablet device in their hands. It won’t be too long until PC and Laptops don’t exist. They only remain today to suit older generations. The new generation of designers will undoubtedly use gaming technologies such as Pixar quality renders to produce incredibly accurate models and renders of the prototyping and delivery of buildings. Another emerging technology used in conjunction with gaming will impact even further on how we build. 3D printing is becoming increasingly sophisticated with progress over recent years being significant. While there is still some way to go it is not unrealistic to imagine huge printers producing buildings in the future. Building will then be far more predictable in their cost and performance which has been something the industry has been striving towards for many years. This look into the future may at first glance appear unrealistic however; the pace of change in technology and a construction industry which has a new generation of leadership emerging it is more than a reality.
Monday, 13 January 2014
2013 may go down as the year when BIM came of age and was accepted as the future of the construction industry. Through 2013 there was considerable debate and discussion about standards, protocols and definitions. This debate is needed and has all been very positive. However the challenge for those embracing change and operating in the sector, is how to continue to deliver projects in an environment of evolving thinking. As an example, the digital plan of work was launched last year and the RIBA updated its plan of work to align with this new structure. After a consultation period the RIBA finally settled on new stages using numbers not letters and stages more aligned to contemporary construction and procurement. During the period of change construction continued and projects were started. Several clients adopted the new stages however as the consultation developed there was confusion as several stages did not align. The Level of definition also evolved through 2013. As the AIA definition was used on live projects it became clear that it provided insufficient detail to deliver a project. Several of us have grappled with this during 2013 to find an approach and definition with the appropriate level of detail. We also have the ongoing debate about Uniclass 2 against CAWS which ebbs and flows. We mustn’t forget the debate regarding how New Rules of Measurement will align with Uniclass 2. For organisations who are working on live projects the evolving nature of these standards is a hazard. However if you are to be at the leading edge of new thinking it has to be accepted that this is an occupational hazard. The alternative is to wait until everything has settled down and is agreed before embracing change. This is a cautious approach but if you want to make a difference you have to accept some confusion and help to find the right solution. It is not dissimilar to the cautious IT manager who does not implement new software until the first service pack has been released. At space group we want to be the first to benefit from new thinking so always use new software as soon as it is released. Our IT Director is keen to point out the risk but we believe it’s a risk we have to take. During 2013 the evolving nature of BIM has made the delivery of some projects a challenge and at times may have been a concern to early adopter clients. As we move into 2014 I see the fog starting to lift and standards starting to formalise. There are still gaps and discussions and debate to be had however there is now greater clarity than we have had for some time. We now options and formats which can be selected at the outset of a project to suit specific needs. We also have experience from past projects as to what works and what doesn’t. At BIM Technologies we have launch B.T14 which is our suite of documents which we will use as our control across all projects. All previous standards and documents have been archived so all new projects start with a consistent base line. These standards can and will be adjusted for specific projects but we now review the changes and discuss the reasons for them. For example B.T14 adopts the new digital plan of work to define work stages. Some client may feel the original plan of work is more appropriate so we are able to document and implement this change and communicate across the team. As these standards are increasingly standardised the early adopters must remember to quantify the value which we have theorised about for over the past few years. We must measure and report outputs so we are able to repay the trust those early adopter clients who committed to BIM. 2014 will be the year when BIM becomes embedded into construction. There will be two types of company. There will be those who invest and who will move forward and those who decide not to. Those who decide not to will fall behind and will find it increasingly difficult to complete.
Thursday, 12 December 2013
Being part of the construction industry we know how hard the recession has been.
There are not many industries which have been as hard hit as construction but retail must be a contender. Not only has it been effected by reduced spending but also the way people shop has changed dramatically.
This change in spending is having an impact on all forms if retail, be it high street or out of town.
As people increase the level of online shopping the supermarkets are left with an growing amount of unused out of town square footage which is not generating turnover or profit. Their smaller local shops are growing but these deliver a smaller profit per square foot.
The non food retail sector has similar if not greater challenges. We have already seen the demise of the traditional bookstore and record shop as people have either bought books and music online or converted to downloads.
Book stores and music shops still exist but now they have moved to a more specialist offer.
Clothing and electrical goods are now being effected by the growth of online trade. With lower overheads the online store can offer a lower price for the same product.
So where doses this leave retail in the future. I think the out of town mall faces one of the biggest challenges. The retail offer will reduce and these malls will become a destination or leisure venue. Restaurants, cinemas and coffee shops will be interspersed with specialist shops.
The out if town retail park faces the biggest challenge. Big shed shopping does have low costs but it has to compete with the Internet on price.
The real opportunity is in the high street as shoppers change their habits. Shopping has become far more local, specialist and social. Families will carry out their large shopping on line but this will be supplemented with fresh and specialist produce such as meat and vegetables. The mass produced produce will be used but will be enhanced by specialist offers
The social aspects of the high street will continue to grow. We will have even more coffee shops, bars and restaurants where people can meet. This mix will attract people throughout the day and night making the high street the centre of the community.
We have come full circle from where we were 30 years ago where the corner shop played a central role in the community.
While the high streets prosper we will see decline and change out of town. Retailers will try new ideas and concepts to adapt their existing space. We are already seeing Tesco adding restaurants and coffee shops to their stores however I am not convinced that these will provide a long term alternative to the high street community.
Wednesday, 4 December 2013
You might remember this battle cry from Tony Blair when he was elected in 1997.
I read a really disturbing article in the Sunday Times this week which I think will have a huge impact on the future of the United Kingdom and that of our children.
On Wednesday this week the OECD ( Organisation for Economic Co operation and Development) will publish its global survey of 65 countries regarding educational standards. What this report will say is that the UK has made no progress from where it stood 4 years ago.
It may surprise many that the UK are 25th placed for reading, 28th for maths and 16th for science. The counties who are leading are China, South Korea and Singapore. All countries who already have thriving economies and are developing an exceptional workforce for the future.
The UK is sitting behind Estonia and Poland.
The Labour governemnt did spend billions on education as well a many new school buildings however clearly this has had no impact on outcomes.
There is an arrogance in the UK which goes back to the days of the British Empire. We believe we are better than everyone else in the world. It's a very similar situation to the English football team. Every time there is a world cup we truly believe we can win when in reality we don't even get to the qualifying rounds.
It is similar when we compete on the global stage. Not only can we not compete with those a the top of the league such as China or South Korea they also have excellent education which will only make them stronger in the future.
In the decades ahead the gap will continue to grow and we struggle to be competitive in a global market. Our young people are ill prepared and unaware of the world they coete within.
I am worried for my children's generation but even more so for our children's children. My generation has benefitted from the last and have been supported by a fantastic welfare system. Unfortunately we have spent the money and we can no longer afford to provide the level of support we are used to.
What we must do is become a global power again and that can only be achieved by developing an education system which produce the best minds on the planet.
I don't see this as something to score political points over as it is too important. What I do know is what the previous government tried has failed. The league tables are evidence enough.
The issues are not only financial but also cultural.
In the UK it is forbidden to criticise nurses or teachers. Teachers must take note of where we area in the league tables and accept it's not good enough.
If we were a football club,we are languishing in the lower divisions and not improving. In football we would sack the manager and invest in training and coaching. If we are going to change something we need to change something.
Parents also have to take responsibility and need to invest time in their children and support schools.
This is so important as we all must play our part. The previous government thought the answer lay in new buildings. Clearly spending billions is not enough. What we need is lots of incremental change. Government, parents and teaches all need accept its not good enough.
We mist get away from blame and accept our system is not good enough and has to improve. We have to accept we may upset some people along the way but I believe this is a price worth paying as without change the future looks bleak for future generations in non league football.
Posted by Space Life at 12:58
Monday, 2 December 2013
The construction industry has a habit of sticking to what it has always done.
The term contracting suggests that there is a legal agreement in place and that a relationship falls between the commencement and completion of this agreement. This may be over simplifying things but I believe it is this project and contract approach which is at the root of the lack of innovation across our industry.
As we head toward the end of 2013, those working in London are thinking boom times are here again. This confidence is having a ripple effect and is starting to effect the regions also
While in recession there has been an opportunity for discussion and debate as to how we could do things differently. Building Information Modelling has been the biggest development and discussion over the last 5 years.
BIM started off in the states as the reference term for the federating of 3D geometry. However, and particularly in the UK, it has become a collective movement for the improvement of the construction industry with the focus being on a single language which can be shared openly.
Many small to medium sized companies have invested and developed skills which can take the industry forward. However the laws of the jungle come into force when capital expenditure increases and confidence grows.
The main contractors now have projects and cash flowing through their accounts once again. They have projects which have to be serviced. The quick answer is to recruit skills and talent from the companies who have invested in lean times. The lure of high salaries and company cars from the prelim pot is often overwhelming for the cash starved construction newcomer.
Whilst this is to be expected and is the law of the jungle, the down side is we become project orientated as an industry once again and don't look beyond the current project or the potential for continual improvement.
There are exceptions however who give hope for the future. Laing O Rouke are an excellent example of a business who have invested in the future, through the development of processes and people. Their commitment to a high tech concrete factory and its technology alone has to be admired. They have continually invested in their young people and truly nurture talent.
Unfortunately in the recession margins have been slashed and their precence in the UK has reduced. I hope that clients will look at the long term value that the investment Laing O Rouke make can have on the wider industry and employment.
The only way we will achieve our 2025 vision is to take a long term view and to invest in our young talent. I hope the large contractors will take some of their profits from an improving market and invest it wisely in the future so we can develop new intelligent methods of working.
Posted by Space Life at 04:01
Sunday, 24 November 2013
I have to get something off my chest this morning!
I read an article in building earlier which quoted a number of universities and their approach to BIM. When reading these articles I couldn't help but feel that these education establishments were still thinking in a traditional outdated way. They were looking to bolt on BIM and Revit to what they already do.
I believe BIM started as one thing and has developed into something far more significant. For me, in the UK, it is now the name given to a movement to get the construction industry to talk with a single language rather than working in independent silos.
The importance of this single language is critical to improvements across the industry and without it we will not achieve the objectives set out in Vision 2025. Whether it's an architecture school or an engineering department they should be talking about the single language and the importance and benefits it can bring to the core of their teaching.Without this we are perpetuating professions focussed on their own outputs.
The universities need to teach the ethos and skills of their discipline but must also make reference to a common industry language and vision.
Once students have understood the common language and their own discipline they may also start to want to master the tools available to them. These may include Revit, Tekla, Archicad etc. I do think it would be helpful if the universities demonstrated the range of tools available to help them design and deliver.
In my day we had to master parallel motion drawing boards and rotoring pens. The options available today are far greater.
It was also apparent that BIMCampus was not referred to. In a 12 week programme we are helping undergraduates to understand the common language as well as some basic training in software tools. The difference this few weeks makes between being employable and not is significant.
I think the balance between academic learning and vocational training needs to be re balanced. Many courses are no longer appropriate and should be more of a mix between classroom and on the job training.
If we are to achieve our 2025 vision our educational approach needs to be fundamentally changed. These courses should support industry and outputs and work closely to provide students with the skills and attitude needed in construction.
Posted by Space Life at 04:34
Tuesday, 12 November 2013
Whilst in many industries over the last 30 years it has been technology which has had the greatest impact on progress and development, in construction a range of approaches to procurement have driven our delivery methods and product..
Procurement across construction is driven by a lack of trust across all parties from client to contractor, contractor to design team and contractor to subcontractor.
In the majority of cases this lack of trust is well founded with construction having a reputation aligned with used car sales men. We like to play our cards close to our chest and ideally get one over in the party at the other side of the contract. This is usually driven by cost or service. We get ourselves wrapped up in what we are doing or not doing rather than focussing on service and product improvement.
The contractural position is usually focussed on risk and who will be responsible . The design and build procurment process was developed several years ago as a response to clients concerns around the level of risk they were exposed to in what was a very unpredictable process. Detailed traditional contracts such as JCT were used which put the onus on the client to provide clarity and accuracy in their requirements.
This type of contract expects the design to be completes and correct. As buildings became more complex this became an increasing challenge. AT this point design and build was born and this risk was passed to the main contractor.
What this did was develop a generation of s designers and engineers who were very good at front end design with reduced skills in the delivery to completion.
The gap has been the area of contention ever since. This is the undefined risk which is ultimately a gamble between contractor and client. In good times a contractor can win big. When work is scarce the contractor loses as he increases his apatite for risk.
We now have technology which means there is no reason for a design not to be fully developed before procurement and construction. We can now achieve far greater surety in delivery to reduce risk. This moves our industry away from one based on a gamble to a one which is far more predictable allowing investment and development.
Recently I visited Mace offices in London and was shown their Business School. This is a fantastic initiative where Mace work with their supply chain to develop the Mace way together. The subcontractors have to invest in this development which has been controversial across the industry.
To me businesses which are willing to invest should be those who benefit in the long run. I hope in the years ahead procurment plays far less a role in our industry and we are able to improve our reputation for a quality and predictability
Posted by Space Life at 11:27