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Why is the Construction Industry Reluctant to Embrace Web-based Innovations?

Posted: 7th August 2013

Darren Lester

Founder of SpecifiedBy

The web and, in particular social media, is playing an ever increasing role in all aspects of our lives. And the construction industry is not immune to this.

I often get the impression that there are people and companies within the industry that seem to believe that the construction industry is in this magic bubble that protects it from external influences, particularly when it come to the web and new technologies.

This may be due to it being a very old fashioned industry run by people who have always done things a certain way and don't want the boat to be rocked. Well, tough. The construction industry is subject to the same technological, environmental, social and economic impacts as everyone else, and needs to embrace these changes.

Every industry is made up of companies, which are made up of individuals. If the vast majority of these individuals decide they now prefer to work online and use social media (they already have!) then that's where the industry has to, and is headed.

Nobody is going to stop these changes, but there are those who are trying to slow it down rather than making the effort to join in. Big companies will be damaged because they fail to move with technology, and this in turn will damage the industry as a whole.

Huge tech companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook acknowledge that the biggest threat to them isn't the competition, it's some tiny start-up working in a bedroom or garage somewhere, designing a new technology or idea that is going to disrupt their industry, so they are actively out there trying to find these people and help them.

Can we say the same about the construction industry's big players and professional bodies?

I would say it’s more likely the complete opposite. Our leading companies and organisations are creating barriers for innovative companies and technologies, trying to play down their potential, constantly highlighting the inevitable challenges to overcome and focussing on how difficult it will be to change existing processes etc.

At SpecifiedBy we recently launched a simple Twitter project called #SocialSpec. The idea is that specifiers tweet us their building product requirements or questions, we retweet it to a growing network of other professionals, and crowd-source recommendations and advice.

I accept that this is a very small contribution to the industry, but it’s one that has been well received and one that a lot of people seem excited about. But there are much better positioned, better funded and more well-respected brands than us that should really be taking the lead on this kind of thing. And where they don't, they should be seeking to support us and other start-ups at every opportunity.

So far I've not seen enough of this.

Small companies, and in particular start-ups, will always be the main innovators. But they need the support of larger companies to take disruptive ideas to a mass-market. This is particularly true within an industry like construction, which is notoriously difficult for new companies to break into and become established.

New web technologies and Social Media open up possibilities for all sorts of new collaborations and efficiencies within many processes. Perhaps if there was a bit more industry-wide support for the use of these we would see the industry catch up with the rest of the world.

Contributor: Darren Lester is the founder of SpecifiedBy, and a Resident Entrepreneur in Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter