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Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Construction companies understand innovation, but falter at implementation: BuildForce

Jeff Rankin
Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Construction companies understand innovation, but falter at implementation: BuildForce

Canadian construction companies have been quick to identify tools, technology and processes that can make them more productive, but they’re very slow to implement innovations.

That’s one of the important conclusions we’ve been able to draw from the early industry response to the BuildForce Construction and Maintenance Performance Benchmarking Self-assessment Tool, a national initiative developed with the support of the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.

The benchmarking tool was launched in 2017 to help construction companies identify best practices surrounding productivity and to measure their performance against each other and the industry as a whole.

The program is national in scope and includes all types of construction, with a focus on institutional, commercial, heavy civil and residential.

One of the first formal studies we’ve completed on behalf of BuildForce, using the collected data, is called Enhancing the performance and productivity of the Canadian construction industry through innovation.

Labour productivity in the Canadian construction sector has been flat for roughly the past 20 years, even while other industries have been pulling ahead, largely by taking advantage of innovative tools offered to them by the digital revolution.

When we began to notice a pattern around implementation of innovation based on the data we’d collected, we decided to expand the benchmarking tool to encourage companies to report on the way innovation is managed within their organizations.

But formally recognizing the importance of creating processes to introduce and leverage new technology isn’t something that construction managers typically pay attention to and these management practices aren’t widely in place.

One reason that companies are finding it challenging to adopt new technologies that boost productivity is the fact that implementation requires buy-in from multiple players across the organization and outside of it. Even if management introduces a new technology, you won’t really see productivity increases unless everybody plays.

That isn’t to say that some construction companies haven’t done a good job of leveraging new technologies to their advantage.

We are aware, for example, of individual projects involving the integrated use of BIM, in which every stakeholder — from owner to architect, designer, engineer, contractor, subcontractor and operator — enjoy the synergy of working with the same technology.

However, just because we can identify projects where technology has been implemented well doesn’t mean there isn’t a long way to go before we’ll see these technologies accepted broadly across the industry.

While implementing new technologies will provide companies with a competitive edge, we’re primarily looking at this issue from a national perspective.

Construction companies outside of Canada have been doing a better job of implementing innovation than we have.

For example, if you look at off-site or modular construction, the major companies involved are global players who are preparing to take their innovations directly into the heart of the Canadian market.

Collection of early benchmarking data has given us some informed insights into more granular details of Canadian construction productivity.

For example, we’ve looked at anonymous data from users who identify as large construction companies. To date, it appears they generally score no better than smaller companies when it comes to establishing essential management practices that encourage successful implementation of innovation.

We continue to urge construction companies to participate in using the free benchmarking self-assessment tool with the simple statement that “we cannot improve what we do not measure.” By completing the assessment, you’ll receive key insights into current management best practices around productivity and also receive a free report on how you measure up against the industry.

The research initiative is ongoing and companies can update their profiles as they achieve their productivity and innovation goals, creating an ongoing national benchmark. BuildForce intends to provide annual reports as the research progresses.

The more construction companies who choose to participate, the more statistically significant the data we can use to develop new programs and initiatives focused specifically on construction productivity and innovation issues.

You can access the BuildForce benchmarking tool at

Jeff Rankin is department chair, Civil Engineering at the University of New Brunswick, and holds the M. Patrick Gillin Research Chair in Construction Engineering. He has extensively researched performance assessment and benchmarking of the construction industry and was part of the team, along with researchers from the Universities of Victoria, Manitoba, and Waterloo, who worked to develop the BuildForce benchmarking tool. Send comments and Industry Perspectives column ideas to

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