In February 2019, in partnership with Construction Week, JPC released our White Paper ‘Challengers in Construction – what can Construction marketers learn from technology?’. It now seems a paper of some prescience, with the Global pandemic being the rocket fuel to some of the paper’s then insights.
We highlighted the slowness of change and adaption in the Construction industry as a source of potential competitive advantage.
We specifically highlighted in the White Paper:
Agility of the Partner EcoSystem
A belief held by several contributors was that Construction was not effectively leveraging agility in the Supply chain to prosper. Like the Tech sector, equal recognition afforded to Partners is critical, we believed then and believe even more so now, to proper innovation.
Has the resilience of your Partner Ecosystem – now highlighted by the Pandemic-ever had such a direct bearing on your ability to operate and/or share price?
We highlighted as crucial knowing your customer needs inside and out, and ability through the power of data (smart buildings being just the start) to demonstrate an evidence-based approach to innovation. Vital to increase the likelihood of taking a traditionally ‘rational decision based’ industry such as construction, along an evolutionary journey.
At a time of extreme uncertainty with human behaviours changing before our very eyes, can we ever be close enough to truly understand our now more distant customers at the end of multiple Zoom calls?
Experience over product
We urged the Construction industry to consider outcomes from a customer’s end users’ ever-changing needs, as opposed to the traditional ‘how we always have done things round here’ mindset.
In the last 6 weeks the question ‘more central city office space anyone?’ may be answered rather differently by your clients. Gartner research recently highlighted that in an age of evermore complex procurement cycles, selling has become all about ‘helping the customer to buy from you’. We can now add “helping the customer to buy from you… with the underlying confidence in the fact you and your partner network are resilient enough to buy from today, and that you’ll still be here tomorrow.”
Innovating to survive and thrive
There are many barriers to change in Construction; and as Angela Ashworth of Skanska remarked, “Construction knows it needs innovation but there are so many layers and challenges around construction”. One of the common pandemic themes is the ruthless ‘stripping of layers’: the UK being governed via Zoom, Teams or similar, a new hospital built in weeks, PLC companies being run from front rooms and so on. Agility to continuously change is now not just a competitive advantage; it is a necessity. It is adaption, it is quite literally now Darwinism in action for survival.
Angela went onto remark on the industry’s ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ attitude, just as the white paper highlighted technology’s opposite approach of ‘fast sprints, rapid time to market and quick results’. It would now appear that technology’s approach is likewise no longer just a choice but a pre-requisite of any industry in the wildly changing world we now – and will-inhabit.
Investing through adversity
The challenge as ever will be the level of investment by Construction companies; not just the cost of investment – challenging in good times let alone in the expected bear market, but the time required for it. What time will the world afford companies? What time can the companies – and their cashflow – afford the world? This may be the tipping point which sees the organisations with the largest resources, strongest innovative ethos and greatest public sector heritage/relationships most likely to survive an inevitable construction culling – or merging – in times to come.
Adapting quickly to a new world
Gary Sharp, a veteran Technology Sales Director ecognized how construction needed to ‘view technology as a differentiator’ and use it, as Johnny Cowlin of Experian puts it, ‘to start with the end user first’. Mckinsey’s MGI Construction Productivity Survey found that 70% of respondents were planning to increase their adaption of digital technology by 2020. One can only wonder what that figure looks like now. Or perhaps we should pose the research question rather differently: who isn’t actively currently adapting technologies to run their construction business? It is no exaggeration to say that without Zoom and Teams and other collaboration platforms, organisations would not currently be able to operate.
The technology to lead
As JPC’s Strategic Director Nick Pearce surmised in the white paper, the opportunity for construction companies to ‘put innovation at the heart of a Construction company’s proposition’ is now. This is a once-in-a-lifetime, non-negotiable opportunity to use technology to lead in areas such as modular design, partner investment, sustainability, safety, efficiency and so on is a ‘land grab opportunity that is happening now’ as Pearce outlined back in February 2019.
With the Global Pandemic now driving societal and organisational changes that would previously have taken 5 years now in 5 weeks, it will be interesting to see who in the Construction industry – as Warren Buffet famously termed it – is “swimming naked when the tide goes out” from an adaption of technology perspective.
“What can Construction learn from technology” has pivoted to “What Construction must learn from Technology”, with literally no grain of time left to waste.