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Can you absorb? Industry innovation depends on it

Construction is often said to be an industry that is behind the curve when it comes to innovation and adopting new technology.

Some might argue that this is an unfair perception, but there’s usually some truth buried in stereotypes – and this one is no different.

This week I attended the annual conference of ARCOM, the Association of Researchers in Construction Management, in Manchester.

Among the many and diverse topics that were presented and discussed by the academics, ranging from the impact of Brexit on construction workers to the business case for Chinese contractors working in the UK, one session covered innovation and continuous improvement in construction.

Soaking it all up

Here, Kate Lawrence of the University of Manchester presented a paper examining absorptive capacity as a basis for construction innovation.

For those unfamiliar with the term (as I admit I was beforehand), Ms Lawrence described absorptive capacity as “the ability of a firm to recognise the value of, assimilate and commercially exploit new, external information and is a strong indicator of a firm’s ability to innovate”.

”It’s all well and good showing off the latest new gadget or gizmo, but radical change has not quite come to fruition”

The paper also said that “the absorptive capacity of a firm plays a crucial role in determining the firm’s innovation performance”.

It went on to state that studies had led to an accepted wisdom that the construction industry’s innovation performance is hampered by a relatively weak absorptive capacity, especially when compared with other industries.

Radical change limited

The industry’s transient nature and project-based approach to work has often been blamed for this – but Ms Lawrence’s research will aim to try to capture some of the ‘intangibles’ associated with absorptive capacity, particularly beyond the bounds of a project.

It’s an interesting question, and one that is particularly relevant to those working in the areas of technology and innovation within the construction sector.

It’s all well and good showing off the latest new gadget or gizmo, and making incremental improvements, but the radical change suggested by Latham, Egan and even Construction 2025 has not quite come to fruition.

The industry is getting there – but its absorptive capacity certainly still has room to improve.

Award-winning technology

Entries for the Construction News Specialists Awards 2017 close in just one week.

This year, we have a new category for Technology Supplier of the Year, as well as our popular category recognising BIM Excellence.

Both aim to recognise different aspects of technological innovation in construction, so if you’re a specialist contractor or technology supplier, don’t miss out on your chance to be part of the only national awards for specialist contractors in the UK, and get in front of our judging panel of leading main contractors and industry experts.

For more info on how to enter, completely free, click here.

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