The latest Autodesk UK press release claims an independent survey it commissioned reveals that IT – and construction collaboration technologies, in particular – will be the key to the success of the UK house-building industry (a sector currently plagued by a host of uncertainties, not least a dramatic drop in demand – see Brian Green’s recent Brickonomics posts, for example).
Autodesk’s Hard Hats and Laptops survey (no details on the size or composition of the sample) found that, despite a “typically cautious” approach to new technologies, 71% of respondents stated that IT was key to both their business and delivery to customers. The survey also uncovered inefficiencies:
- one third of senior and middle management did not know how much their companies spent on tendering (and “46% of tendering activity costs over GBP5,000 per project”)
- a quarter of senior management said that printing and postage costs amounted to £30,000 annually, while 31% did not know how much it was costing their company
- 33% of middle managers had serious concerns about poor collaboration between suppliers and contractors (“42% of firms of 2,500 employees or above cited collaboration as one of their top three business issues”)
- 48% of senior managers had major concerns about lengthy planning processes.
The survey revealed low awareness of collaboration solutions such as Autodesk Buzzsaw (and only a third of those aware of collaboration solutions had ever used them), with most (99%) still heavily reliant on email to manage information flows, despite the limitations recognised by 47% of respondents, and with 41% having issues managing the control of information, internally and externally.
No surprises in this survey, then. What it shows is a lot of, as yet, untapped demand for collaboration solutions in the housing sector – just as there is across great swathes of the UK AEC industry.
Challenging time to sell collaboration to house-builders
Like most sectors of the UK construction industry, the house-building sector is highly fragmented with a large number of small and medium-sized businesses. At the volume end of the market, several of the larger house-builders, property developers and housing associations do use construction collaboration platforms (Crest Nicholson, Ballymore, Dandara and Land Securities feature among [my employer] BIW’s customers, for example, 4Projects’ customers include John Laing Partnerships and Sanctuary Housing, and East Thames Housing Association and Notting Hill Housing are CTSpace customers), particularly for their larger-scale developments – which will often incorporate significant infrastructure works and require coordination of other non-housing elements (eg: retail, commercial, community buildings, landscaping, etc).
However, technology take-up has been much slower in other parts of the sector, partly a consequence, I think, of the relatively small scale and simplicity of many of their housing development projects. Here, house-builders may feel that a collaboration platform would be overkill for a small scheme involving just a few units of relatively simple design, constructed by a supply chain that doesn’t change much from project to project, with most of the team used to working with each other. A vendor operating in this market needs, first, to deliver a simple solution that can be readily adopted with minimum fuss by all parts of the supply chain, and then to show that the benefits (cost and time savings, quality improvements) of better information management outweigh the costs of changing the way the team has got used to communicating. This will be a difficult task at a time when house-builders, already operating at low margins, are reading headlines like:
- Batten down the hatches here is a construction recession warning
- Bleak Bank figures confirm downward trend in homebuyers
- Is the UK following the US into a housing market collapse?