Trust as a Prerequisite for Innovation
The engineering and construction industry has witnessed a slower rate of innovation compared to other industries such as aerospace and automotive. In this episode of the WSP Anticipate Podcast, David Kimmerly, Operations Director at WSP Middle East, and Don Ward, CEO of the International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction discuss how trust can help de-risk innovations and create a better environment for their diffusion and growth.
Rethinking the Rules:
Obsession with uniqueness and competition is one of the major impediments to innovation in the construction industry. Trying to always build one-of a kind designs through enticing price-based competitions makes it almost impossible to establish a long-term supply chain that integrates research based improvements and end-user feedback into future projects. Therefore, less emphasis on uniqueness may allow the industry to give more focus to creating innovative solutions that can be implemented several times and of course improved along the way.
Trust as the bedrock for innovation
As technology is continually reducing the mundane of the engineering effort, there will be more focus, in the future, on soft rather than hard skills. The divide between engineering and architecture will eventually collapse and projects will rely mainly on integrated design teams. These potential developments might cause some disruption but will also ensure many benefits including the early involvement of the supply chain in the design process. But the critical factor that underpins the successful ignition and diffusion of innovation will always be trust and collaboration among clients and their supply chains. Don Ward says: “Just because you required a BIM model does not mean that designers and contractors are going to share data. You still see examples where people are reluctant to hand over data for fear of being held accountable for the accuracy of it.”
People are the limiting factor!
The fear of being replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) is and will continue to create considerable resistance to positive change in the construction industry. Many engineers do not realise that AI will not replace them but rather will make them capable of delivering better projects. Hence, fear of technology rather than the lack of it is the problem. David Kimmerly says “It is interesting that it always comes back not to the hard skills and not to the tech, it comes back to the people!”
Challenging the status quo
Commercial frameworks are essential for the construction industry but they can also stifle innovation. Open conversation with clients on profits should happen more often and it should focus on how we can make things work better for the interest of all involved parties. The transactional nature of the dialogue between clients and the supply change has to change into something that is based on trust and mutual benefit. Universities and research partners play an important role in reducing the risks associated with embracing new challenges and implementing new ideas. But again, collaboration between academia and project teams requires collaboration and trust for sharing of data and feedback and for implementation of outcomes.