Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Internet Revolution

I wonder if in years to come the period of 2010 to 2020 will be seen as the heart if the " Internet Revolution"
We all know of the industrial revolution and the impact it had on society. We spent hours at school learning about it.
When I consider what is happening to society at present across the globe and the pace of change the majority is driven by technology and the Internet.
We have been given the opportunity to re think everything we do and how we do it. Our high street is changing and will never be the same again. Shopping habits are changing with a greater emphasis on leisure.
There is a growing adoption of flexible working. Many people no longer work from offices and spend more time in coffee shops.
In construction our biggest challenges have been coordination and communication. Advances in technology and software along with the improvement in internet infrastructure have allowed us to make huge progress over the past couple of years. I only see this increasing in the future with increasing change and innovation.
My big prediction for 2013 will be the revolution in the traditional television. I think the TV as we know it will disappear. If I was a gambling man I would put a bet on apple bringing such a device to market.
It won't be a TV more a single device which will link to the Internet for shared viewing. I think it will be the hub for the home and will be the wireless centre.With AirPlay it will allow integration between all devices.It is also likely we will see further development of the smart TV control.
As the younger generations mature the adoption of these types if technologies will increase exponentially. The use of wireless devices will be second nature.Society will undoubtably change because if this and the challenge is to predict this change and to keep ahead if it.
Companies such as comet and HMV have continued to do what they have always done and the world has changed around them.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Evolve or Die?

This week I have had to encounter one of my least favourite days of the year. As part of my contribution to the family Christmas preparations I always have a day Christmas shopping with Mrs C. It’s never much fun and I would far rather be at work!
However I can always find an angle. What I was interested in this year was how retailers were fairing in a changing market. Retail has been hard hit. Not only has it had to cope with a downturn it has had to adapt to new shopping habits. The internet has had a huge impact on the high street.

I was looking out for retailers who were trying hard and innovating. My first shop of note was Lush. A soap shop! It was new and energetic and the staff were all individual covered in tattoos and piercing. Really current.
Then there was “sweat shop” selling everything for the runner. A strong brand and a great environment. A real commitment to customer service.

Curry’s is a long standing business on the high street. However rather than standing still like Comet it has reconsidered its offer and completely redesigned the retail environment. No longer rows of TVs and HI fi.

We were in the metro centre and the Marks and Spencer store there is fantastic. I know they are struggling to maintain market share but they are certainly trying hard and are innovating. They produce good products are and they are not standing still. I’m sure they will be ok.

Then you look at those not doing so well. HMV for instance.  Still trying to sell CDs and DVD. They have made an effort to sell gadgets but I feels too little too late. I don’t believe it is a complete strategic rethink rather a desperate last throw of the dice. I think their live music strategy was far better! They are getting support from their suppliers as they also want to supply product and want to allow access to back catalogue on the high street. This is not a long term model however and is more nice market and cannot support the store sizes or location.
I believe for retailers to survive they can’t be generalist. They must find a specialist area and excel at it. If they are to be more general they must align this with a complimentary on line strategy.

When I look at the construction industry there are subtle parallels. Construction has been fortunate in that it hasn’t needed to develop or invest for the last few decades. There has been plenty work to allow a whole generation to just keep doing the same things. Shareholders have made millions during this time.
Now however we need talent in the industry and investment. Fortunately there is talent in the industry and we are seeing the younger generations pushing their way through. Investment levels are still woefully low because the models is project based.

The professions are also struggling with leadership and direction.
I believe for example the architectural profession needs to change. At present architects are trained as general practitioners. The high street equivalent of a general dealer. There is a market for this but it is generally regional and for projects p to a value of £2million.

The rest of the market requires specialists. This may be delivered in one organisation but I believe the profession should become more specialist.

For example the UK has some of the best design talent in the world. There is the potential for an executive architect function to specialise in the technical delivery of these buildings. New buildings are becoming increasing technically complex with growing legislation and energy targets.

There is a stigma to the role of the executive in the industry but for me this is an essential role. Not everyone can achieve the heights of Lord Foster earning millions per year but there are opportunities for unsung heroes.

We also have the growth of BIM and the potential this brings in relation to the coordination of the design and delivery process. There is the opportunity for lifecycle experts who can accurately demonstrate how clients can maximise the value of their investment.

What I do know is we are in the middle of a revolution and there is no going back. We are seeing many companies going out of business.

Obviously the market conditions are partly driving this but we can’t just keep doing what we have always done and wait for the market to return. It won’t. We need to respond to the market as an industry and adapt. If we don’t evolve we will die!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Asset Light Business

A few things have come together for me over the last couple of months to shape how i think business will be done in the future.

Space have dipped their toe into the office rental market over the last few months. We had some spare space in our Newcastle office as we reduced some of our teams. The idea of an asset not working can keep me awake at night. We had put the space in the hands of agents for a while but we had little interest. We decided to change the offer and market a more flexible solution ourselfes.

 We have been overwhelmed by the success. In just over 6 months we have filled all of the space and have a waiting list for future suites.This success cannot just be down to Debbie's cappuccino in the cafe.

In September I contributed to a white paper by Mitel looking ar business communication. This focussed on flexible working and home working.

At the same time we are hearing more and more about cloud computing and the move away from hardware solutions. iPad devices are selling like hot cakes.

This all points towards a different way of doing business.


Companies no longer want onerous leases for extended periods. They want space which can be flexible to suit the markets they are in.

They don't want to invest in hardware which will go out of date or tie upprecious capital.

This will effect the property market as fewer organisations are willing to committ to a traditional lease. This in turn will effect the ability to raise funds.

The serviced office does conjure a picture of a soleless environment. The new asset light solution however will be a vibrant community of businesses supporting each other. (Just like spaceworks!)


Friday, 7 December 2012

There is no recession

I trained as an architect in Newcastle in the 90s. When I reflect on the companies who were around then and were Waring and Netts competition it is frightening how many no longer are around. Long established companies such as Mckellar, Browne smith Baker,
Just checking back its been a while since I wrote a blog. This is not due to lack of interest. The last few months have been incredibly busy. When I reflect I think this is due to the current market conditions which may seem strange.Our business has diversified considerably and we are now working across a far wider geography than we have ever done before.

20 years ago we would have been able to work within our locality and focus on a single role. Our business now has a strong technology base and we are using this to work across the industry.

We still provide traditional architectural services but are using technology to add value and deliver more efficiently. We cant compete on price as we will never win the fight.

We are using our skills now in different ways. With BIM technologies we are using our skills across a wider platform. BIMstore exploits the Internet.Our VOLULA manufactured building business is using technology to deliver quicker and better.

We now travel the UK every week going where the opportunities are,taking our offices with us.

Space group grew out of Waring and Netts Partnership which was established in 1957. The world was very different then. At the time the business was on a retainer with certain clients.

The architect was top of the tree looking down on everyone else. ( I'm sure some will say nothing has changed) We re branded to become _space in 2007, 50 years after we were founded. The reason we changed the name was to allow us to be more flexible in our offer and give us the opportunity to explore new opportunities.Dewjoc and Taylor Tulip Hunter have all ceased trading in the last couple of years.

Believe it or not I am a nostalgic person.I find it sad these companies and importantly many of the people are no longer active in the industry.

I suspect the reason for the demise is the changing market and approach.

In _space we no longer mention recession. This is a government term and we need to get used to the now. I don't believe things will go back to how they were in 2007. This is how we will continue to do business. Focusing on a recession encourages you to believe we will go back to how it was before. I'm afraid this is it. There will be no going back.

The pace of change will continue to increase. Markets will continue to become more competitive. What we have to do is find the answers to business in this environment. What I know is, it needs some great thinking and lots and lots of energy.

Business is tough and we all have to focused and fit for the challenge!


Monday, 24 September 2012

Gluing it all Together.

I spent a couple of days at the end of last week with Autodesk looking at new cloud based software and solutions. There is no doubt that he cloud is the platform all software firms are building their futures upon.
It is always great to get away from the coal face once in a while and look at some new software developments. I would never claim to be a true techie but I am keen to see the potential of new platforms. I remember seeing the first version of revit over 10 years and being totally blown away by the potential of the parametric capabilities of the software. This changed how we approached projects forever.
Last week we looked at the recently acquired Autodesk Glue. Whenever we at space/BIM technologies review software we are always considering how it will fit into our BIG BIM approach. We have moved beyond just looking at design solutions and BIG BIM encourages us to see the big picture considering complete project lifecycle to get maximum benefit.
As we work on projects on a daily basis we are aware of the challenges within the construction industry and the productivity challenges it faces in some areas.
Where Glue fits for me is in the area of design development. Currently models are developed in isolation and updated on a weekly or fortnightly basis to a central BIM. Clashes are identified, reported and resolved. What glue achieves very well in the cloud is real time model coordination. It uses you tube type links to share information making the process quick and reliable.
All communication is recorded allowing the team to watch development real time. During stages C, D and E I see this being very valuable to the design team. As a project moves to F and G the trade can get involved and benefit from real time coordination.
Beyond design Autodesk have also launched Field which will allow ongoing changes and reviews during construction in the cloud. I haven’t seen this yet but as it has been developed following the acquisition of Vela I am looking forward to seeing how it fits with the BIM360 suite.
Whilst I could see the benefit of the Glue approach the challenge as ever are people and they changing their entrenched thought processes. During the session there were other delegates who were trying to see how cloud software could respond to their current projects. As we all know BIM is far more than a new software solution for the industry and is more about process change and collaboration.
It was obvious there was some traditions construction thinking with a mentality of recording all actions formally as a Blame audit! In the future would it not be easier just to get it right in the first place.
Our industry currently suffers from the design element of a project being pushed later and later in the programme. This means large parts of the design become the responsibility of the trade well beyond contract. Designers end up using performance specification transferring risk onto the sub contractor and main contractor.
For BIM to achieve maximum benefits we need to design the building as early as possible and the design team need to take the responsibly they are paid to embrace. Products such as glue are excellent tools to help in the effective coordination of complex building and systems therefore reducing early risk.
In realty in the UK we have a preferred procurement method with minor differences. Designs are invariably developed to stage E by the design team and we then engage the trade to assist in the development of the detail. The project then moves to site.
Contracts can vary from stage D or stage E. What needs to change is that the designers complete their obligations at stage D and E to ensure the building is well coordinated, reducing risk for the contractor and client.
With BIM and Glue there is no excuse not to deliver this level of sophistication. For Glue succeed the software does not only have to perform well we need to find teams who can change their approach and think differently to achieve much improved results.
Glue is the first tool I have seen which will allow true Level three BIM.
_space architecture and BIM technologies will be trialling Glue on a few projects over the next month and hope to use it on a number of live projects where we will be able to maximise benefit.
We will report back with our findings. I’m confident any issues will not be down to the software but more likely the people!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Workplace 3.0


Over the past few months I have been working with Mitel assisting them in the development of their recently published White Paper on Workplace 3.0. I initially got involved by accident however the more time I have spent researching the subject the more interesting it has become.

At _space we have recently developed our headquarters building Spaceworks into a business hub with flexible working space. This move has made us review how people work now and how they are likely to work in the future.

Today I have been at a Mitel conference where they set out their strategy to address Workplace 3.0 and how their technology will adapt. I have had a fascinating day not least because the event has been hosted in a very nice Mayfair Hotel.

Mitel are clearly focussing on solutions for communications and business which are flexible and will adapt to the changing workplace

As I have become more involved and interested in this process a few things have become apparent.  Businesses are currently looking at their workforces and how they are going to deliver services in the future.  There are a couple of issues driving change.

In the past there has been lots of discussion about flexible working and home-working.  I believe that Workplace 3.0 will be subtly different with flexible working being more than someone working in their study at home.  Flexible working will include people working on the move, in a coffee shop or taking desk space in offices on a membership basis.

Such changes are driven by the environment created by the recession.  In the good times businesses expanded and could not see any alternative to growth.  Companies committed to  long binding leases  which have subsequently turned out to be a noose around many companies necks.  Many organisations have ended up going out of business due to the commitments they have made in relation to office space.  In the future businesses will be less keen to sign long term leases and are far more likely to commit to flexible arrangements which will suit the changing nature of their organisation.

At Spaceworks we have responded to this and have developed a wide range of spaces on flexible terms to suit what business needs.  We have seen the need for desk only space through to more permanent offices.  The IT infrastructure which is imperative to allow businesses to grow and adapt quickly. 

As well as building related issues there are also cultural issues with business at present.  The baby boomers and generation X have a far more stringent approach to work.  Their approach is generally 9-5 with a  focussed work ethic. 

What we are seeing now with generation Y is a flexible workforce who are keen to have more options within their terms and conditions.  For example within our own organisation we are now seeing fathers wanting to work shorter weeks to share childcare with their partners. 

In the future we will see an increasing amount of flexibility required for the generation Y workforce and millennium generation who will require a less rigid approach to employment.

The cultural changes and financial constraints of property driven by leases will undoubtedly drive new ways of working. 

In the years ahead we will see the office environment providing a varied provision supported by a robust IT infrastructure.  I anticipate that the use of private and public clouds will continue to develop with data and applications driven by off site hosted servers.

The devices used on a day to day basis will be varied and personal.  Organisations will have to be flexible with the selection of devices used by their people.  Some may prefer smartphones others may like their Apple iPad whist others may still use the office based PC.

In the future these decisions will be personal rather than corporate.  The organisations responsibility will be to ensure safe and consistent access.

The developing culture within society along with the global economic climate will undoubtedly impact on how we conduct business in the future as we move towards Workplace 3.0 and the human cloud. 



Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Olympic Glory!

 watched the beginning of the Olympics in the UK and the last few days in Italy. For some reason Italian TV seemed fascinated by synchronised swimming .

 For the record I thought the only disappointment of the whole games was the closing ceremony. What a mess. And George Michael!
David Cameron has clearly jumped on the positive band wagon and is hoping for a bounce in the economy from it. Whilst I think the country was in need of a happiness boost I think the potential for growth following on from the games is thin.

 No doubt we showed off what the UK construction industry could achieve on time and within budget which must be a positive marketing message across the world.

 However it is more likely this will encourage export rather than inward investment.

Unfortunately there is no evidence that any previous games has had a positive effect on the economy or made any impact to encourage investment. It will undoubtably improve the east end and the Olympic Park will be a fantastic legacy for the area. However, unfortunately this for me is not where the greatest need is in the UK at present. The regions are really struggling and need investment desperately to encourage confidence and growth.

 For me we should use the Olympics as a positive start and look at a number of new investment programmes to stimulate growth . Housing is a good way of pumping money into the economy at every level and would be a good place to start.

 The government also needs to get off the fence with education and needs to start investing again in school buildings.

 I don't think we will ever see things returning to how they were 5 to 10 years ago but the current paralysis in the markets needs attention.

 We know about the planned cuts but I don't see a plan for growth and unfortunately a few gold medals will not be enough!

Holiday Book Review....

I've just returned from a very hot couple of weeks in Italy. With it being so hot it was a challenge to do very much meaning I could get through more books than usual.

I don't want to bore you with all of the books I read while away but there were a few highlights. Regular readers of my blog will know that my reading list is usually related to the stories of people in business.

 The first book of note was "10 words" by terry Leahy the ex CEO of Tesco. In the book he comes accross as a very humble man and really simplifies the success of Tesco over the last decade. He has distilled this down to a very clear strategy and has identified 10 simple rules for business.

 A really good story which includes anicdotes and advice. As a business leader he has to be in my top 5 and this book definitely goes into my top ten.

 The second book was a bit of a surprise. Duncan Bannatynes "43 mistakes businesses make" would not be the type of book I would normally read. It's been sitting on my iPad for a while now and with the extra time I thought I would give it a chance!
As it happens I think this is one of the best books I have read of this type. In typical Duncan Bannatyne style he gives direct advice to business. It is real no nonsense and highlights all of the very important aspects of business. If small businesses followed his advice they wouldn't go far wrong.

The final book was a great story and actually quite uplifting in a strange way. It is the story of Hilary Devey, the Dragons Den entrepreneur. Hers is an incredible story of a really tough life.

I have nothing but respect for her for what she has achieved and how she has managed to keep going through huge adversity. It's easy to look at where she is now and think she has it all and has had it easy. I won't spoil the book but you need to read her story.

Amongst these three good books there were others which were not worthy of mention and others which were frankly dreadful. I have now read too many books about apple and their culture and stories from people who met Steve jobs in a supermarket.

Friday, 20 July 2012 what?

Anyone who knows me well knows that I like my gadgets. I also love technology and I continue to be excited by the advances being made.

Like many others I am often blown away by some of the clever stuff we can do with software.

As well as my fascination with technology I have always been driven by finding better ways to do things. In relation to our own industry I have always thought the way we design, procure, build and operate buildings is wasteful. However the majority of people are not keen on change so anything new takes time to be embraced.

The challenge we have with the use of BIM is that not everyone is as excited by gadgets and technology as I am and therefore may not be willing to commit in the short term to see the long term benefit. In the current marketplace who can blame those investing in buildings.

We all do our very clever show to clients demonstrating what BIM can do and how we can do lots of clever stuff in 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,9D. But all of the time they are thinking so what!

I support the "so what?" thinking. Why would someone buy into how clever a consultant or contractor can be. “Look at the clever things I can do"

From a clients perspective in the short term it has to be about" Show me the money"

As designers and contractors we have to be able to put our money where our mouth is. BIM processes have to improve the bottom line and the client must benefit financially.

At this point I sympathise with contractors because it is their risk. It is all well and good the clever consultant selling the virtues of this BIM stuff but is their cash on the line.

There isn't much robust research around about the financial benefits of BIM. The evidence at present is very circumstantial. One contractor has suggested that each clash costs on average £2500 on site.

Another contractor was willing to half the risk pot thought using BIM throughout stage E.

We therefore need to get the estimators to understand and believe in BIM. They need to talk to their construction teams and talk about risk.
When settling a tender we should be using BIM to explore risk and how it can be reduced. Ultimately this needs to reduce the bottom line figure. It may take some time to get to this point as we need to be able to prove the benefits over an extended period.

Maybe then the response to "so what?" can be 20% cheaper, guaranteed! "Now you’re talking, tell me more."

BIM...another trick up our sleeves.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Pace of Technology

Over the past few weeks we have seen some really interesting potential advancements in technology. There seems to be a race at present between organisations such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook to come up with the next big thing. They are all chasing Apple to try and discover the next big thing.

It is ironic that for most of his life Steve Jobs spent his time chasing Microsoft.

The Microsoft new tablet for me doesn’t really do anything particularly new and I suspect will struggle to challenge existing hardware and software platforms.

I do think however that the new Google Nexus is really interesting as it sits somewhere between the iPad and handheld devices. The Nexus has the potential to fill a new space in the hardware market.

Where I think the real advance is, is with Google Glass.

We have been tracking the potential of this for several months now and I think it has huge mass market potential but also has potential in the world of the built environment.

People will start to consider commercial opportunities with Google Glass over the months ahead and I think the success of how these are embraced will define the future of Google Glass.

Google Glass linked with Building Information Modelling and Virtual Environments has huge potential.

We are all working hard at the moment to develop Building Information Modelling through the design and construct phase. Once we have cracked this we will be left with high quality data from a virtual environment which has been turned into a real environment.

The ‘Holy Grail’ is to be able to transfer this data into the live operation environment and demonstrate value.

Linking this data and digital environment through Google Glass will undoubtedly provide value for building, owners and operators.

Within our own industry there is a race to find the best use of the data being generated from the design and construction process.

There are already a number of mature providers in the market place who have developed facilities management software which are either provided on-line or on PC.

We have been researching various software platforms and companies over the past few months. It is interesting to see the difference between mature organisations such as IBM with Maximo platform through to new start ups who are looking to find a niche in the marketplace.

At present everyone is working very hard at finding solutions or adjusting their existing platforms.

Fundamentally the starting point must be what do building users and operators want and then work backwards from there to find a solution from the data and information which we have.

Without doubt the next few years will be interesting and it will be great to see some of the developments which are being worked on at present come to fruition.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Enterprising North East

I had a most enjoyable evening last night at one of the Entrepreneurs Forum Members Dinner.

This is the first EF event I have attended since I have joined.  Over the past 6 months I haven’t been able to attend events due to diary commitments usually because I am not always in the North East during the week.

However on this occasion I had the chance and decided to go along.  The dinner was for a small group of about 20 people who where there to listen to Jonathan Eldridge who was the founder of the Gadget Shop in the early 90’s.

For those who have read my blog previously you will be aware that I am really interested in business stories.  Jonathan’s story is great.  From very ordinary beginnings in Hull he built a retail business with a value of over £60 million which employed 750 people at its peak.

Things then started to go wrong.  He had cash flow problems for a very short period of time and made one miss-judged call to the bank asking them to extend his facility.  They got nervous and called in the debt.  He had nowhere to go and had to bring in external investment.

There was some serious infighting between the investors which landed him in the High Court.  Cutting a long and interesting story short the business fell into administration largely due to the board being distracted by the legal issues.

From having shares worth millions he ended up with nothing.  He has since brushed himself off and started again with Red5.  What struck me was how balanced he is and how he carried no baggage from what had happened previously.  He was very philosophical about life and wouldn’t change anything which I found inspiring.

I encouraged him to write his story because I thought it has the good, the bad and the ugly.  He said he was waiting until the story was finished and wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested in the down side of his history.  I think it is the down side which makes his story particularly interesting.

Across his whole story it was obvious there was the lack of support from banks.  I always think it is difficult for banks to support entrepreneurs who have passion and drive.  Sometimes this is not tangible and we know in the current climate banks are unwilling to take risks.  His support generally came from private investors when he needed it.

Currently the Government seem to be focussing on encouraging the banks to lend money and we all know this is not working.  The Government should therefore incentivise private investment and acknowledge the importance this support plus the risk investors take plays in the ability to deliver growth.

The other interesting aspect of the evening came from the cross section of the other guests.  All ran North East businesses and all were realistic about the current market.  Everyone is finding it tough.

The interesting thing to me was that probably 70% of those around the table were from family businesses.  I have not decided why this is yet but wondered if this “keep it in the family” approach to business is preventing growth outside the region.  The other thought is do businesses retain ownership because there is a lack of talent beyond their small circle.

It is one to think about and discuss…

Thursday, 17 May 2012

BIM Show Live

I have just about caught up after a very busy week last week at BIM Show Live.

We had the idea for BIM Show Live about 18 months ago and managed to put on our first event in October 2011.  We had 300 delegates on a single day.  This year we managed to attract 450 delegates over two days. 

This year’s event was a step up from the previous year without doubt.  The depth and quality of speakers was outstanding.

What I particularly liked was the networking which went on over both days.  There were events before the start of the conference, as well as a great dinner in the evening between.

It is at these sessions where the learning and connections are made and where the real value and progress is achieved.

We made the journey down by transit van, which was an experience in its own right and then put up the stand with one good arm, which was worth seeing. 

The BIM scooter made its way down to London again, not for marketing reasons, more just to irritate the organisers who particularly dislike it for health and safety reasons.

There was a great crowd in attendance and not only did we see all of the usual suspects from the UK BIM crew, but there were also many new faces.  What is becoming apparent is that constructors are ploughing their own furrow when it comes to BIM and several of them are now even employing their own modellers.  I suspect this may become an approach adopted in the future.

All was not perfect at BIM Show Live however.  I was disappointed with the central space for the keynote sessions.  Whilst the area we had was great in that it brought everyone together, trying to talk whilst there was noise on the balcony was very off putting. 

The balcony also did not give a similar level of exposure for all exhibitors, with those at the sides struggling to be seen.

I also felt that the show was a junior partner to the BFE Exhibition, which is something we were adamant must not happen with the organisers.

Still, it was great to see so many exhibitors there and particularly to see all of the major software vendors in the UK at the same event with equal billing.

All of this good and not so good information is gathered up and will be fed back into the plans for next year.

There has been debate about whether we should have another event in 6 months time, but I think it would be more sensible to wait a full 12 months so we can really review the progress that has been made across the industry.

Thanks for everyone’s support and we look forward to seeing you next year.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Exporting our Future

A few things have happened over the past few weeks which have made me look at the impact of this recession differently.

I have been to the Middle East several times recently and had quite a few discussions with young people from within the construction industry.  At the end of last year a close friend of the family emigrated to Perth, Australia.  At the beginning of this year a friend who I had worked with throughout the BSF programme emigrated with his whole family to Canada.

When in the Middle East, I have met so many people who have moved from the UK to make a new life.

Only last week one of our young architects in our Newcastle office decided to emigrate to Canada where they are crying out for young professionals.

My concern is not the short term, but more the long term impact this will have on UK PLC.  Lots of our brightest talent is leaving the country.  In the future we will pay the price for this.

Whilst in the short term, it is great there is a market for our skills but once they are gone they are gone.

Much of the historic success of our country has been built on our engineering and construction skill. Once it has been exported it is difficult to get it back.

Our government needs to make staying in the UK attractive to our young people and must give them exciting and creative opportunities if we are going to be a respected knowledge base across the world.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Holiday Book Review

Regular readers of my blog will know that my holidays are a time for me to catch up on my reading. The weeks before I go away I build up a store of books on my iPad and work my way through them. I am not a fan of fiction but enjoy reading peoples stories, particularly related to business.

On this holiday we have travelled to Gran Canaria again.  We always go for the hotels which are full of Germans as you are guaranteed good service.  This time the hotel has a wider European must be that everyone in Europe is ready for a break.

My reading this holiday has been eclectic to say the least.  I have read Shaun Ryders autobiography, Karen Brady and Anita Roddick’s story, as well as Boomerang and a book by Alastair Campbell.

The Shaun Ryder book is an amazing story, however there is a theme throughout.  He spent at least 20 years up to his eyes on drugs.  Clearly he had a tough upbringing and was a product of his background.  The story has a happy ending however as he has clearly met a woman who looks after him and he is now focused on important things in life, rather than only drugs.

The Alastair Campbell book talks about happiness and his fight with depression.  I am a fan of Alastair Campbell as I think he has a brilliant mind.  A really thought provoking book.

I also read boomerang which is a must read.  It is an up to date view of the impact the banking collapse has had across the globe.  It covers Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Germany and America.

When you follow the stories it is unbelievable that we let this happen.  In Iceland you had fishermen becoming corporate bankers with no experience.  Our government recommended that our local authorities invest in this country.  Unbelievable.

The story in Ireland is a little different in that the government made a huge mistake in underwriting the banks debt and ultimately crippled the whole country.  The German story is that they invested in all of these countries and therefore couldn't possibly let them fail.

The Greek story is the most unbelievable.  They lied their way into the Euro by creative accounting and took full advantage once they were in by borrowing and spending more.  They overpaid public sector workers and didn't collect their taxes.

Boomerang is a great book, a quick read which you will find fascinating.

I also read the Karen Brady story as well as the Anita Roddick story.  It's a coincidence that I ended up reading about two successful business women.  Karen Brady is a really driven individual and clearly a workaholic and a great business woman.  I would imagine she has had to make many sacrifices and only time what the impact will be in years to come as the relationship with her children develops.

Anita Roddick’s couldn't be more different.  I think her success happened by accident.  She was clearly a very spiritual lady and driven by her values.

The book was written in 2000 and it wasn't long after this that she sadly died.  When you read the book now, she was clearly way ahead of her time.  All of the things companies such as M&S and Sainsbury’s are doing now in relation to the environment, she was promoting 15 years ago.

There have been several other books, all too sad to mention, but a good mix on this holiday.  The benefit of the iPad is you can take 20 books without having to worry about your luggage allowance!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Mike Ashley v Geordie Faithful

What a story Newcastle United has turned out to be this year. I think what has happened at the club since Mike Ashley took over has been fascinating.

It gives the supporters a real problem. For the last few years they have criticised Ashley for just about everything he has done. Unfortunately for the supporters, he is having huge success with the club, not equalled in 15 years. As well as success on the field, the business has never been in better shape.

What are the supporters going to say or do now? I have always been a supporter of Ashley and said I would judge him on results. Well, where we find ourselves now is that his decisions have been proven right. When he sacked Chris Hughton I said I would judge him on his replacement. I think Alan Pardew is a great manager and has a great team around him. I think most of his tactical decisions have been sound throughout the season.

In relation to the sale of Andy Carroll, again I said I would judge the decision on the replacement. There is no doubt now that selling him was the deal of the season and Cisse has been a revelation.

I think the success this season on the pitch has been down to the team spirit. There are no stars in the team such as a Shearer or a Carroll. I think the influence of Coloccini and Gutierrez has had a huge settling influence and brought maturity to the dressing room.

Off the pitch, Mike Ashley has been single minded and stuck to his plan. Despite criticism, he got rid of expensive problem players such as Nolan and Barton. He is committed to only buying young talent, with future potential and value. Ultimately, he is patient for success.

For those who are not as patient, such as Manchester City or Liverpool, spending £240 million has not provided the answer. Our problems next season will come from the very same clubs. They will undoubtedly pursue our players and our manager. Mike Ashley is a trader and if the deal is good, I have no doubt he will sell.

I also think that if we get into the champions league, Ashley may look to get out himself. He will have to weigh up the cash benefit against the European profile for sports direct.

If we get to the Champions League the renaming of St James Park may be another master stroke, if a big sponsor such as Qatar Airways comes forward.

All of this success is a little embarrassing for the supporters. Mr Ashley got it right and the 54,000 Geordie Faithful got it wrong! Maybe because he made dispassionate decisions, rather than getting wrapped up in history and tradition, he has been able to take the club forward.

Despite this he will always be seen as an outsider and will never get the recognition for what he has achieved. I suspect Mike Ashley couldn't care less. Newcastle United is an investment and something to do with the kids on a Saturday afternoon.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Another Trip to Qatar

Just before I headed off on my Easter break I had a few days in Qatar. I continue to be fascinated by this place.

I was out there talking to a client about a retail opportunity.

Before I get on about Qatar....the previous weekend I had been to the Westfield shopping centre at Stratford on the Olympic Park on a scouting mission before going to Doha. If you haven’t been it is really worth a visit when in London. It makes the Metro Centre or Trafford Centre look so 1980s. It is more than just a shopping centre and is more of a destination, with lots of leisure activities as part of the centre. We were there late in the evening and it was buzzing.

With the Olympics only weeks away all of the international retailers were making a real effort with their stores.

Anyway back to Qatar. At the moment there is lots of talk and huge plans. Without doubt there are billions to be spent. I think however the country is a big social experiment. At present it must be the biggest export market for UK skills. We have filled the country with construction and oil professionals who are all working tax free for their futures. None of these people see a long term future in the country.

All of the work is being carried out by Indian labour...they will not stay beyond the construction work.

Most of the Qataris work in government pushing paper around. They really would rather be in the malls spending their cash.

The ruling families are building a fantastic infrastructure for the country but they need to also build knowledge. As they invest in their country they must work hard on the knowledge transfer. They must encourage the indigenous population to work with the Europeans and Americans to learn new skills before they all leave.

The country has to develop its own entrepreneurs and thinkers, as well as building roads and railways. To put things in perspective, our country has been developing for hundreds of years. In reality, Qatar only started its journey 40 years ago.

I admire what they are trying to do and I look forward to following their progress over the years ahead!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

New Dawn

I am sitting in our Leeds office overlooking the River Aire which brings to mind that further down the river was Carey Jones leading architectural practice in the North of England.

Unfortunately last week Carey Jones Northern Business went into administration. This is particularly sad and poignant to me personally as when I was a student Carey Jones was the pathfinder practice in Leeds.

They were a very commercially focussed practice and delivered some great buildings over many years.

Being a north easterner I am particularly fond of both of the buildings which they completed behind Central Station.

The business as strong as Carey Jones failing in this market is an indication of how difficult business is within this recession.

The loss of an organisation such as this has a personal impact on so many people as well as impacting on loss of skills in the industry.

Many more businesses have been lost in recent months with names such as Brown Smith Baker one of the oldest established architectural practices no longer trading.

I am sure the reasons are many and varied and maybe in the future someone may look into what right and wrong things for a construction related consultancy business to do through a recession are.

One thing is for certain that there is still a long way to go for everyone and we are far from out of the woods. The practice of architecture which I joined in the 1980’s no longer exists and the market which our new graduates enter is completely different.

One of the attractions when setting out on the journey to be an architect was to own your own business. I think that in the future this will be increasingly challenging. It is also the case that after many graduates have seen the challenges of their colleagues in recent years it may be that owning your own business is not what it is thought to be.

I believe in the years ahead the polarisation of construction consultancy will continue. There will be a need for small nimble practices who produce beautifully crafted architecture.

At the other end of the scale there will be global businesses providing skills across the globe at the highest level.

The current market place is speeding up this transition and polarisation and we sit and face the fall out from this adjustment month on month.

From a personal perspective it is sad to see this evolution occur however I am also excited by the opportunities which change in the industry can bring.

The depressed nature of the construction industry has forced individuals and companies to consider things which several years ago would have been unthinkable. New technology and procurement routes are encouraging innovative thinking which I believe will ultimately improve the product which we deliver to our customers as an industry.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Embracing Innovation

Over recent months I have sensed a change across the construction industry in its approach to innovation and new ideas. Previously everyone seemed very focused on delivery and tasks meaning there was no time or reason for making things better.

There seems however to be a change in attitude. I think people now fall into two camps when it comes to innovation and change.

There are those who will never embrace change at all. There are lots of reasons for this ranging from fear to previous experiences. There should be no criticism of this and people who have become experts in what they do will always be sceptical of embracing alternatives.

The other group however are open to ideas and change and understand the benefits. Generally they get frustrated with the way things are done and can see there are alternative ways. There is a growing number of people and organisations who are embracing innovation. I think much of this is down to the current marketplace and the need for businesses to be able to demonstrate value without increasing cost.

At _space our purpose has always been to make life better and it has been at the core of what we do for several years. This has meant we are always looking to do things better and are never satisfied with the norm. This approach has applied to making lives better through the buildings we design but more recently our focus has been on finding better ways of doing things.

This can be a lonely and frustrating position to take at times. Some of the approaches we have been developing we have been pursuing for years. We have faced a lot of negativity when we have shared our thoughts. This however has not stopped us from pursuing our beliefs. I know that the stories of Dyson and KFC were littered with rejection in the early days.

We have been an early adopter of Building Information Modelling not because we like technology or gadgets but purely because we can see how it can improve the process of construction. It is not perfect and has lots of faults but it is always easy to find a reason not to do something. We believe however the reasons to do something far outweigh the reasons not to. We are seeing benefits every day.

There are still those who just don't have time to consider something such as BIM. They will continue to do what they do well but they are already dying a slow death and don't know it. I liken these companies to HMV and Kodak who have seen a slow demise over several decades.

BIM brings with it lots of opportunities far beyond design and build and the entrepreneurs in the property industry will see these first and embrace them. Some of them we know about now and others haven’t shown themselves yet.

It is always great to meet people who are interested in talking about a new way and we have found we are coming across more and more of these people. These people are not only in the private sector but also the public sector and include designers, contractors and clients.

We have also been looking at ways of reducing construction cost and energy use. For the past two years we have been developing our Spacehus products. Initially there was a cold response to such an approach. The feedback was that it could be built cheaper with bricks and mortar. We are now however coming across people who are talking about value and are understanding the long term benefits. I think once the momentum builds with offsite construction we will see a real change in attitude.

The quality of buildings will improve considerably along with their performance. With the further development of BIM we will see a real understanding of lifecycle cost and performance over the years ahead.

Let's hope the momentum continues!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Holiday Reading

Several times over recent years we headed off for some sun over the holiday period. This year we headed off to the Canary Islands and were lucky enough to have fantastic weather for 7 days. It as a great opportunity to truly unwind, reflect on the previous year and look forward to the year head. By having a few days off for Christmas before in the UK I found myself totally unwound with a very clear mind. It is something that I can strongly recommend.

As with most of my holidays for those who have followed my blogs in the past I usually spend the time reading what most people would consider very boring books on entrepreneurship and business. I am fascinated by the stories of people who have made a change. I often intersperse this with the more traditional business management books as well as recently getting into economics.

This holiday was no exception and I had quite an interesting mix. I previously read Steve Jobs biography but decided to re-read it on this trip. I also read Richard Branson’s latest book as well as the latest offering from Allan Leighton. To finish things off I read the book about Bernard Madoff and his £65 billion fraud.

What I should also say is that all of these books were read on my iPad which saved the usual fear of excess baggage fines at the airport.

Richard Branson’s book is an interesting read and explains his evolving view of how a business and capitalism should change for the new millennium. ‘Screw Business As Usual’ sets out his thoughts on how business should consider the environment and look to give as much back to communities and people.

This is the overarching theme of the book and once you have sussed this generally the book states lots of case studies of companies which have done good over recent years. I am a great supporter of this approach but I did find the book slightly repetitive. There is also the nagging issue at the back of my mind that Richard Branson was writing this book whilst sitting on his Necker Island with his private jet standing by. I guess he sits in a far more comfortable position than many of us who are working hard to sustain our own businesses and the livelihoods of those who work with us.

The focus of Alan Leightons book was how business leaders make decisions. I found this a very quick read and really interesting. He has snippets from leaders such as Terry Leahy of Tesco’s and Adam Crozier ex of the FA.

There is also some excellent personal insights from his time at the Royal Mail which are very interesting.

The Madoff story is an incredible one. I could not help think how did he manage to sleep at night. It was clear that Bernard Madoff was considered an upstanding member of the community whilst he was stealing millions from his friends and colleagues. The scale of the fraud is spectacular and it is hard to imagine how he managed to achieve it without assistance of others.

Over the years I must have read hundreds of books on management and business but I do think that the Steve Jobs story is the ultimate business book and nothing comes close. Not only is the book fantastically well written it tells the most amazing story of Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs has several stories but his most impressive is the fact that in 1997 he returned to Apple which was very close to bankruptcy and by 2010, 13years later had turned Apple into the most valuable publically owned company in the world.

As a sideline he had also built Pixar and ended up owning 7.5% of Walt Disney.

He is clearly a very odd personality and having read many books on the best way to build businesses and manage people Steve Jobs defies every single rule. He was obnoxious and insulting with little empathy for others.

However his incredible focus on detail and quality encouraged people to achieve things they never thought they could.

In relation to business stories I think it will be a long time before there is a one that can match that of Steve Jobs and Apple.