Gough discusses Mace's approach to innovation and challenging how the industry operates across the project lifecycle, as well as some of the construction industry's key obstacles to innovation.
Dr. Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director, innovation officer at Oracle Construction and Engineering, led the discussion.
MG: I’m the director of innovation for Mace Group. Mace is an international construction and consultancy company operating from five strategic hubs with 6,500 people across the globe.
My role as innovation director is twofold. At Mace, we say that innovation is everybody's job, not just mine. Half of my time is promoting and supporting that agenda and creating a culture of innovation within the business. The remainder of my time is helping the business on some of its more transformational or leading-edge projects.
Within that area, Mace is challenging how we design, manufacture, assemble, and operate the built environment. This keeps me busy. I also help interface with the UK government, who are investing significantly to help transform the construction sector in the UK.
My story within the sector started way back when I finished school. I was a scaffolder for a year to make some money before going to university. At university, I learned computer science and coding as part of my degree. That helped me in my early days as an entrepreneur, which I did for several years before I found my way back into construction in 2011.
I've been at Mace since then, so I’m into year eight. During that time, I’ve seen a huge increase in the adoption of technology and digitization of the built environment, including new companies and start-ups we can partner with.
On the flip side, I haven’t seen a huge transformation in terms of how we build and what we deliver as an industry.
MG: There are some pockets of excellence and examples of world-class transformational change within our industry. But there is an extremely long tail.
How we build infrastructure in the Western world is very different to how we might design and build infrastructure in developing countries. And how we design and build a train station is very different to how we build a house.
It’s very hard to specify one single answer for the industry. If we recognize this diversity, and perhaps focus on how we're innovating at different scales in each of those areas, it might allow us to: a) be a bit more confident about what we're doing and b) move a bit faster.
MG: The lack of integration and collaboration between parties in the construction industry is our biggest challenge to innovation.
There was a great academic paper released in 2019 that articulated how the construction industry has failed to innovate consistently due to the following three things.*
• Horizontal disintegration: A lack of integration across the professional parties (including the client) responsible for projects, i.e., a different group of companies on every project.
• Vertical integration: A lack of integration between the supply chains that deliver projects, i.e., a different supply chain on every job.
• Longitudinal disintegration: Even if you have managed to keep your professional team and suppliers aligned, we are still very reliant on people, and the chances of those individuals remaining consistent across projects is very low.
These three factors are interesting when you think about the system of construction and why our challenges to innovate are so apparent.
MG: The industry is fantastic at problem solving and reacting to unexpected or unanticipated challenges. Perhaps we don’t give enough credit to a lot of the innovation we're doing on our projects or our sites.
There is a huge amount of innovation on projects that happens as a result of project-specific environmental challenges, or project challenges, that frankly, we should celebrate more as an industry. Creating an innovative culture comes back to three things:
1) Good leadership is required. You must have a vision.
2) You need a bit of process around how you want to innovate and encourage ideas to help transform. There's an element of creating entrepreneurship and empowerment within your people to help incentivize innovation.
3) Be more agile in proving it out. The concept of move, fail fast, learn, and iterate is an important change point for us around creating an innovative culture in the industry.
Read part two of this post here.
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* Daniel M. Hall, Jennifer K. Whyte & Jerker Lessing (2019) Mirror-breaking strategies to enable digital manufacturing in Silicon Valley construction firms: a comparative case study, Construction Management and Economics, DOI: 10.1080/01446193.2019.1656814