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Industry innovation needs to speed up and include everyone: panel

Warren Frey
Industry innovation needs to speed up and include everyone: panel

The construction industry is changing but more is needed to adapt to oncoming disruption, according to a panel of experts.

Construction leaders looked at how the industry is innovating and where it needs to catch up to other sectors at the “Innovation Challenge” panel held recently at the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada’s annual conference in Nashville, Tenn.

UnleashWD owner and panel moderator Dirk Beverige termed the current moment as a “unique time in history, the age of disruption.”

“The world is changing faster than the average mechanical contractor,” he said. “The pace of change is unprecedented, and we’re being asked to lead business into an unknown future and create sustainability and profitability.”

Beverige also pointed to the three economies of traditional building and manufacturing, financial capitalism and creative work as “mashing together for the first time in history.”

“You can either lean in or be afraid of this disruption. Despite awareness and a need for change, many businesses still suffer from ‘inherent inertia’,” Beverige said.

Defence Construction Canada (DCC) vice-president of operations Ross Welsman said the construction sector is ‘way behind’ in terms of innovation and as of yet construction companies aren’t trying to increase their use of technology in the workplace.

“It’s becoming apparent things need to progress faster. There are companies investing in research and development. It’s a low amount, but it’s a start,” Welsman said.

When DCC began exploring innovation a decade ago, he said, “I thought we already had an innovative culture because people were in the field and solving problems.”

But the company needed to change its processes and develop a culture of innovation with the full support of leadership.

“There are three areas of focus: leadership, project management and people change management. If leadership doesn’t verbally and physically support change, it will not happen,” Welsman said.

“But the most important part of the process is people change management. If they (the workers) don’t accept it, it will absolutely fail,” he added.

Welsman cited a technological change in his organization that didn’t go as expected as an example. 

“We implemented electronic document management a few years ago, decided on software, then rolled out training to our staff. We put it in place but found we had serious difficulties with the size of our network spread across 36 offices,” he said.

The end result was a negative environment and a loss of support for leadership.

“We had to make it easier for staff to file this way rather than paper. Training was key and we had to work hard to make sure staff knew how to do it and had the desire and ability to do it,” Welsman said.

O’Brien Mechanical Inc. president Armand Kilijian said as a San Francisco Bay area business “you change or you die.”

Twenty years ago, he said, he relied on those in the field to build buildings but learned the importance of planning and scheduling.

“We focus less on how we do it and more on planning how to do it,” Kilijian said.

His firm developed an app for $20,000 for use in the field on tablets and “it was worth every penny,” he said.

“Mechanical contractors are the smartest ones,” Kilijian added. “We have the most going in, we drive the project, and we should be the ones to change first.”

Medicine Hat, Alta. based Pad-Car Mechanical president Tim Padfield said as a more rural area, it sometimes comes as a surprise to clients that his firm uses Building Information Modeling (BIM) as part of its process.

“I’d say the company is an early adopter, and we get comments along the lines that people didn’t expect to find someone in Medicine Hat who does BIM,” Padfield said.

Technology has helped his staff with safety, environmental monitoring and protecting his staff, he added.

“There are things that will alert a third-party monitoring station that they’re engaged in a job, incorporating slip and fall protection, check-in times and monitoring vital statistics. I sleep better as a business owner knowing my staff has help if they need it,” Padfield said.

He also cautioned against putting too much faith in technology, as errors can happen regardless of the tools used, citing a BIM project that was precise but wrong.

“We were exactly two inches off,” he laughed.

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