The construction industry has the opportunity to undergo radical reform by embracing data transparency, says The 55 Group chief executive Gerard Toplass.
Progressive conversations are taking place across the construction industry at the moment, and we are on the precipice of something revolutionary unfolding – something that we must embrace and lean into, not shy away from.
For too long, competition within the supply chain has restricted industry betterment and hindered progress on topics such as health and safety, productivity, SMEs, skills and training, as well as the green agenda.
This can all change, though. The industry is in a position to much more easily share insights and change a culture currently grounded in secrecy.
“There is often a reticence to try new things because of comfort in the familiar and fear of failure.”
Construction businesses are often quick to try to gatekeep and protect their data. They predominantly make decisions based only on their own information, fostering a one-dimensional approach and ultimately slowing everything significantly. This combines unfavourably with slow-to-change attitudes and an industry full of archaic industry bodies.
When speaking to the oldest generation within construction, there is often a reticence to try new things because of comfort in the familiar and fear of failure. It is ironic that often these people, who tend to sit in more senior positions, are turned to first to drive innovation when it is not their nature to come up with the new ideas.
This attitude and approach will prove hard to change independently. As it stands, one business attempting to change the status quo will be a drop in the ocean, whereas collectively the industry can create a sea change.
The landscape makes it especially important for us to change as one or rely on a more powerful force to implement advancement – though the latter is hopeful thinking in the UK.
In the 1950s, the aviation industry was rife with accidents and widely recognised as an unsafe industry. Different airlines and organisations collaborated in response to the problem and eventually created the black box as a solution.
This invention has led to a seismic reduction in accidents. But more important, it thrived on an open culture based around continuous improvement and data sharing. When things do go wrong, anyone in the industry is able to access the information to examine where things can be improved. This has created continued collaboration coming from a position of learning – not blame.
Technology has democratised a lot of things. Other industries and businesses have experienced massive booms because of their willingness to share data. Just think about e-commerce and the vast quantity of information businesses like Amazon hold on their customers, combining with AI to create the best experiences and value for consumers.
No one should expect everything to be immediately perfect once data is available to all, but solutions will no doubt come about faster with the potential to learn more widely available.
The construction industry has many challenges of its own, like skills and training, and some it shares with other industries, like the climate emergency. Data transparency will allow businesses to support these challenges without the momentary agenda dictating their next move. Instead of acting in response, the industry can work in unison for all to see and learn from.
Asking the right questions
“We must ensure that we are asking the right questions on how to use data to influence changes.”
Nobody in the industry would say they don’t want to see positive change, but we need to work together towards the same means. This means recognising the culture change necessary from the top down of every organisation and promoting a willingness to become involved.
We are currently all recording data relating to our work on hundreds of separate, siloed databases – and it’s 100% certain that efforts are being more than doubled, trebled, or quadrupled. Interconnectivity can be achieved through technology.
The construction industry is essentially dragging hundreds of years of experience behind it like an anchor, rather than using it as a platform for learning. We must ensure that we are asking the right questions on how to use data to influence changes when it comes to productivity, profitability, processes, and sustainability.
Innovation will be encouraged and embraced, led by the true innovators focusing on shaping tomorrow. They could realistically come from anywhere if data is openly shared.
Gerard Toplass is group chief executive at The 55 Group – the parent organisation for national framework provider Pagabo, risk, management and compliance software company Sypro, social value specialist Loop, and digital-first training platform Tequ.
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