Opinion Piece by Grant Findlay,
Strategy Director, Sir Robert McAlpine
How strategy, data and collaboration can facilitate the path to post-COVID recovery
When business leaders retrospectively reflect on the impact the COVID-19 crisis has had on their respective industries, many are quick to reference the role the pandemic has played in triggering a much broader adoption of new practices and approaches. From the way we use technology, to climate change and addressing social inequality, new issues are increasingly creeping up the business world’s agenda as the virus has prompted many of us to challenge accepted working practices and think more deeply about the kind of organisations we want to create for the future.
However, it is worth highlighting that many of these are underlying trends that were underway long before the pandemic hit – COVID has simply accelerated them. Though the virus has been particularly successful in drawing issues into the public stream of consciousness and forcing businesses to innovate, it has served first and foremost as a catalyst for drawing much-needed attention to pre-existing trends. As we go through this period of accelerated adoption, it is now up to us to work out how we can sustain these for the future and ensure the full benefit of their adoption is felt.
For the construction industry specifically, there is little doubt that this year’s tumultuous events will shape our future approach to the built environment. Pandemics do, after all, fundamentally change our environment –the London sewerage system was built as a result of a cholera outbreak, and COVID-19’s impact on how we build the places where we live, work and learn will be equally as marked.
If this change is harnessed effectively, with organisations embracing these trends and weaving them into the fabric of their business models, this could provide the industry the much-needed impetus to thrive in the post-pandemic world. But, to incentivize this positive change, it falls upon the Government to make the direct link between mid-pandemic levels of innovation and economic recovery as a fundamental part of its ‘Build Back Better’ campaign. It has a key role to play in providing visible leadership, and a clear, firm voice from the top down will make all the difference.
In order to heed the Government’s call and truly ‘Build Back Better’, one of the clear positive outcomes of the pandemic, I believe the industry must strive to both retain and build on is the sector’s accelerated adoption of digital technology. Not only did the pandemic shine a welcome spotlight onto data’s value as a sustainable resource, it was also instrumental in prompting businesses to understand the importance of good data to inform decision making.
As we turn our attention to the future, key to facilitating the path to economic recovery will be our ability to recognise data as friend, rather than foe. This was certainly the approach the industry took when it advised the government to take a primarily data-focused approach in the sector’s contribution to the recent Building Safety Bill consultation. The case it put forward, outlining how the greater use of data and analytics could make substantial improvements in ensuring health and safety – not to mention its evident value in speeding up project delivery and driving up productivity – was near irrefutable.
But, to be in a position to reap the full menu of benefits that data and analytics have to offer, moving forward the immeasurable value of collaboration and teamwork cannot – and must not – be overlooked. Whilst it is true that substantial gains can be realised when working within your own organisation, true value lies in our ability to analyse data at scale, and it is multi-organisational data-sharing – much like The Construction Data Trust – that should be a driver for innovation in our industry going forwards. So, let’s make competition secondary to the power of cross-sector collaboration – as evidenced so potently during the construction of the Nightingale hospitals that so many of us (Sir Robert McAlpine included!) worked together so effectively to achieve – and drive data-led innovation across the sector.