Thinking differently: seizing opportunities in a new world

Steve McGuckin

Global Head of Client Programmes

Whether operating within an overstretched or over-reliant market, there is one key commonality – the need to think differently. Fresh perspectives and strategies must be at the heart of forward-planning for organisations seeking success in the newly divided global real estate sector.


One of the key findings of this year’s international construction market survey is that two distinct types of markets have emerged. These can be defined as ‘overstretched’ – experiencing capacity constraints and labour shortages, such as London and New York City, and ‘over-reliant’ – who have suffered weak GDP growth due to oversupply of commodities and weakening demand from China, such as Australia and Brazil.

For both market types, organisations need to start thinking differently if they’re to deal effectively with the challenges of skills shortages and rising costs of construction, or use the time wisely during the downturn for when demand returns.

Against this backdrop, the construction industry has been slow to modify practices and adopt technologies to improve efficiency and productivity.

So how can owners and managers of real estate projects change their perspective and take practical steps to make sure they’re not an obstacle to their own success?

“While advances in technology like BIM and modular construction can help, efficiency improvements of the scale required will only be achieved if the industry evolves – and develops leaner, more collaborative ways of working across the supply chain.” Steve McGuckin Global Head of Client Programmes

Redefining relationships with the supply chain

Do you look for cost performance in other parts of the supply chain? Construction is the final part of a long process that brings together raw materials, manufacturing design, logistics and labour. How well do you know the processes and elements that make up your supply chain? Are there opportunities to cut out expensive manual processes on site in favour of automated and less costly processes in a factory? Can you get close enough to drive change in the manufacturing, production and logistics areas where the biggest opportunities to improve cost performance are often found?

Changing your relationships with suppliers can completely transform project delivery, helping you eliminate waste and increase efficiency. From intelligent category management to lean construction, finding a way to better engage with the entire supply chain is a vital step on the path to delivering better results.

Resetting cost performance measures

Are you measuring what you should be measuring? Redefining your cost measures to work in terms of outcomes can provide invaluable insight. Designing buildings based on cost per occupant instead of cost per square metre is a good example of this sort of redefinition, and it’s an approach that can yield useful insights.

The key is to measure. If you can’t measure, you can’t improve, and if you measure well, you might find new ways to improve you never thought possible.

Learning from other sectors: thinking differently at Anglian Water

“At Anglian Water we constantly focus on affordability. By taking a new approach over our last decade we have successfully driven a 30 percent improvement in cost performance. We achieved this by adopting an intelligent alliancing model and collaborating with the supply chain, while never losing sight of cost performance and the potential of data and technology.”

Jason Tucker, Head of Integrated Supply Chain, Anglian Water

Using data to unlock performance

Are you making the most of the vast amounts of data available to ensure you are getting the best performance for your projects?

This information can help facilitate design, build and operations improvements, driving project and programme performance and guiding future objective decision-making. But ‘big data’ brings challenges, and needs to be managed well to reap these benefits.

Using data to its full potential depends on being able to understand and process the information effectively, choosing the right tools to achieve your objectives. An example of an industry getting it right is sport, where integrated reporting and data captured from player activity is helping enhance performance. Taking the lead from motorsports, which was among the first to use telemetry, video footage and climate data, rugby and football have now adopted similar approaches and are seeing improvements. Construction needs to look towards industries like these to be smarter with big data and unlock performance.

Embracing technology

Technology and innovation offers great opportunities to improve, even if the industry finds it challenging to adopt. If you’re not up to date with the latest developments you could be missing out on ways to fundamentally change your business for the better.

Are you designing in 2D rather than 3D? What about 4D, which adds a time element to the design process? Have you looked at the benefits that technology like building information modelling (BIM) can deliver by instantly sharing measurement, quantities, designs and changes between builders, architects and suppliers?

New construction technology can be just as much about how things are built as it is about what gets built. Technology can also help address issues such as skills shortages. By adopting innovative methods you can automate processes, which can help minimise waste and increase productivity.

Never waste a good crisis

Often a downturn in the market provides an opportunity for a fresh perspective. Strip out the waste and polish the process. Plan for a better future by having the skills and technologies available for when the market improves again.