“The day a computer can lay bricks, is the day I f*** off out of the industry!”
The above words (or a rough approximation of them) were repeated at a meeting of construction marketing people (CIMCIG) I attended on Tuesday evening. The story-teller was agreeing with Construction News editor Nick Edwards that some construction people are, to say the least, sceptical about the value of ICT in the industry; others in the room agreed that such ‘workface’ attitudes were not uncommon.
Paradoxically, this anecdote followed revelations from market research, undertaken for CN, that e-marketing was becoming an increasingly popular and important part of the communications mix for many marketing professionals in the construction industry. Having worked in industry PR and marketing since 1987, I hope that this enthusiasm for IT will quickly spread to other parts of the industry.
Over the past 10 years, I have encountered the ‘techno-phobic’ attitude on numerous occasions. This manifests itself both explicitly (people saying outright that they don’t like or aren’t very good at using computers, or regard them as unnecessary or irrelevant to their work) and implicitly (from people who simply avoid using computers altogether, to those who grudgingly use a computer but refuse to go beyond basic office programs and perhaps a discipline-specific application or two).
In trying to implement construction collaboration technologies, for example, we sometimes encounter resistance from individuals who refuse to use on-screen mark-up tools to comment on drawings, preferring to mark-up paper drawings by hand instead, or who insist on sending emails rather than relaying all communications through a web-based platform. I’ve also heard Luddite-type views refusing to countenance Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions as they aren’t “proper” IT (ie: with hardware and software controlled tightly within the company), or arguing that such tools “over-complicate” things (a view I heard repeated yesterday at Loughborough University by an MSc student with extensive experience as a client-based professional).
Clearly – and echoing Monday’s post – ICT (and, even more so, SaaS) still has some way to go before it is widely regarded as a vital part of working life in the construction industry.
Whether it’s down to ignorance, resistance or simply scepticism, such attitudes are even more sharply evident when it comes to thinking about business use of Web 2.0 tools and techniques. Following my recent post, iSite‘s Martin Brown describes (On Web Awareness) how he conducted a quick straw poll of the audience at a recent event, finding almost nil awareness (his findings on IT adoption on site are also strikingly familiar!). I undertook a similar exercise yesterday in Loughborough. Like Martin, I found about a third of the group used Facebook (all socially), one or two were aware of RSS, but there were no ‘Tweeters’ or bloggers.
There are some construction blogs (even a few construction IT blogs), some construction Twitter users, a few discussion forums, a handful of AEC groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, the odd Wiki or two, and there’s even been an industry-specific ‘unconference’ (Be2camp 2007, of course!), but such activities are currently few and far between, and – to take blogs as an example – construction blogs are by no means as common as blogs in other industry sectors. As I drove home last night, I began to wonder if there is something of the chicken-and-egg about this. To build online AEC communities, you need AEC people to network online, but they are not going to network online unless there are relevant communities for them to become part of.
Perhaps this is a challenge/opportunity for construction PR and marketing people to tackle? Judging from the CN research, their apparent enthusiasm for e-marketing tools at the moment seems focused on raising brand awareness, disseminating marketing messages as widely as possible, creating sales leads and driving traffic to their websites (it was freely admitted, for instance, that investing in search engine optimisation could deliver some tasty statistics to dazzle the board). With the exception of PR (mainly disregarded in the research) and some direct marketing, there did not – on the face of it – appear to be much appreciation of engaging with or creating dialogues with their various target stakeholder groups. And yet, this is where some businesses in other industries are putting a lot of effort to try and build brand loyalty, elicit regular feedback, etc. I will be returning to this theme again as I develop my material for a presentation at the CIMCIG conference in February; and, if any construction marketing people want to debate the issues with others in this field, feel free to join Be2camp‘s recently-created ConMarcoms 2.0 group.
Related 2008 posts:
- Relevance – not sheep! (19 September)
- How web 2.0 friendly is AEC ICT? (24 June)
- Construction and Web 2.0 (6 June)
- Web 2.0 and construction collaboration (17 March)
Update (28 November): I attended the Amplified08 Network of Networks unconference yesterday at NESTA in London, finding 150+ passionate Web 2.0 people debating a wide range of technology-related issues. I was struck that much of the debate in one of the sessions I attended focused on how people engaged with existing technology rather than creating yet more tools (reminiscent of my own view that successful collaboration is 80% people and processes and 20% technology).
Amplified08 is the first of a series of quarterly events that are intended to build to a big event in 2010. I wanted to get involved at a personal level and also to wave the flag for Be2camp. With the built environment and its related architecture, engineering and construction professionals playing such a pivotal role in delivering a more sustainable society (and with the sector comprising approximately 10% of GDP), I would like to see more involvement of AEC people in this movement.