Can construction be considered as innovative in comparison to other sectors
Can construction be considered as innovative in comparison to other sectors?
Construction is in a unique position it is one of a handful of sectors where clients demand value for money (McElligott and Norton 1995) while still having a desire that project managers incorporate innovation into building projects (Murphy et al 2011). Studies have shown that many designers in construction for example have a desire to incorporate innovative designs into their work but are often nervous about doing this because of the negative impact of such innovations on the construction project and the business. This assignment will thus examine if construction can be considered innovative compared to other sectors, and arguing the rationale for the reasons why.
1.0 Recent drivers such as sustainability have promoted innovations in construction projects. But can construction be considered as innovative in comparison to other sectors?
According to Tidd and Bessant (2009), innovation is the successful implementation of creative ideas in way that adds value and better performance. This can involve implementation of new creative technical ideas (product innovation) or creative organizational improvements (process innovation). There have been many studies on innovation in construction (Murphy et al 2011; Aouad et al 2010; Kulatunga 2011; Edum-Fotwe et al 2004). Murphy et al (2011) lists five drivers that determine if there has been an innovation in a construction setting and this includes; newness as well as uniqueness of concept, first use industry wide, ability to alter standard practice, perceived benefits to stakeholders and finally, associated risk.
According to Aouad et al (2010) innovation indeed happens in construction but much of it is ‘hidden innovation’ because of the nature of the construction industry. The nature of construction and building composed of part manufacturing (materials, components, and equipment) and part services (engineering design, surveying, and consultancy) means that the organizational context of construction innovations differs from those in for instance traditional manufacturing. This is the reason why it seems like there is little innovation in construction because much of it remains hidden, co-developed at the project level.
However, statistical data does show that the percentage rate of “innovation active enterprises” in construction sector is 5% lower when compared to the UK benchmark of 60% recorded in 2007 (Kulatunga 2011). According to Kulatunga (2011), it is the project-based nature of construction that is also major hindrance to innovation such as the temporary site-based operations, topography and the nature of dealing with one-off clients. So even the minimal innovation faces that occurs faces constraints that make innovation more challenging compared to other sectors (Murphy et al 2011; Aouad et al 2010; Hardie 2010; Edum-Fotwe et al 2004; Kulatunga 2011). The nature of construction projects such as the obsession with time and costs restrains innovation and renders it hard for new creative ideas to be implemented. In fact, Murphy et al (2011) further argues that the over-reliance on project control and evaluation techniques, around which construction operates, often serves to hinder innovation.
This is one of the reasons why innovation in construction often ends up failing compared to other sectors. The reason why cost tools and techniques like value management, which seeks to eliminate unnecessary costs that don’t contribute to project objectives in order to achieve value for money (McElligott and Norton 1995) are popular in construction is because of this desire to drive costs down. SO unless attempts to stimulate innovation in construction are driven purely by innovation rather than the project, innovation cannot occur.
Murphy et al (2011) for example identifies three main major underlying constraints of why innovation fails in construction projects. The first constraint was seen as inappropriate culture and context which was attributed to poor support from stakeholders. In other words, innovation fails to take place in construction in cases where there was no strong client “buy in”. The second constraint is poor communication especially, a result of deficient management competencies and thirdly, the lack of an innovation champion responsible for overseeing successful implementation of innovation. This often requires an effective project manager with superb technical as well as strong project management skills.
2.0 What is the impact of innovations on construction projects and for the construction manager?
- One of the positive impacts of innovations in construction is the fact that it can improve project processes and services. This also explains why much of the existing innovation on construction is process and organization based (Aouad et al 2010).
- Innovation in construction can also help the sector respond to modern changes such as increase collaborative practices which would increase knowledge sharing, and best practices along the supply chain, business process reengineering and other changes that would benefit construction. It would also help the sector respond better new technologies such as on site IT applications that would improve communication (Aouad et al 2010).
- Also in order for construction to exploit potential effciency benefits, it needs to focus more on innovation especially regarding organisational innovations like supply chain management or others like business process reengineering which will deliver these efficiency benefits.
We can thus conclude that innovation in construction is not as common as it is in other sectors because of the project nature of construction.
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