With a steep rise of interest in digital innovation within the construction industry, Collingwood’s Head of Building Products & Construction, Mark Goldsmith, was fascinated to hear more from someone immersed in the technologies uptake within the industry.
Having trained and served within Building Services and Quantity Surveying in the earlier part of her career, for the past two years Amy Hubbard has been working with a construction technology start-up as their CMO and now provides consultancy on marketing and comms strategy and content creation to the industry. Here’s what they discussed:
Mark: Construction specific technology advancement is still fairly young in its journey of adoption. What platforms are out there and what do they provide to construction firms?
Amy: The scope of technology available is so wide, from design stage to post construction, real-time data, instantly accessible from anywhere and fully auditable and permission based.
Design, Planning/scheduling, Financial, including estimating, procurement, tendering, commercial management, Project management, SHEQ, Asset management, Logistics, Document and drawing hosting and submittal/approvals.
But limited platforms offer it all and all use different technologies, methodologies and have different capabilities, so it’s imperative to understand the businesses needs and the platforms out there.
The technology may come in a Building Information Model (BIM) where all project data is stored within a digital version of your building or within a Common Data Environment (CDE) that uses a single platform to access all company and project information without the need for a model, alleviating the need for continual emails, manually adapting spreadsheets, waiting on signatures or information, working to the wrong or superseded information. Causing delays, mistakes and costing money.
Some are simply a place to store, share and work on project information in real time, whilst others are using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to interpret project data and make decisions for improvements based upon it. Others will continue in use long after a project ends to serve as digital O&M’s post-construction for asset management and maintenance, even day-to-day building usage.
It’s fascinating stuff.
Mark: And as you have come into a tech business early, to help shape their strategy moving forward, what key advice would you give other marketing leaders who are looking to disrupt a market?
Amy: The market is saturated with technology, therefore I think the first thing would be to bear in mind that the tech won’t be disruptive for long, if at all. Another vendor will be working on the next advancements and as with any tech that stands still it could quickly become obsolete, so understanding the client needs as well as the end users experience and requirements is imperative, talk to your market, understand how they use the software and always continue to R&D, extend features, grow functionality, you NEED to be customer centric and use customer back innovation to continually adapt your product and service to give the most value but in the simplest way.
Have in house construction expertise; the industry issues and challenges, how AEC businesses operate, how projects are run. This information you need to know. Issues with supply chain, issues with skills shortages, initiatives and mandates, increase of off-site and modular, tech trends, government investment. How can you understand your client and their challenges and support them if you don’t know what is happening in the industry, let alone develop a product for them. Building an out the box solution and saying ‘here you go, buy it’ just won’t cut it.
Make sure you’re at a company that truly understands marketing; customer centric, product development, pricing, digital and comms, inbound and outbound, internal and external. Have clear SMART objectives and a strategy to achieve them, understand your market and competitors, THEN think about your resources and tactics. If you end up somewhere that sees marketing as a promotional tool only for lead generation, that write social posts and create sales collateral only then you will struggle and be in an uphill battle. These companies will not survive.
Differentiate yourself, and really define your messaging, your value proposition and USP’s. Every vendor has a ‘solution’ that solves a ‘problem’. What are those pain points and what are the benefits? The number of websites I land on and couldn’t tell you what they actually ‘do’ is frightening.
Target the right market and be specific, creating your comms strategy, content and message specific to each persona at every stage of the buyer's-decision making journey and choose the right platforms/tactic to execute and add value with your content rather than promote. The MD, FD, CTO, site manager, buyer, trades will be in different digital spaces consuming content in a variety of different ways, but all have a part to play.
Tier 1’s have change management teams, BIM experts, big budgets for digital transformation and the time and resources to dedicate to auditing and filling needs, they have lots of data, lots of users and big requirements whereas smaller companies have little support, don’t always know what initiatives they are part of, which software they can access or how to best handle the process, so educate, don’t promote.
Collaboration is about collaborating! Bear this in mind, especially with tech for the SME. Limiting users and pricing per user is the opposite of encouraging working collaboratively, if companies are trying to save money and for example use one user licence for a subbie it will dilute the data, accuracy, auditability and the negate purpose of a platform and ultimately lose its value for the client. Work with others, connect with industry bodies, partner up with other tech offerings, have an open API.
Work closely with sales teams to train and encourage sales teams to understand the benefits of inbound for prospecting, and how they can too be using content and social media to have conversations and build the brand, build trust and themselves. Define the difference between BDM and sales.
Mark: Walking around the likes of Construction Week over the past few years, digitalisation has taken up quite a bit of space and interest. In fact, Construction Tech is now one of the seven dedicated sections. How have you seen the appetite shown by the industry change over the past few years and what do you feel has changed this perception?
Amy: CONSTRUCTION HAS ALWAYS BEEN RESISTANT TO CHANGE, ESP, DIGITALISATION AND FALLS BEHIND ALL OTHER INDUSTRIES ON IT’S UPTAKE. 1990 saw the introduction of CAD; effectively taking construction from the drawing board into a digital format, the resistance was there but now we couldn’t be without it. The 2009 recession drove the uptake and government mandates on BIM to improve and save costs (although the concept was actually introduced in the 90’s, this was the driver). 2017 saw the disaster at Grenfell which led to enquires and a report by Dame Judith Hackitt on quality of materials, installation and fire safety, with government now enforcing all her recommendations, leading us to look into better communication, the real meaning of value-engineering (not cutting costs) and better transparency within our builds, showing of competence and specification of correct products. This has led to initiatives such as the FIS, PPP. Contracts are focusing on collaboration, with NEC3 having transformational effects and NEC4 advanced that to streamline processes and have a provision for BIM. Insolvencies of construction companies at an all-time high, issues with payments, skills shortage in trades, and a loss of appeal in the industry by the younger tech savvy generations has led to business taking stock at how they can improve and stay in the game. Cloud, offline, apps and ease of functionality have made this more accessible. Then 2020 came and COVID 19 hit us, we all know the impacts this has had from sites closing, jobs being lost, economic downturn but this was another push for industry to get a handle on costs and efficiency and adopting better ways of working, ways to adapt to distanced and remote working, will encourage more offsite/modular work and it has led to the Centre of Digital Built Britain (CDBB) and the Construction Leadership Council to look at improvements for integrating BIM and pressure Government to update the mandate with support of industry.
Will it happen again, a second wave, do we know what 2021 brings? This is causing companies to look at how they future proof processes.
Mark: Flipping that, having rolled out a tech platform, what are the main barriers to businesses investing in such technology and how can customers overcome these?
Amy: Knowing what’s out there and how it improves business. It’s accessibility/affordability. Mentality/staff buy in. The onboarding process and data migration. We all know that technology can benefit our business, but we also know it can be challenging to introduce due to staff mindset, as change in processes and even roles can elicit resistance. Teams may be resistant to change for several reasons so identify staff who this will apply to before taking on a platform so you can offset before you get to the point of training by involving them in decision making, give reassurance on adoption, explain how is it beneficial to their role specifically as well as the business, buddy up the less IT literate with those that are more so. Spend time using tools such as capterra or speak to other firms about what they are using, have a clear idea on budget and if you will need a platform that grows with you. Currently BIM is only a requirement for public sector/high rise and is misunderstood as another costly and time-consuming process and of no benefit to private sector, so educating regarding benefits and savings of BIM and other tech versus it being another I to dot and T to cross. Finally fragmentation of the industry and initiatives and knowing what to follow can confuse.
Overcoming these and supporting implementation is down to the tech companies to aid in the change management, and educate, once a company has dived into research and knows what they want, the vendor should support in the rest.
Mark: 2020 has certainly accelerated the industries take up of such technology. What areas and practices do you feel the enforced lock down have impacted positively on the industry moving forward?
Amy: Industry has been forced to future proof by looking at best practices and improving processes across the board. Supply chain management, cost control, planning, day-to-day running of jobs, not just for how we continue to work seamlessly from anywhere, office, site, home. It has caused the industry to pull together with the CDBB and CLC introducing steps to recovery and leaning on the government to update the BIM mandate with the support of companies. Software vendors are supporting business by offering free trials, payment holidays, extra training, data-migration and onboarding. The main issue I foresee now, that in an industry that works on already small margins, with MC leaning on smaller players for discounts and increased retention rates that we need to price better to accommodate loses and ensure they aren’t working for nothing or breakeven and thus avoid facing further insolvencies or working for free.
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