5 Minutes with Mike Ormesher, Technical Director at TopHat

A couple of years ago Collingwood’s Head of Built Environment, Mark Goldsmith, was in touch with Mike Ormesher when he worked at Saint Gobain / British Gypsum.  Mark recently met up with Mike to discuss his recent roles at TopHat and The British Board of Agrément (BBA) and the added value and collaboration he has been creating from within the construction products world.

Mark: It would seem an obvious choice for you to work with such an organisation as the BBA Mike, what with your strong technical understanding having worked for the likes of Saint Gobain / British Gypsum, Knauf Insulation and CRH Plc, but what was the main reason for stepping outside of the manufacturing industry to work with the BBA?

Mike: I had been approached by BBA on several occasions in recent years, as they recognised my drive for high standards of accuracy and performance. Also, for the collaborative engagements that brought me to the same tables and forums as BBA across many industry, regulatory and policy stakeholder groups. Eventually we both felt that with my knowledge of manufacturing across numerous technologies (including MMC and OSM), my network in the European manufacturing Industry and my position on the BBAs Technical Advisory Board, that I could act as a sort of catalyst or facilitator between the BBA and industry to improve client relations.  Together we grew the propositions required to enhance the strong brand of BBA. I am happy to say that having spent almost 12 months with BBA on contract, developing new products, services and digital management processes for delivery, together with a team of technical and project management experts, we have managed to create this opportunity for change. I am sure that BBA will be presenting these exciting new products and services soon, as announced by the new Chair and the CEO of the BBA recently on the BBA’s website.

Mark: My understanding is that a good chunk of your roles has involved lobbying and working with government to raise standards within manufacturing and installation processes.  As a result of the Hackitt Review you have also been looking at new ways of presenting data. What does that mean exactly?

Mike: The manufacturing industry I know, is not afraid of innovation for all the right reasons, so raising standards is a big part of many organisations DNA. It is in fact a fundamental strategy for differentiation when amidst a hyper-competitive market. However, I am sure it is no surprise that many organisations are now looking to present their data more transparently, whether that be from a technical or marketing perspective. In some countries like Denmark for instance, a country I know very well for its testing and legal guidelines, you can have products taken off the market if you cannot prove a claim or if the presentation is not clear enough for designers and contractors to use the product or system. I have seen that happen in the sustainability arena as an example, where presentation of certain data may be misunderstood. In the UK, the Construction Products Association (CPA) have set up a ‘Marketing Integrity Group’ to carry out a very thorough review of data integrity with a resultant survey of many professionals, that will be published in the Autumn of 2019. Another membership organisation I am affiliated to, the CIOB, have been addressing this issue constantly, with a recent report published called “Improving Quality in the Built Environment”. My conversations from inside and outside of BBA and as a part of the 100% Hackitt lobby, have addressed numerous issues that could be more robustly approached if both transparency and accountability were driven as the major focus areas. This phrase was also coined in the Each Home Counts review that I was also part of. That and who is responsible for what and at what point in the process. Many of these issues are again addressed in the Hackitt Review but not wishing to preach methods that have been more expertly and succinctly delivered in the past, it just means a more collaborative approach to building programmes and clarity of the accountability process. The offsite model now taking hold more progressively, since I started in that sector in the mid 1990’s, offers a much easier way to manage this process, especially with a certification and warranty provision that alliances such as Buildoffsite Property Assurance Scheme (BOPAS) and its affiliates now offer.

Mark: What are the likely benefits to manufacturers and other organisations that work with manufacturers, of presenting data more clearly and robustly?

Mike: The supply chain and the users of many technologies will most definitely benefit from ownership of data and chain of custody management. However, when developing a system, you should at least own the responsibility of how that system is being managed or have a suitable and robust transfer mechanism for giving others that accountability in a transparent way. When people have a responsibility that is both transparent and accountable, behaviours change, more advice is sought, and a more ‘proactive’ chain of custody arises in that process. It’s not a ‘blame culture’ procedure more of an “appreciative inquiry” culture, which is a scientific study area in itself. We should not rely on word of mouth, assumptions or pieces of paper that say ‘approved’ or ‘tested’, when in fact the chain of custody of a system for instance, is extremely complex from design to installation. That system can be added to by others as a continual development process too. The amount of changes that can take place from manufacture, through test, distribution and installation needs a lot of supervision but more importantly, expert knowledge of that journey and process. We then must rely on others to design ensuring consistency and accuracy of data.

We are now hearing the name of ‘Duty Holder’ in that vein but finding people who understand the whole process from manufacture through to installation is not easy, especially across many technologies and building types. Add to that structure, fire, acoustics, energy conservation and exposure to name but a few building physics areas, and the equation you are now looking at is indeed, extremely complex. If we are to understand this equation in its entirety, then we need to have a more open forum for engagement. Going back to the clear aspirations of Sir John Egan, Sir Michael Latham and contracts like PPC 2000, there was a desire to share responsibility and more importantly, learning for accuracy and improvement. The result of companies that embrace that culture, is a much-improved investment in manufacturing and installation control, where return on investment is afforded due to the skills and test programmes that collaborative partners employ. Manufacturers are not afraid of cost and control so long as the journey from the factory gate to the building itself does not impact negatively for that investment payback.

Mark:  Because of your previous positions you are well placed to guide manufacturers in their new product introductions.  Are there common issues you see manufacturers tripping over when introducing new products into the market?

Mike: Having worked for some great internationally placed and recognised companies for most of my career, I suppose I have been spoilt having had so many excellent teams and departments in place for innovation management. However, unless you are an innovation led company, it is extremely rare even in big corporates, to have ready-made teams of people, with multi-skilled experts across many building physics areas, and trained project managers that truly understand or have been exposed to the product development process. Despite the usual things like stage gating, project management skills, activity/task management, governance procedures, P&L management, return on investment ambitions, marketing insight & strategy, customer relations and manufacturing capabilities, you have to be very aware of the changing landscapes surrounding regulations, legislation, standardisation and certainly 3rd party assessment for warranty, insurance and client investment expectations. This is by no means an exhaustive list either as you dig deep into different areas of risk management for approving authorities. This is what is commonly referred to as the Hypercube of Innovation Model for disruptive technologies. Then comes the board or senior management team pressures to get that proposition out in the market as quickly as possible.

The key here is to brainstorm all the areas that need to be managed and to map out the process for all to see. This provides clarity to all and allows the business to deploy the right people to assist in this delivery process. If you don’t have this resource or management control, there are many organisations to support this process, assisting in the delivery of innovation management. This might seem like a cost that you cannot afford to absorb but believe me the cost of getting it wrong can be far higher. Resource costs, wasted time that could have been spent on the business as usual, testing costs and certification fees all mount up very quickly if you are not sure of the proposition you are certifying. I am sure that many new offsite businesses are managing this method of control too with detailed mapping processes from start to finish. Add to that the demotivation of the staff involved that are doing their best to get the result the business seeks, and the brand risk if you make mistakes in delivering the promises, and you will see that it is a truly difficult challenge to get wrong, so mapping is a vital part of the innovation process and you can’t do enough of it in my experience. It at least gives the business a view of ‘as-is’ vs ‘to-be’.

Mark:  How important is it then to ensure an effective innovation mapping process for a new product or system concept as part of stage gate and project management control to achieve the outcome that all stakeholders require? 

Mike: It is not uncommon, for manufacturers to send their ambition(s) to an assessment body for certification, to then find that it has either been rejected or failed to deliver at a certain point.  This in the main is due to a lack of a well-founded brief or insight into how that product or system will behave or interact with other products and systems. There are processes and triggers to try and avoid this, but there is a certain point at which a certification body cannot go passed (at the moment) at the risk of advising a client. Certification bodies cannot share their experiences with manufacturers just because they know a product could fail or could pass if something was tweaked either. They must test, assess and try to certify what is proposed to them as part of UKAS governance protocol and to avoid conflict of interest. The same goes for a test lab. Therefore, it is also fair to say that the certification process is also fraught with complex issues too. Collaboration around innovation practice and management is much needed if there is to be a more efficient delivery mechanism, even before it goes to the building site. As we move into more complex relationships and deliver new MMC type systems, there are a plethora of other organisations that also have their minimum standards too such as NHBC, LABC and indeed ‘expert clients’, so the landscape for manufacturers and certification companies, is a complex one.

My advice here has always been not to use a certification company as a stress test model but to ensure that you fix the ambition, know your market, know your competition, understand the limits and do some investigative testing first to ensure you have a robust proposition. Of course, here I am only referring to a 3rd party assessment process and not a system like BOPAS, which has a different model.

There is a plethora of literature on innovation mapping online and to sit and read it, and try to understand it, will be a big accomplishment for most manufacturers who don’t follow this route already. The latest release of software hitting our screens (almost every day it seems) also provides great opportunities to engage in this mapping process as well as integrated project management and dashboarding tools.

In summary, perfect planning prevents poor performance and never has this been a truer saying than in the innovation arena, especially where acceptance via warranty and certification provision is required as a minimum standard. The longevity of the innovation remains to be controlled with a true collaborative framework where all stakeholders provide transparency and accountability for their part of the final product, the building itself.