Construction’s Communications Conundrum

Jody Kennedy, chief technology officer at Olive Communications, explains why it is time to start looking at communications in the supply chain

The Gherkin, the Prawn, the Cheesegrater. At first glance this seems like a bizarre shopping list. Add to that the Shard and the ‘Walkie-scorchie’ and it becomes clear that we are actually listing the most eye-catching additions to London’s cityscape of the last decade. According to New London Architecture, more than 230 new towers are currently in construction or being planned to join them.

Britain is a global leader in commercial and residential construction and the constantly evolving London skyline is just one symptom of a booming industry. It employs 2.9 million people and annually contributes £90 billion to the UK economy.

This is a great time for British construction and things seem only set to improve. According to the UK government’s 2013 report Construction: 2025, the global construction market is going from strength to strength, with predicted growth of over 70% in the next 11 years, allowing plenty of opportunities for construction firms and their supply chain.

The missing link in the supply chain

The British construction industry has had some bad PR due to overspending, missed deadlines and incidences of theft and accidents – calling into question its financial and project efficiency, and even its risk management.

But construction is burdened, more so than many industries, by an incredibly complex and widely dispersed supply chain of contractors and sub-contractors, creating seemingly unavoidable opportunities for inefficiencies to creep in.

Construction output grew at the fastest pace for eight months this September, according to the latest Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI survey. Despite these very positive signs, growth in new orders and employment slowed to a four month low while the quality of subcontracted work deteriorated.

The need for sustainable growth is apparent – this recent sharp rise in output has put a strain on the supply chain with suppliers and the workforce struggling to keep up with demand. Overworked, underskilled and unsupported tradesmen make mistakes that can be financially crippling for construction firms.

The construction industry needs a golden thread to tie all the disparate parts of this industry together and alleviate enough pressure to allow for growth. But in order for this growth to be smooth, the construction industry must overcome its biggest challenge.

A new platform to build upon

As individuals, we readily embrace technology to help streamline our personal lives: online banking, productivity apps, instant messaging services and social media. This approach is rapidly bleeding into our work too. However, of all the UK’s industries, construction has not been at the forefront of this movement. It’s time for a new approach to communications in construction.

With innovations from intuitive document management to powerful and durable smartphones now is the time for construction companies to re-evaluate the role of technology in their business.

The modern tradesman is just as comfortable interacting with a touch-screen as they are with more traditional tools of the trade. To not exploit this is to miss a big trick. Automated systems now exist which can track health and safety compliance live on site, coordinate contractors, track deliveries in real time, communicating issues instantly to a wide network and sharing best practice at the touch of a button.

Integrating a more sophisticated approach to communications technology into the construction business will make consolidating the currently dispersed workforce much easier; closely monitoring issues that arise and addressing them instantly, while also allowing for greater managerial control and assessment.

The industry is growing and it must keep up with the pace of change or risk coming unstuck.

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