Reading PR Week magazine last week, I enjoyed a page of the “top five New Year’s resolutions made by the UK’s comms professionals”. Briefly, these were:
- Survive the credit crunch
- Embrace the digital age
- Win an industry award
- Find a work/life balance
- Invest more in CSR
All pretty laudible, but I think the same five could also be applied to the UK construction market, and perhaps to the construction collaboration technology market in particular. So instead of some 2009 predictions, here are the same five resolutions or hopes for the year but rehashed for the construction technology world (as you might expect, it’s a mixture of industry, corporate and personal aspirations).
1. Survive the credit crunch
This is pretty much a no-brainer in the current financial climate, of course. I have been talking about the potential impact on the AEC technology sector for a year now (it was one of my 2008 predictions), and only last month noted the liquidation of KnowledgeOnline following the sad demise of Pettifer Construction. Like many other UK construction businesses, I expect the leading vendors will be battening down the hatches, trimming unnecessary expenditure and looking more closely at potential customers, projects and their fee proposals (but hopefully not falling into the short-termist trap of bidding suicidally low to win work – all too common in other parts of the construction market apparently); vendors should also bear in mind that their customers may also be more diligent in their selection criteria, bearing in mind the disruption that might be caused if a vendor got into financial difficulties.
One of the PR people interviewed by PR Week said: “Turbulent and challenging times can present great opportunities for fresh thinking“. Let’s hope that survival strategies also extend to some creative thinking by the vendors. I would like to see the vendors and the vendors’ association, the NCCTP (or perhaps better still its parent body Constructing Excellence), promoting the virtues of collaborative working and technology. As I’ve discussed before, there are some strong potential messages, eg:
- the resilience of the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model over conventional ICT (on Saturday, Jeff Kaplan wrote “AMR believes the SaaS market could grow as much as 40% if the economy continues to struggle, while on-premise apps continue to stagnate.”)
- promoting time, cost and efficiency savings when budgets are tight
- building transparency to control spurious claims
- wide take-up of collaboration technologies (if only the vendors could agree a common approach to sharing their user statistics!)
- how collaboration technology is part of the Construction Commitments
- how collaboration technology can support sustainability initiatives, etc
2. Embrace the digital age
Here the PR people talked about turning websites from online brochures into “fully interactive, transparent windows on their organisations”, embracing social media (Web 2.0) and shattering “the myth that digital stuff is something done by boffins in the back room”.
For me, 2008 was a year dominated by a growing awareness of the power of new media, and a corresponding frustration that many construction people remain ignorant or even hostile to new forms of online creativity and collaboration. There was some progress – not least the organisation of the UK’s first AEC-focused ‘unconference’ (Be2camp) in October (see RIBA Journal article; also my Building Web 2.0 awareness post) – but the majority of construction sector organisations (and most of their technology vendors) are lagging behind other sectors in embracing the potential of Web 2.0 tools and technologies.
Even many of those companies that are using construction collaboration technologies (hardly cutting-edge Web 2.0) have simply opted to use them as online filing cabinets or distribution networks – meaning that they have yet to fully realise the benefits of online collaborative working. I’m currently reading Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams’ Wikinomics and my mind is buzzing with ideas about how Web 2.0 approaches could be applied alongside the existing technologies.
In 2009, I hope construction people will look to use these tools more effectively, to build online collaborative networks and helping develop, share and disseminate industry best practice (I am already trying to facilitate this through a continuation of Be2camp-type activities, with a training course in preparation, along with further Be2camp events – potentially in Birmingham and Liverpool? – and a talk on Web 2.0 at the CIMCIG conference next month).
In the meantime, here’s a great introductory guide to social media written by my friend and US construction professional Pam Broviak.
3. Win an industry award
Regardless of the industry sector, awards boost team morale, aid recruitment, motivate staff and promote professional practice in the workplace. As a long-time construction PR and marketing person, I am very conscious of the value of awards, and many construction organisations and publications have their own awards programmes. I am skeptical about the value of some awards – mainly those that appear to be a thin justification for an expensive dinner – but where firms or, better still, cross-company teams have to collaborate to create a powerful and persuasive entry to get short-listed and then do further presentations or interviews to win the judges’ support, all that hard work can seem very worthwhile.
Last week I noticed that Construction News editor Nick Edwards was blogging about his
publication’s slightly revamped awards programme, the Construction News Quality Awards. Last year, client Bovis Lend Lease, working with BIW Technologies [my employer], was a shortlisted finalist in the ‘Excellence in the Use of ICT’ category, and if we can do something similar again in 2009, I would be delighted. The CN awards will be launched later this week.
4. Find a work/life balance
On the BIW blog, SaaStainability.com, I wrote last year about how web-based tools such as construction collaboration platforms that can be used from just about anywhere can benefit those interested in home-working. During a recession in the AEC market, surely such benefits will become doubly important to businesses interested in cutting overheads, retaining key staff and doing their bit for the environment. I’ve met numerous BIW users who find that being able to access all their project-related information via a standard browser cuts needless trips into the office, allows them to work outside normal office hours, etc. Perhaps this is also something that the NCCTP/Constructing Excellence could highlight in its promotional activities?
I certainly find BIW’s flexible working policies and ICT support help me. I don’t have to commute unnecessarily from my London home to the Woking office (a round trip that usually involves 4-6 separate train journeys); I save on rail fares, I’m less tired, I’m more often at home when my kids come back from school, and I often find I get a lot more done without the distractions of background office noise. If I can just get back into the swing of occasionally cycling to or from Woking (when I do go there), my work/life balance would be improved even further.
5. Invest more in CSR
Just before Christmas, I was asked by one of my sales colleagues to help complete a client questionnaire that asked for detail on BIW’s corporate social responsibility policies and practices. While we have all the usual health and safety and environmental/sustainability policies, this was, I think, the first time we had been asked to give more information about CSR as it applied to ethical practice on safe working conditions, minimum wages, etc, both within our company and among our main subcontractors and suppliers. It is an omission I will address.
In 2009, particularly as the credit crunch reveals how our economy is increasingly tied-in to other international markets, organisations need to continually re-assess their CSR approaches (are we investing money, time and effort in the right areas or with the right organisations, should we change emphasis, could we be doing more?). Personally, I hope that the AEC industry doesn’t opt for a short-term fix but remembers that it needs to be around for the long-haul. Even modest investment in CSR now (whether that means environmental projects, charity or academic partnerships, industry or community initiatives) may pay rich dividends once the current recession ends.