Saturday, 12 April 2014

Easter Reading

Regular readers  will know that I usually head of ft to he sun every three or four months for some family time and some time to think. This gives me the space to consider new ideas and strategies and not be disturbed by the issues of day to day business.

On this trip I'm in Cyprus which has become a regular favourite.

When I'm away I read, which is one of my greatest pleasures. Between breaks I spend time scouring the book stores for business stories  and biographies. There can't be many I havnt read and it gets harder every trip.

On this trip I am reading the Amazon story. This is not the usual overnight technology business success story. Jeff Bezos is a clever visionary but it has taken him 20 years of hard work to get the business to where it is. He is clearly an aggressive leader and is more Generation X than Generation Y.

Also on the list is Coming up Roses which is the Kath Kitson story. I'm always interested to hear about women in business as there just aren't enough.

There are a few others on the list which  are a little more obscure!

We are Space Group.

This month we re aligned our websites and updated some of the branding of individual businesses across Space Group. This has been a gradual process to reflect the ever evolving nature of the construction industry.

We are clear about our purpose as a business; To make the world better. 

Our culture is built around our people and we have reflected this in the statement We are Space Group.

Our group message is Rethink your world. This reflects the ethos of the business which has evolved in recent years. We do not accept the status quo and challenge the norm. The word rethink is upside down to represent how we like to turn things upside down and back to front before making a decision.

As well as innovation we focus on technology and sustainability. We are not a technology business but a business which uses technology to deliver improved value to our clients and customers. We believe sustainability is an obligation on us all for future generations. The construction industry in notoriously wasteful so we want to lead by example and  reduce the resources we use every day.

The Space Group journey is an ongoing one and is in its sixth decade of the story. The business started as Waring and Netts Partnership in 1957 as an architectural practice. Located in the Gosforth suburb of Newcastle, the practice grew steadily over the following decades. 

The Partnership was an adopter of construction technology with a six figure investment in a GIS system in 1970s . Unfortunately it wasn't possible to generate the value from the technology and the hardware was ultimately thrown in a skip. 

This ultimately meant the business was scheptical of the emergence of CAD in the 1980s meaning they were a late adopter.

In 2000 a new software platform called Revit appeared in the UK and by 2005 the first building had been produced by Space using the software and by 2010 the whole group was working in 3D.

In 2003 the partnership incorporated to become Waring and Netts Limited. The business had started to diversify from just architecture into interiors, building surveying and construction management.

In 2007 after 50 years as Waring and Netts the business re named itself to Space Group and moved to a new 35,000 sq ft headquarters in Newcastle supporting its 4 regional,offices. The renaming of the group reflected the greater diversity of the business and allowed flexibility in the future.

From 2007 to today the group has continued to evolve and respond to a changing marketplace. In 2008 the global recession effected the construction market particularly badly. The business focused on its key values as it looked to secure the long term sustainably of the group.

Today the space way is at the core of the group and all of our businesses have a single purpose to make the world better.

Pas referred to above we h  ethos which is focussed on innovation, technology and sustainably. We want to lead in these three areas so we can differ existed ourselves in the marketplace.

Whilst initially Waring and Netts Partnership was an architectural practice focussed in the design aspects of the construction process we now believe to achive the best value for our clients we must have a total view of the project Lifecycle.

We developed BIG BIM in 2010 which provides a 4 stage framework for us to build the group upon. 

Space architects are regional architects with offices across the north if England. They are focussed on delivering the best results for clients to suit their needs.

BIM technologies provide BIM services with BIMstore being the leading website for BIM content in the UK. We also operate campus which is focussed in improving technology skills and 
knowledge across the construction industry. 

Our volula business designs building which can maximise performance and value through a joined up design,procurement and delivery approach.

Through we operate and BIm show live to share ideas across the industry.

In 1957 Waring and Netts was an architectural practice. Today Space Group is a Building information Business. Only by developing and learning from this information will we able to make the world better.

We are Space Group.

Rethink your world.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Keep look to the future...

One of my fascinations is looking for future trends and innovations. I am always excited by new technologies and how this can improve the things we do now. I'm not particularly intrigued by technology for the sake if it but more what change and improvement it can bring.

Obviously I have a particular interest in the built environment due to a career in construction and wanting to be an architect from the age of 4. Recently we have seen worlds collide with the real and virtual through the proliferation of the internet.

My fascination with Building Information Modelling is largely based on a passion to find better ways of doing the things we have done for so many years with little improvement.

A recent article on suggested that we would not be using traditional software packages to design buildings and is more likely to use gaming technology to design buildings using programmes such as minecraft.

Emerging generations will influence the development of hardware and software. The days of desktop PC and laptops are numbered. They only survive today because people like me are used to using them. Emerging generations are born with an iPad in hand and are far more comfortable manipulation geometry this way rather than using a pencil on paper.

We only have to look at the advances in digital animation and the quality of the images generated by filmmakers a as Pixar to understand where technology could take construction. Software is becoming increasingly powerful and hardware is reducing in price making progress very possible.

Coupled with the advance in software and hardware is the advancement in 3D printing. Every day a new machine is released. The latest I have seen is a machine which can print carbon fibre.

It is not unrealistic to imagine large scale printers producing full size components for buildings in the future. This is likely to increase building performance as tolerances improve but will also significantly reduce waste.

The link between businesses, urban environments and the internet is also a fascinating area. Business is now multi channel with the most successful retailers being those who have responded quickly and understood the changing profile of the high street.

Companies such as John Lewis have a strong online presence with a complimentary in store offer. When this is developed together with an online community it can be very powerful.

For example Urban Outfitters have a strong retail presence online but have also built a community online. The shops and online offer are aligned and interrelate. They have taken this concept to the next level at a 6.5 acre site in Devon Yard Philadelphia where they are developing an Urban Outfitters lifestyle based environment with not only a retail offer but a coffee shop, restaurant and even a boutique hotel. This is the ultimate link of a brand between virtual and physical environments.

IKEA are developing a car free friendly neighbourhood in London.

There is no doubt the lines are blurring between the real and the virtual and it is clear that these are most effective when the support on another.


Monday, 13 January 2014

The Fog is Lifting!

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

The changing face of retail...

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

Education, Education, Education.

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.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Here we go again?

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.