It’s time to dismantle construction industry silos

It’s time to dismantle construction industry silos

June 3, 2019

By David Chandler, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University and Principal, CE Advisory.
In my keynote address at the Frame Australia Conference in Melbourne I will be discussing the possible scenarios that may define the Australian construction industry by 2030. 

As a starting point I will be breaking down the hype that has been advocated for nearly 20-years by those on the Construction 4.0 band wagon. I will be seeking to identify areas where there has been viable industry transformation.

Our industry is at a major pivot point. There are so many agendas. It’s clear that the Australia community have prioritised the economy, jobs and the environment pretty well in that order. 

The construction industry will need to reshape its narrative to show how it will contribute. One of the biggest challenges is to focus on outcomes not processes. 

The construction tech narrative has broadly failed to demonstrate its case for change - because this tech is not showing up in ways that will contribute to creating new enterprise and employment opportunities. 

I believe that understanding these new enterprise and construction formation typologies is a first step in shaping a response to how our domestic industry may best respond. The most obvious fault lines are those between what happens on and off, construction sites. 

Once understood more viable industry capability needs will be able to be mapped and organised. A challenge in Australia is that the transference of northern hemisphere business models will not necessarily succeed here. 

And nor will it be necessary for traditional construction methods to fully submit to the more industrialised alternates that we see elsewhere. It will however be necessary for construction to be performed smarter and more efficiently by all.

The other reality is that construction will never return to be the same as in the past. I hear architects and engineers lamenting the days when they were the dominant specifiers and overseers of the industry. 

Some even lament the days when there were 'clerks of works' and when local governments were the seat of all compliance and regulatory governance. 

That was perhaps possible when one procurement model fitted all. It may have been possible when there was at least the prospect of a designer leading the production of a full suite of design documents that were suitable for tender, construction and purpose. But that broad capability has long passed. It may be possible to resurrect this for smaller, less complex projects. 

The industry had hoped that BIM was to be the tool that would make this possible. But alas, the constraints of professional insurance's and a lack of confidence between the professions to provide complete, integrated, compliant project documentation kill this off.

This realisation needs to be at the forefront of the many assertions by engineers and certifiers that, given more intervention by them the industry's challenges may be remedied. The reality is that while their inputs are important, they need to be engaged in consistence with the obligations and functions of the standard forms of construction contracts. Otherwise they become external interventions that could confuse lines of accountability. 

And this also flows for the public regulators of construction, who work from state-based jurisdictions that are struggling to cope. There are so many fault lines across the public regulatory domain that is understandable that the community is losing confidence in today's construction industry.

No amount of Building Confidence reports focused on band-aid solutions will work.

These are the reasons why the continued fragmentation of the construction industry holds it back. These are the reasons why construction's ongoing performance and avoidance of the transformation journey all must take, will affect construction jobs. 

The work-around for increasing construction cost, falling productivity, mediocre innovations and the directionless chaos that is permitted in the vocational and university sectors, is looking beyond silos. 

Its right that the Australian public want the government to prioritise the economy and jobs. There is no reason why most of the many industry agendas cannot have a meaningful role to play. 

And the environment is not lost in all of this. Systemic construction transformation that leads to less waste and lower embodied carbon are entirely compatible pieces of the puzzle.
David Chandler will present in the opening session "Building the future" at Timber Offsite Construction at Crown Promenade Melbourne on June 17.


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