Monday, 29 December 2014

Reflections on 2014...

The Christmas break is alway a good time to reflect on the previous year and to see what progress we have made and what has changed in 12 months.

We entered the year with the recession still very much in everyone's minds. The market was cautious particularly in the regions. London remained largely unaffected with concerns around costs and resource being talked up.

2014 was a really tough year for tier one contractors with their cash positions being eroded, balance sheets weakened and margins challenged. To survive the recession some tier one contractors had taking on work at low margin only to find subcontract costs increasing. They were also more gun ho when it came to risk during recession only to find things unravel during construction.

A number of Chief Executives unfortunatley lost their jobs as shareholders looked for scapegoats.

During the keynote at BIM Show Live I mischievously suggested there was a revelution looming and that baby boomers should take note. This was all a bit of fun to stimulate discussion however in some ways this has become a reality. Some of these Chief Executives were undoubtedlybaby boomers and who paid for decisions made during recession. At the time I commented that these senior figures can't have all have made mistakes and we should look more at the culture of our industry to find long term answers.

Not only have there been job losses at a senior level there has been a move in attitude. Digital construction is increasingly accepted with clients want to see objective risk management tools.there has also been an increase in the linkages between construction, albeit small steps at this stage.

 Consultants are now adopting digital tools as a matter of course and main contractors are looking at how new technology effects their workflow.

Subcontractors have been effected by delayed payments throughout the year from tier one contractors which has, in some cases, prevented long term investment. Manufacturers are also considering their investments but remain cautious.

Yet again as our industry has moved back into growth the skills issue has risen its head. I've been in the industry for over 20 years now and this just keeps recurring. Not enough bricklayers...not enough bricks! The discussion raised momentum towards the back end of the year so hopefully this can build during 2015.

In the regional market fee levels remained very tight. This suggests that work has not reached the levels of pre recession and companies are still looking for revenue.

On balance 2014 was not a bad year for construction but neither was it great. There were no big winners but a few losers. It was a year of transition but fortunately the momentum is upward.

Here's to 2015...

What will 2015 bring?

Having reflected on 2014 the next thing to do is predict what will happen in 2015...

Slowing of market due to election.
A huge part of 2015 is undoubtably going to be the general election. Not only will we be tired of hearing about it this year it will effect our industry. Public sector projects will slow due to perda  followed by ministerial uncertainty afterwards.mIn the private sector this will lead to some uncertainly which will generate a slowing effect.

For what it's worth at this stage My prediction is we will have a Conservative Government again in a coalition arrangement. Even if I'm wrong it is unlikely there will be any change in public spending.

Continued skills and resource issues.
The skills debate will continue throughout the year. Unfortunatley there is no quick fix so we will see salaries increase in some areas where skills are short.

Increasing momentum of digital construction.
The move towards digital construction will continue right across the project lifecycle. We will see not only clients, designers and constructors adopt new methodologies but also manufacturers, subcontractors and maintence providers.

The long awaited digital plan of work will be released in 2015 providing clarity across industry. This will encourage innovation and new thinking. 

Growing interelationship between capital and revenue investment.
As our connection between data improves we will be able to consider the relationship between capital and revenue and how they effect one another. Energy use and carbon are no longer only the demise of specialists and campaigners. These issues are real and are important to emerging generations. Solutions and responses to these issues will need to become mainstream.

New Methods of Construction.
Offsite construction has very skilfully been repositioned as new methods of construction. Off site suggests temporary or of a lesser quality. Portiacabin or McDonalds spring to mind to the majority of people. 

During 2015 we will see a growing percentage of new buildings being delivered using the componetisation of materials. Already a large percentage of M and E installations are deliver in this way and we will see an increasing percentage of building components being developed this way.

Continued competition in the regions.
Traditionally a large percentage of regional work was generated from the public sector. This gap has not been filled by the private sector meaning companies are still hungry for work which ultimately means fee levels are very low. This will continue through 2015 not helped by the slowing of what public sector projects due to the election.

In London the issue will be a lack of the right resource. A large percentage of new build commercial projects in the capital are being delivered in BIM. These resources are not available in design practices meaning alternative approaches will develop. This may include outsourcing or large recruitment drives. It is likely therefore that salary levels in London will increase as demand grows.

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Power of Procurement

I had a really interesting discussion with a client over the weekend around procurement. Many procurment departments rely on cost beings a good metric of value. Particularly when appointing a main contractor for works.

In the north of England in particular many clients and procurment department are still keen to use single stage tendering. In London, it seems there is now a greater use of a two stage approach. What is not known however, is whether two stage is preferred in London because the market is busier or that cleints believe it offers better value.

This particular client I was talking to had been forced into a single stage tender from his procurement department. The projects was hugely over budget largely because the constructors had priced the risk.

A two stage and open approach would allow the risk to be clearly visable to all and to be managed and costed appropriately. The easy and expensive way is to just pass the risk to the constructor. This can be expensive in a rising market.

The clients procurment team does not wish to move from a single stage approach and therefore has limited options. The reality is the contractors can look at some cost reductions but with most of the additional cost being in risk if he wants his building as designed he is going to have to find the additional money. Whilst the procurment department will believe this provides value in reality they are paying way over the true cost.

In a retracting market clients can win when risk is priced too tightly by the contractor. However over an extended period which includes boom and recession I would suspect it balances out.

It would be far better if our industry was built on trust and a long term open book arrangement. Over several years I would anticipate that everyone would come out winning. We would however have the added benefit that with a steady profit we could all invest in continuous improvement.