Sunday, 12 April 2015

Time to move beyond BIM.

I have been one of the biggest advocates of BIM. I was an advocate of BIM before it even existed. However I now believe there is the potential that it could hold up progress and development of our industry.

Clearly this is a strange statement to make as CEO of sSpace Group which includes businesses such as BIMtechnologies, BIMstore and has developed BIM Show Live in recent years.

Im not saying BIM is not important and all of our business have an important part to play but the key is this is only part of a better industry. I'm worried as BIM matures people may believe it is job done!

My interest in BIM was always far wider than technology, coordination or data. For approaching twenty five years my personal drive has been to make the construction industry better.

I love design and construction and want us to continually improve. Our progress in recent decades has been minimal as we take two step forward and one back through the boom and bust cycle.

After going to university for 5 years I felt I was ready to become and Architect. However what I was sold at university was very different from the reality I discovered. At university we were educated that the role of architect and his wonderful design flair is the centre of construction.The architectural profession can be very elitist and I even remember a lecture about the architectural cognichente. Even as an under graduate it didn't feel right to me.

When I started in the industry I soon realised my training was a long way from reality. The process of delivering a building is incredibly involved and is not only very expensive but very risky. The industry is very cyclical and prone to boom and bust. There is a very adversarial and contractural culture. All of this I had to work out for myself as none if this was mentioned in any of my classes at university.

Design and build was developing mometum as a procurement route in the early days of my career. Management of the design and construction process was moving from the architect to the contractor as clients looked for ways of managing risk.

Design teams allowed this to happen and in many cases found it a way of passing design responsibility to others such as specialists and trade contractors. 

My view of construction quickly developed. It was clear it was adversarial and there was a lack of trust. To put it simply no one liked each other and every part of the design and delivery process became very protective of their own position and lost sight of the bigger goal of delivering a constantly improving product more quickly at a reducing cost.

BIM has been a big success for the UK construction industry and there is no doubt we are leading the way in the world with our digital transformation. The work the government has delivered through the BIM task group is fantastic. We now have a common language for us all to use.

Momentum has been built with an ever growing group of people in the industry who are now debating the fine details of the recently released Digital Tool Kit. This is all fantastic for the technology aspects of the industry but our challenges are much deeper. BIM is not a panacea for all things wrong in our industry and there are still many fundamentals to be addressed.

The silo mentality still exists and our culture is unchanged. Instead of these being in a analogue world these issues now reside in a digital " BIM" World. There is a lack of trust between consultant and contractor and contractor and the trade. There is current a BIM land grab as to who can control the process.

These are cultural issues which go deep in our industry.

There is no question the ball is well and truly rolling regarding the digitising of our industry. We now need to work on true collaboration and culture if we are going to make a real long term impact.

BIM Show Live: State of the nation

Here is the initial draft text from my state of the nation talk for BIM Show Live which was never delivered:

Good morning everyone and welcome back to BIM Show Live in Manchester.

This is show no 5. Bigger and better than ever. This year the quality of the classes is outstanding and just demonstrates how far we have come.

This year the strap line has been prove it. We have promised a lot and now we need to show the value of a digital approach.

Running BIM Show Live gives us a chance to reflect.

We started this journey back in November 2011. This was just after the May publication of the governments BIM Strategy document which legitimised a BIM approach.

The first event had 100 hard core BIMEers at the Business Drsign Centre.

We had a quick follow up event in April 2012 back at the Business Design Centre. Further growth but the venue was wrong for us.

In 2013 we went upmarket and moved to the Westminster Park Plaza. A great event and a total sell out! 

For 2014 we needed more space. We decided to move north to see if BIM could travel.

We grew again. This year we are back for the second year. We have approaching 800 in the room which is nearly capacity

Next year is 2016 which is supposed to be BIM Armageddon. Clearly it won't be. If you want my opinion I think there will be little change. We have done the hard work with the standards across our industry. What we have to do is ensure we maintain the momentum and make sure we fully digitalise the industry.

There are many who want us to fail. We have to prove them wrong.

We will be back in Manchester next year .


At every BIM Show live I have given my view of the state of the nation. Over the years I have offended most people but taken greatest pleasure in insulting Quantity Surveyors.

I feel now we are at a tipping point. There is a huge amount of acceptance of the benefits of three dimensional modelling software. But this is not BIM. It will deliver individual profession benefits but not wider project benefits.

There is a growing swell of people who don't want change. We have won the 3D battle but do they really want BIM. 

BIM is all about improvement. Improving  clarity, improving coordination, improving information, improving buildings in operation.

We are a selfish industry focussed on our own delivery, profession or activity.

Collaboration is an overused term. I do beleive however we need to understand what it means and make it happen. The dictionary definition is a shared project objective.

We seem accepting of the boom and bust cycle and the cyclical skills shortage. 

The UK Condtruction Industry is complacent. 

In the 1970s the UK car industry was complacent. We produced classics such as the Princess and Montego.

It wasn't long before the Japanese and Germans started to show up our industry with new thinking, cultures and technologies. Look at the UK car industry today. 

Look what BMW achieved with the Mini.

I have a plan...

I've called it Plan C. 

Why plan C, because not only did PLan A not work neither did Plan B.

Plan C has three parts

Culture, we need fundamental change. We need to trust and even like each other. Trust comes from openness and honesty which is sadly lacking.

Construction, there is no BIM in construction. What I mean here is we need to take a broader view than just BIM. It has been an excellent marketing tool to build momentum within digital construction but we need to look wider into all aspects of the industry.

Collaboration, an over used but little understood word. We need a shared project objective. Stop being selfish, work together for better project outcomes.

Over the last 4 years we have achieved so much with BIM Show Live. A small fringe conference is now mainstream. We need to take up the challenge to move beyond technology to build a sustainable and high performing industry which is recognised for its excellence globally.
We need more women in our industry, more young people with the right skills, less waste, better energy performance, less risk, lower costs and much much more.

See 2016 as the start of our next chapter not the end of one. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Mediocrity is good enough.

In construction it is amazing what we will accept. Our
industry moves from boom to bust and then back to boom again with unbelievable pace. During boom businesses grow and make profit. In recession businesses cease trading whilst others burn cash, bidding jobs at less than cost to survive.  
We then move into growth again and more companies go out of businesses as costs increase as trades try to recover losses from the past.  
We have very short memories and very quickly forget the pain of recession. During recession we don't invest in the future due to lack of resource and in the boom times we still don't invest as we are too busy making money. 
The same issues are raised periodically as we move across the boom and bust cycle. “We don't train enough apprentices, there is a skills shortage. Trades people are in short supply. We can’t get bricks because we closed the plants” etc etc 
What I find exasperating is that this has been happening for 50 years and we never seem to change anything. We do like to moan about things but never do anything about it. 
If you want to change something you have change something! Doing the same thing will always give you the same outcome. 
The challenge we have is companies are making money again and it is difficult to break the cycle. House builders are making profits in excess of £350 million per year so why would they want to change the system. Their shareholders are more than happy with current returns. 
At Space Group we are doing everything we can to break this cycle and look at different approaches in construction which will allow us to invest in skills and products for the long term. We want to make construction an industry which is exciting and where the best talent wants to be part of it. 
Spacehus is an example of how we can improve outcomes by rethinking the entire design and construction process. The result is a high quality house which costs £80,000 and by offsetting solar energy generation there are no net energy costs. 
The house was designed digitally, so it could be prototyped and tested virtually. We then manufactured the components offsite and assembled onsite site. We minimised preliminaries and waste during construction so that additional value could be invested in the product. 
If we generated a pipeline profit would grow and we could invest in training and continuous improvement of the process and product. 
We can only achieve these outcomes by rethinking the entire construction process from start to finish.  
However we must want to change. From experience I find we have very short memories and much of our industry is happy with the status quo and mediocrity. At Space Group we are not. We will continue to challenge and be disruptive as we believe there is a better way. 

Monday, 29 December 2014

Reflections on 2014...

The Christmas break is alway a good time to reflect on the previous year and to see what progress we have made and what has changed in 12 months.

We entered the year with the recession still very much in everyone's minds. The market was cautious particularly in the regions. London remained largely unaffected with concerns around costs and resource being talked up.

2014 was a really tough year for tier one contractors with their cash positions being eroded, balance sheets weakened and margins challenged. To survive the recession some tier one contractors had taking on work at low margin only to find subcontract costs increasing. They were also more gun ho when it came to risk during recession only to find things unravel during construction.

A number of Chief Executives unfortunatley lost their jobs as shareholders looked for scapegoats.

During the keynote at BIM Show Live I mischievously suggested there was a revelution looming and that baby boomers should take note. This was all a bit of fun to stimulate discussion however in some ways this has become a reality. Some of these Chief Executives were undoubtedlybaby boomers and who paid for decisions made during recession. At the time I commented that these senior figures can't have all have made mistakes and we should look more at the culture of our industry to find long term answers.

Not only have there been job losses at a senior level there has been a move in attitude. Digital construction is increasingly accepted with clients want to see objective risk management tools.there has also been an increase in the linkages between construction, albeit small steps at this stage.

 Consultants are now adopting digital tools as a matter of course and main contractors are looking at how new technology effects their workflow.

Subcontractors have been effected by delayed payments throughout the year from tier one contractors which has, in some cases, prevented long term investment. Manufacturers are also considering their investments but remain cautious.

Yet again as our industry has moved back into growth the skills issue has risen its head. I've been in the industry for over 20 years now and this just keeps recurring. Not enough bricklayers...not enough bricks! The discussion raised momentum towards the back end of the year so hopefully this can build during 2015.

In the regional market fee levels remained very tight. This suggests that work has not reached the levels of pre recession and companies are still looking for revenue.

On balance 2014 was not a bad year for construction but neither was it great. There were no big winners but a few losers. It was a year of transition but fortunately the momentum is upward.

Here's to 2015...

What will 2015 bring?

Having reflected on 2014 the next thing to do is predict what will happen in 2015...

Slowing of market due to election.
A huge part of 2015 is undoubtably going to be the general election. Not only will we be tired of hearing about it this year it will effect our industry. Public sector projects will slow due to perda  followed by ministerial uncertainty afterwards.mIn the private sector this will lead to some uncertainly which will generate a slowing effect.

For what it's worth at this stage My prediction is we will have a Conservative Government again in a coalition arrangement. Even if I'm wrong it is unlikely there will be any change in public spending.

Continued skills and resource issues.
The skills debate will continue throughout the year. Unfortunatley there is no quick fix so we will see salaries increase in some areas where skills are short.

Increasing momentum of digital construction.
The move towards digital construction will continue right across the project lifecycle. We will see not only clients, designers and constructors adopt new methodologies but also manufacturers, subcontractors and maintence providers.

The long awaited digital plan of work will be released in 2015 providing clarity across industry. This will encourage innovation and new thinking. 

Growing interelationship between capital and revenue investment.
As our connection between data improves we will be able to consider the relationship between capital and revenue and how they effect one another. Energy use and carbon are no longer only the demise of specialists and campaigners. These issues are real and are important to emerging generations. Solutions and responses to these issues will need to become mainstream.

New Methods of Construction.
Offsite construction has very skilfully been repositioned as new methods of construction. Off site suggests temporary or of a lesser quality. Portiacabin or McDonalds spring to mind to the majority of people. 

During 2015 we will see a growing percentage of new buildings being delivered using the componetisation of materials. Already a large percentage of M and E installations are deliver in this way and we will see an increasing percentage of building components being developed this way.

Continued competition in the regions.
Traditionally a large percentage of regional work was generated from the public sector. This gap has not been filled by the private sector meaning companies are still hungry for work which ultimately means fee levels are very low. This will continue through 2015 not helped by the slowing of what public sector projects due to the election.

In London the issue will be a lack of the right resource. A large percentage of new build commercial projects in the capital are being delivered in BIM. These resources are not available in design practices meaning alternative approaches will develop. This may include outsourcing or large recruitment drives. It is likely therefore that salary levels in London will increase as demand grows.

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Power of Procurement

I had a really interesting discussion with a client over the weekend around procurement. Many procurment departments rely on cost beings a good metric of value. Particularly when appointing a main contractor for works.

In the north of England in particular many clients and procurment department are still keen to use single stage tendering. In London, it seems there is now a greater use of a two stage approach. What is not known however, is whether two stage is preferred in London because the market is busier or that cleints believe it offers better value.

This particular client I was talking to had been forced into a single stage tender from his procurement department. The projects was hugely over budget largely because the constructors had priced the risk.

A two stage and open approach would allow the risk to be clearly visable to all and to be managed and costed appropriately. The easy and expensive way is to just pass the risk to the constructor. This can be expensive in a rising market.

The clients procurment team does not wish to move from a single stage approach and therefore has limited options. The reality is the contractors can look at some cost reductions but with most of the additional cost being in risk if he wants his building as designed he is going to have to find the additional money. Whilst the procurment department will believe this provides value in reality they are paying way over the true cost.

In a retracting market clients can win when risk is priced too tightly by the contractor. However over an extended period which includes boom and recession I would suspect it balances out.

It would be far better if our industry was built on trust and a long term open book arrangement. Over several years I would anticipate that everyone would come out winning. We would however have the added benefit that with a steady profit we could all invest in continuous improvement.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

My top 10 Business Books

I am an avid reader of business books and in particular business biographies. I have been asked several times for my recommendations. Recently one of the team specifically asked for my top ten so I spent a little time going over my library to find the books which I had found most useful and had influenced me.

The following is my top ten.Not all of them are traditional business books however they tell stories which I have found useful.

We can learn from the past and all of these people have been exceptional in what they do. I have looked back over 100s of books I have read and after considerable deliberation these are the most influential. There are a few others on the fringe which didn't make the cut.

They are not necessarily ranked in order of preference but more in the order to read them.

I've mixed lighter books with heavier books and left some of the more challenging stuff to the end.

Just the best book on how business works. Backed up with facts:
Good to Great
Jim Collins

The sequel talking about how businesses can be sustainable:
Built to Last
Jim Collins

This book is more about the man than the company. Great integrity and values:
Who says elephants can't dance
Louis v gerstner

How to look at the world and its markets differently:
Purple Cow 
Seth Godin

How business was done:
Jack Welsh

An amazing story of innovation, tenacity and culture:
Creativity Inc
ED catmull

A very practical book on business issues:
43 mistakes business's make and how to avoid them
Duncan bannatyne

How to build s culture from nothing:
Bill and Dave
How Hewlett and Packard built the Worls Greatest Company
Michael S Malone

This guy influenced so much you need to understand him:
My life and Work
Henry ford and Samuel Crowther

For me the ultimate business man. A genius. Unlikely to be repeated or replicated but we can learn some small things
Steve Jobs. The exclusive biography
Walter Isaacson 

When you have read this lot you will be sick of you life.To cheer you up stick your head into the two Danny Baker Auto Biograhies as well as any book by Peter Kay. They will have you laughing out loud without fail!