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Growing pains: construction’s communications conundrum

According to industry reports, it would seem that the construction industry is in the midst of a new golden era.

The Markit/CIPS Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) surged to the highest level of growth since 2007 in September, while the latest Construction Products Association Autumn Forecasts predict growth of 23 per cent by the end of 2018. Construction 2025, which looks even further ahead, suggests that this figure will rise to over 70 per cent in the next 11 years.

But alongside this good news, the latest Markit/CIPS survey also suggests that the quality of subcontracted work has suffered in recent months. Significant risks to the industry clearly remain, including the scarcity of labour and materials, as well as the complex and widely dispersed layers of contractors and subcontractors that make up the construction industry.

Poor communications and documentation often lead to overspending, missed deadlines and incidences of theft and accidents combined with the ever increasing risks that have previously blighted the industry concerning business continuity. Almost half of construction sites fail to meet basic health and safety requirements (according to the Health and Safety Executive), leaving companies exposed to hefty fines and costly project delays.

With these lingering issues, the question must be asked – can UK construction sustainably keep up with demand and how?

Something’s gotta give

The need for sustainable growth in construction is apparent – the recent sharp rise in output has put a strain on the supply chain.

Overworked, underskilled or unsupported tradespeople using untested equipment are a recipe for disaster. HSE issued more than 10,000 notices between 2013 and 2014 – a 14 per cent increase on the previous year, with some fines exceeding £400,000 including costs. Suffice to say, incidents as serious as this have the potential to sink a business.

“While construction demand continues to grow, businesses operating in this sector must ensure that they are scalable to meet unprecedented growth patterns”

But while construction demand continues to grow, businesses operating in this sector must ensure that they are scalable to meet unprecedented growth patterns.

Without progress, and with legislative changes expected to see construction risk management change in 2015, it seems inevitable that unprepared businesses will become more exposed.

Work is a thing you do, not a place you go

With the increasing popularity of online banking, instant messaging services, productivity apps and social media, we readily embrace technology to help streamline our personal lives, but very few businesses encourage their employees to work the way they live.

This is especially true in the construction industry where communications technology has seen little advancement beyond more durable phone cases in the past decade or so. It’s time for a new approach to communications in construction and for firms to embrace new technology in order to increase standards and efficiency.

With easily accessible innovations from intuitive document management, project management and training tracking apps to powerful smartphones, the time is ripe for construction companies to re-evaluate the role of technology in their business.

Automated systems which can track health and safety compliance live on site, coordinate contractors, track deliveries in real time, communicating issues instantly to a wide network and sharing best practice at the touch of a button will circumvent many of the issues facing the industry today and allow for a smoother path to growth.

With financial and project efficiency under the microscope and a solution within such easy reach, it is time for the construction industry to put its house in order so that it can make the most of the opportunities at its fingertips.

Jody Kennedy is chief technology officer at Olive Communications

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