Constructing Excellence welcomed its National members, regional centres, local Clubs and members of the Generation for Change (G4C) network to its annual conference on November 11. Thank you to main sponsors Waterloo Air Products.
Beyond the built environment
The conference was entitled “Beyond the Built Environment”, and an inspirational and enervating day followed, thanks to some great speakers from other sectors addressing our challenges. This short report cannot do justice to the content, but further blogs will seek to capture some of the detail and the passion that inspired us all.
After a quick focus on our 2015 National Awards winners, Ben Pritchard introduced the conference as co-chair of G4C, who along with Antonio Pisano worked incredibly hard to make this a conference to remember.
Excellence through Collaboration
First speaker was Murray Rowden as chairman of CE. He set the scene with our vision of Excellence through Collaboration, and the ambitious targets for improvement in Construction 2025 that we aim for. We need to speak the language of business and also of Politicians, he said, and we see core improvement themes as productivity, supply chain integration, brand reputation and image, social value, and open data. The speakers that followed addressed one of these themes each, but with a difference – speakers were leading practitioners in other sectors of the UK economy.
Improving productivity through the use of data
First up was Simon Troup of Open Sensors. The ability to combine open data with the internet of things to collect and learn from data opens up a completely new world of innovation. Examples supporting smart buildings included sensors for air quality, office occupancy, and use of soap dispensers!
Improving innovation through open data
Julia Glidden of 21c Consultancy continued the theme. We are in an age of disruptive and transformational change, and government is pushing industries to open data because it will facilitate innovation. “The real benefit of a data ecosystem is when you can combine your own data with others”, she said. This was an outstanding presentation, combining content and delivery style perfectly to have our audience enraptured. The UK Digital Built Britain strategy is world-leading, she commented, and examples of application already included open data for building permits, for happy schools, and for happier communities. Not forgetting Google’s focus on their own offices – healthy buildings for healthy profits.
Furthering collaborative working and supply chain integration to deliver greater value
Our second session was all about Rolls Royce jet engines. It was again compellingly presented, this time by Taieb Ben Sghaier, whose biggest bombshell was an aside when he revealed that more engineering students in his home country of Tunisia are women than men. What can we learn, and quickly?!
Back to the theme, and we can learn so much from Rolls’ 15-year design cycle for a new product, which of course is not a mass-produced item for manufacturing but a highly specialised system. Sound familiar? Early on they identify the supply chain partners that will be needed to supply key componentry, then they co-invest, including helping them use Rolls’ credit rating to back smaller suppliers’ need for investment. Then they design, in a safe small-scale environment, before prototyping and large-scale testing follows. Plan plan plan…. It was music to the ears of those promoting collaboration, integration, early involvement as the changes we need to deliver innovation and change in our sector. I have heard the future – within ten years let construction be the people giving exactly this talk not Rolls Royce, I tweeted. NO! Within ONE year, was Brendan Morahan’s riposte!
How to make an industry attractive
After lunch we turned to another major cry of recent times in our sector. Tim McLoughlin, the only head of social media for Saatchi and Saatchi (so far!), gave some excellent examples such as Skoda, British Gas and KLM. He had a five-step process to share:
- Humanity – speak like a person
- Honesty – confront myths or issues directly
- Partnership – get other people to tell your story
- Mirror – behave like your target audience
- Target – be in the same place as your target audience
Just as Murray had done, he advocated communication in the language of the audience, not our own. And also honesty, people know about our shortfalls, so don’t shy away from them. Tim came into his own in Q&A when people put some of our challenges including recruitment of women, and engaging careers advisor, teachers and parents in the messaging to attract young people.
Shout about social value
Kay Allen OBE, Trading for Good, backed Tim up with a focus on social value and a platform for highlighting the apprenticeship, charitable and other good that companies do, and shouting about these to the wider world. Considering social value can improve your business performance, she convincingly argued, and actually left me with the thought that in this area at least, construction is doing quite well with quantifying the amount of apprenticeships and local employment provided by our projects.
What does this all mean to construction
We asked Andrew Wolstenholme OBE, CEO of Crossrail and new chair of the Construction Leadership Council, to respond on behalf of our sector as it were. Andrew was able to illustrate that many of the issues are being tackled in his leading programme, and Crossrail’s innovation academy, television profile and gender balance are all years ahead of the wave in this regard.
Of course Andrew authored our own ‘Never waste a good crisis’ report in 2009, and government’s mandation of BIM is an example where we didn’t ‘waste’ the recession, what the conference showed was that we have to get started with big data and open data, and then who knows what transformations may await us.
Andrew’s final contribution was a cute video showing the build-up of dots moving along sections of the Crossrail map, up to 24 per hour, with an irritatingly catchy tune. I still cant get it out of my head!
The final speaker was Antonio as co-chair of G4C. Some simple slides neatly summed up the lessons of the day, and the benefits of our newest work programme on Open Data: Change, World, ?, Open, Digital, Collaboration, Constructing, Excellence
All that remained was to thank all the speakers, organisers, sponsors and especially Ben and Antonio for a truly inspirational day, and to wish everyone a safe journey home…. or to the Lord’s Tavern which is where Knauf, G4C and a few others found ourselves having a well earned beer within the hour and starting to reflect on the inspirational brain food served up earlier. Cheers!