Skip to main content

Home /Blog /The most successful businesses in the economy integrate with academia, so should you!

The most successful businesses in the economy integrate with academia, so should you!

Posted: 5th January 2015

Neil Thompson

CIC BIM2050 Co-founder

We have seen the likes of Polaroid, Kodak, RIM Blackberry, Nokia and more recently Blockbuster and Woolworths fall victim to the shifting landscape in culture and technology. There are many reasons why these businesses failed to remain market leaders.

The construction industry has always been sensitive to economic cycles. Regardless if your viewpoint is boom and bust or feast and famine, the industry is currently tackling the digitalisation of business models… some businesses are doing well, whilst most are not. With the uptake of initiatives like building information modelling (BIM), virtual design and construction (VDC) and collaborative frameworks, there could be a need to adapt the traditional business models of construction firms, to enable them to be competitive in a world of smart cities and infrastructure.

This is the focus of my research. How are we going to do business in the future? This is an ambitious subject to explore, and you may wonder why bother? For those who believe that markets are effective at sorting the good business models from the bad ones, I ask you to think about the impact of that Darwinian approach on the construction industry. With respect to the companies listed above, do you think we could survive without cameras that can instantly print images? How about without a mobile phone that has physical buttons? Has the welfare of our society been damaged by the lack of pick & mix? Probably not…

My point is that market failures for ‘traditional’ products and services do not greatly impact our welfare in the long run, and the failure of construction firms is not comparable. To flip the question around, does the inefficiency of our social and economic infrastructure impact our welfare? Does poorly delivered healthcare facilities effect patient outcomes? Will inadequate airport terminal construction cause problems for tourism? Probably yes…

This means the reconfiguration of commercial practice needs to be researched, supported by industry and academia working together. We have seen the benefit of academic and industry integration on large infrastructure projects, such as Crossrail, but our industry is far more than just a collection of construction projects. The sum of the whole of the social and economic infrastructure is far greater than its parts. There is no point building a world leading accident and emergency centre with no linkages to suitable roads and transport networks.

There needs to be a focus on how we build agreements between stakeholders of social and economic infrastructure. We are still building contracts and commercial frameworks that foster adversarial behaviours and aggressive operational practices, whilst failing to align with desired outcomes. To put it simply, we need to let technology do what it can do best and maximise the time for people to develop positive relationships and create great products.

There isn’t a silver bullet that will discover the solution overnight, change needs to be incremental and the research has to start somewhere. If you are interested in participating in my research, please complete this survey, contact details are provided on the survey page.

I would also urge you to participate in the community of people who want to take action and make change happen in our industry, please follow @BIM2050 and @2050group on twitter and support a vibrant community of industry leaders on the CIC 2050 Group LinkedIn page.

Contributor: Neil is a co-founder of the CIC BIM2050 group and is a part-time postgraduate student at The Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management. Neil is Principal BIM Integrator and Innovation Leader at Balfour Beatty, he can be found on Linkedin and Twitter: @Neil_BIM