Innovators shine in the dotBE den

Six construction innovators pitched their ideas in the dotBE den at the Construction Innovation Summit last month. Chair of the discussion Alex MacLaren, an assistant professor at Heriot Watt University, and education lead for dotBE, explains the aims of the event.

What was the aim of the event and what did you aim to achieve?

The Construction Industry Summit is an important date in the industry calendar, and provided a brilliant opportunity for dotBE to speak to an audience of the more senior movers and shakers in UK construction. We wanted to highlight to these people the potential value of an open network of younger industry members, and showcase the initiatives that are already emerging from that network.

dotBE aims to be a platform for open innovation: an important dimension of that role is “signal boosting” the best ideas that our members bring to the table: and that’s what we were doing at CIS.

dotBuiltEnvironment is still very young, and this was one of our first public outings on this scale. Our primary aim was to use this event to launch what we’re calling out “Innovate” stream: a partner to the “policy” stream which was in the limelight a couple of months ago as we launched our Global BIM report for the Scottish Futures Trust.

We hoped this event would help raise the profile of dotBE, but most importantly, the awareness of the great things our members are already doing in the construction industry. Some of the presenters were also looking for potential partners – very much like the Dragons’ Den setup we referenced in the event title!

Did the event achieve this?

A resounding yes. Business cards were exchanged between several people, and many promises of further engagement. There was a real buzz around hackathons, and indeed all the projects looking at collaborative working in all its guises. The Q&A session was great and the eventual winner, Dwight Wilson’s “Careers Mapping Project” was really grilled!

There was also a stir on twitter about the audacity of some of the questions asked by Thomas Michael Wallace (Being Brunel Blog) over his “Brunel Test”, of what employers in the industry should be offering to land the best talent. Great stuff.

What were the standout innovations?

Tricky question. There were standout “themes”, and collaborating was a huge one. Much of the conversation afterwards hinged around how to co-innovate between generations in a company or industry. The audience seemed to think that Jennie Hardi’s work with students at LSBU could be linked into the competitor “Hack_Construct” presentation.

There were lots of questions for Ksenia Zhitomirskaya after she is explained how Slack (other messaging platforms are available) had been key in her live demo experiment.

Why is it important for construction to innovate?

Millenials have a totally different perspective on the industry, and our processes and techniques, and are aware of a completely different set of tools. We’re not trying to say these tools or perspectives are always better than those offered by the more experienced generation, but the accelerated pace of change of (particularly digital) technologies in the last decades means this perspective is not shared by most of the senior members in industry.

Bosses simply don’t know all the options when looking at a problem now: they need someone clued-in to emerging tech to help translate the changes they want to make to a business. Smart firms realise this, and have younger brains working alongside experienced colleagues to innovate. 

You even hear of “reverse mentoring” these days, which is hugely valuable to both parties. But too often, entrenched hierarchies mean that the ideas of the younger generation don’t get heard, and senior colleagues don’t have a chance to see how those innovations could help them. What a huge loss.

Where next?

Many, if not all of the projects we hosted got a boost. I’ve heard from Darren Lester, of Hack_Construct, that he’s picked up another two enquiries for events since he presented their Hackathon in the den. Jennie Hardi is looking at a potential research project funding proposal with Teambuild UK, and the uni picked out her project after seeing our CIS event coverage on social media, which was a big boost. And Tom’s “Brunel Test” is planned to go live as a real-time test for industry feedback, any day.

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