General Construction 1,231 views May 20, 2019

With the construction industry in need of a widespread culture change and a chain of responsibility, who will have responsibility for delivering standards of performance throughout the lifecycle of a building writes Dr Gavin Dunn, Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE)? By looking at both the existing regulatory framework and performance beyond regulations we can gain a clear picture of how we design and construct buildings and how quality can better be managed.

There is a radical and changing set of expectations of what people, business, government and society are looking for out of the built environment. Fundamentally, the industry hasn’t changed much in fifty years. Government has massive expectations in terms of what construction should deliver around climate change, social value and cultural integration within cities; coupled with the treasury’s need for productivity and economic growth.

Homeowners have their own set of expectations and want to be comfortable in their own homes while there are also health drivers to consider. Technology and the range of materials related to the improvement of building performance have also improved considerably in the last 25 years, but sadly the industry has yet to embrace what digital transformation can offer.  All these things are being layered to create massive opportunity as well as considerable missed expectations for our sector. 

As an industry we are still all too often focused on delivering building regulations as a performance standard, but expectations are way beyond that. The sector is geared up to deliver the lowest capital cost at a single point in time, but this value conversation rarely goes beyond the completion of the initial build. There are clear financial benefits to end-users, owners, occupiers and investors by not looking at lowest capital costs upfront, but the best lifecycle value. In commercial real estate, high-end markets, including central London, most buildings are built to much higher performance standards and as a result have a better fundamental economic return and the ROI (return on investment) can be tremendous through higher rents, lower running costs and higher residual values. 

Asset value

There needs to be a cultural shift away from lowest capital cost, but unless a client’s behaviour changes, professionals will always cow-tow to getting the work. The clients don’t spend the money because the market won’t put a value on it. The flipside is the market will not put a value on it because it does not trust they will get the outcome. One of the reasons they don’t trust the outcome is that it is not the norm and no one is doing it. Therefore, there is no danger to prove the benefit, this creates a vicious circle.

Standards compliance, by definition, engenders and builds trust in outcomes and the confidence a certain level of performance will be achieved. Consider compliance as more than building regulations; it is compliance against a range of standards that meets the end-user’s needs. It is designing to a high performance and structured around building what we design. We need to be designing with the end-user in mind and having the discipline to check the variations and documentation before handing it over so that the future value isn’t lost.

Enabling quality is, therefore about, the critical flow of information between the different parties over the lifecycle of the project and the building. It’s also where the digitalisation of that process becomes an enabler to drive quality. Information must be independently validated and needs to belong to the asset, not the individual or organisations.

Competency of professionals

In a fragmented and siloed construction world, there needs to be an awareness which is much broader than the technical aspects. Sadly, people either don’t have a viewpoint on the wider impacts such as climate change, future values and health implications, or if they do, they don’t feel empowered to use it in a constructive way. Similarly with the concerns raised by the Hackitt review; many professionals completely agree with the sentiment, indeed many claim to have shared such concerns for years, but have not been able to act on them. 

In terms of the future, the continued professionalisation of construction management, and site supervision, as well as, some of critical trades will be essential, but so will technology with information becoming more of a driver on site. The way buildings are managed and operated, both legally and technically, will change. The greater professionalisation and automation of construction will go hand-in-hand.  Professionals are going to have to demonstrate their skillsets more overtly and more regularly, particularly if they are working on high-risk projects. We, therefore, need to adopt a better process that allows us to identify those individuals who have providence and precision, and the necessary skills to do the job.   

If we can move beyond the single-minded chasing of lowest capital cost to one of best value, then we can begin to see a world where everything else will start to change.  This will create a wide range of opportunities and economic benefits, and professionals will need to respond.  The idea of competence will then have changed.