According to a recently completed study, the British Columbia construction industry needs to become more innovative in how projects are procured. "The procurement process is broken and needs to be fixed," said Helen Goodland, principal of Brantwood Consulting and one of the report’s authors. "There has to be a shift from a culture of lowest bid to one that puts more emphasis on quality and value over a project’s lifetime."
Goodland and Alan Fletcher, president of AFC Industries Ltd., will be making the case for innovative procurement at Buildex Vancouver 2016 in a presentation entitled Faster, Cheaper, Greener: Building a BC Construction Innovation Strategy, on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
The study they will discuss is called Construction Innovation Project/Building BC’s Vision.
It was commissioned by the BC Construction Association (BCCA) and co-funded by the BCCA and the Homeowner Protection Office. In 2015, the BCCA engaged Brantwood Consulting to undertake the study of the potential for innovation and the adoption of new technologies in the B.C construction industry. According to the study, the industry needs to innovate because its members are under increasing pressure to deliver projects more efficiently. At the same time, they face rising material and labour costs, increasingly stringent building codes and the appearance of powerful new competitors.
"The first step to meeting this challenge is to review the whole procurement process," said Goodland. "We need to identify options for improving approaches to procurement, potentially based on effective procurement models from other jurisdictions."
Innovation in procurement is one of three "top priority actions" identified in the report.
The second is the creation of "an action-oriented construction innovation council" that would be responsible for steering the development of a formal industrial action plan for innovation.
The third is the development of an action plan for construction innovation that will create concrete goals and deadlines, address the proper role of government in industry innovation and establish targets and performance measures that ensure investments in innovation actually improve productivity.
The Buildex presentation will address such topics as time-saving measures (off-site construction, integrated project delivery and digital technologies); how to deliver high-performance, low carbon buildings on time, cost-effectively and within acceptable risk tolerances; and how to reduce reliance on imported supplies by supporting local material manufacturers.
According to the report, if B.C. construction firms don’t adapt and innovate they risk being left behind.
"Although B.C. is strong in some areas, such as green building and wood technologies, we have a good deal of catching up to do in others. Public and corporate investment in innovation in B.C. lags behind other highly developed countries. The mechanisms for knowledge sharing and collaboration outside of projects do not exist," it reads. "Fundamentally, the industry has not fostered a culture of innovation that transcends day-to-day problem solving on a construction site."
Goodland says the authors looked closely at examples of construction innovation in Scotland.
"Scotland has a construction industry that is roughly the same as B.C. in terms of volume of business, number of workers, propensity for small businesses and even – arguably – climate," she said. "It was able to raise $30 million for a range of programs, services and support for modernizing their industry from a standing start three years ago. The study details some of their accomplishments. It is very impressive."
Goodland says the size of the B.C. construction industry and its importance to the provincial economy is both a blessing and curse.
"There are so many competing voices and interests," she said. "And owners and clients have yet to be properly included in the conversation about innovation and its benefits. This is something we’d like to get started on soon."
BCCA president Manley McLachlan says one of the first hurdles the construction industry needs to get over is defining innovation.
"The various measurements used to gauge the implementation of innovative processes and practices always indicate that construction lags behind other industries," he said. "The need to first define innovation for B.C. construction will be a big step in determining how we can measure and drive innovation in our industry."
McLachlan says the appearance of an innovation deficit in construction in B.C. compared to other jurisdictions shows the weakness of how innovation is measured.
"Innovation takes place on every job site across the province," he said. "I would suggest that, given the complexity of B.C. geography, soil and site conditions, and seismic and workforce challenges, B.C.’ s industry is a leader in the country. We just have to determine how to accurately measure innovation."