The British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA) recently published a report called Procuring Innovation. According to the document, the procurement process is key to driving innovative projects and sector development in the B.C. construction industry.
"The culture of lowest bid does not drive innovation in our industry," said BCCA president Chris Atchison in an announcement. "Margins are tight and businesses have to operate profitably, yet if we don’t innovate we’re in danger of undermining our collective ability to compete. The sector has to introduce whole-life value to the process."
The report, which was published in May 2017, is a follow-up to its 2016 Innovation Report. The latter argued that adoption of innovation in B.C.’s construction sector lags behind other jurisdictions.
Procuring Innovation is an overview of the types and methods of procuring construction services.
It looks at procurement practices being developed elsewhere and recommends different approaches based on unique project circumstances.
The report is intended to help architecture, engineering and construction companies bring their best to projects that, in the document’s words, push technical and logistical boundaries.
Procuring Innovation uses B.C. mass timber projects as a case study to show how the procurement process can be deployed to accommodate project-specific research and development, allow for new technologies and processes, and encourage project team creativity.
"We hope readers will gain a sense of the key role that the approach to procurement plays in setting the foundation for a project," said report author Helen Goodland of Brantwood Consulting. "There are tremendous benefits to incorporating new technologies, processes and solutions into construction projects. But innovation has to be championed by clients and owners who are committed to achieving the best value for their project."
Goodland said best project value is determined by the owners’ financial and non-financial criteria.
"Every owner needs to define what this means to them in terms of measurable criteria," she said.
As Canadian construction productivity flatlines, the domestic industry should look to foreign jurisdictions for ideas on how to stimulate it, Goodland said.
For example, the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) is the Scottish construction industry’s innovation champion, said CSIC CEO Stephen Good.
"We support ambitious businesses, clients and associated organizations to deliver change that unlocks new value and creates economic impact," he said.
Jointly funded by industry, academia and the public sector, the CSIC operates from the Innovation Factory, a 35,000 square foot facility in central Scotland.
"It’s a hub for industry to collaborate, prototype and up-skill, with access to £2M of cutting-edge technology," Good said.
Examples of said technology include offsite manufacturing equipment, robotics, 3-D printing, augmented reality and virtual reality technology, and a BIM (Building Information Modeling) training suite.
"The Scottish construction industry has made huge progress in a number of areas, but offsite manufacturing and BIM adoption are probably the two most prolific leaps forward over the past five to 10 years," Good said.
Project owners in many foreign jurisdictions are more open to innovation than their Canadian equivalents, said Stephen Bauld, president and CEO of Purchasing Consultants International Inc. in Burlington, Ont.
"There is so much extraordinary innovation out there, but it can be difficult to sell to governments," Bauld said. "They are very cautious and face growing mountains of rules and regulations. And some governments are reluctant to spec an innovative product or technology if it leaves them vulnerable to being accused of bias or exclusion."
Nevertheless, it is critical for the construction industry to innovate, Bauld said.
"Charles Darwin said, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change,’ " he said.
Like the BCCA, the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) is looking at modernizing its corner of the construction industry.
On Oct. 1 the VRCA’s new strategic vision will be effective.
Titled The Future Starts Now, the document sets out the VRCA’s strategic goals and what the association intends to do between 2017 and 2020.
The B.C. construction industry is under pressure from many different sources, said VRCA president Fiona Famulak.
"The industry today is expected to build faster, cheaper, greener and more profitably," she said. "By 2041 there is expected to be one million more people living in Greater Vancouver. By 2023 the construction industry is expected to become carbon-neutral. On top of all of that there’s a skilled labour shortage."
For all these reasons the B.C. construction industry needs to become more productive, Famulak said, and the strategic plan supports that goal.