Mark Mitchell, who focuses on building supply manufacturers, has for the last couple of years been warning them about impending technological and business process changes affecting the construction industry. The evolution of integrated IT-focused design-to-complete organizations such as Katerra could tear apart standard processes and relationships within the industry.
The question is: How do you prepare for this sort of massive change and, frankly, should you?
Mitchell simplifies the market into innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. The chart (above) looks something like a bell curve.
Of course there are complications to this chart, and one has been noted by technology writer Geoffrey Moore. Crossing the chasm: Marketing and selling disruptive products to mainstream customers outlines the challenges technology businesses face once they’ve burned through the small group of innovators and slightly larger number of early adopters. There can be a big gap in time, money and even success in bridging to the mainstream.
We can see some examples of this challenge in the building specifications market. BIM has certainly caught on (and in fact is part of the reason for the arrival and rapid growth of integrated organizations such as Katerra) and specifications software developers have been working to include and adapt BIM concepts and systems within their product offerings.
But no one is buying the products.
The reason: The individuals assigned to specification writers and their supervisors/organizers are disconnected from the final users and so far there isn’t enough owner/regulatory pressure to require BIM’s introduction when it makes the most sense — at the point that contract requirements and details are outlined. So we have anomalies such as large general contractors creating their own BIM models to check for conflicts and determine construction efficiencies.
In other words, it looks like much of the AEC industry will only adopt technology if it pushed, dragging and fighting, to accept the new changes — and the exceptions will occur (with some inefficiency) where the new models are so obviously beneficial to individual businesses or organizations that they will sometimes rebuild from scratch to put the technology to work. (This explains the fear from outsiders of integrated giants like Katerra — since obviously these organizations can and will put the technology and systems to work throughout the entire process.)
How should you handle things, then, if you are part of the old world, which is the majority in the industry?
Clearly, you don’t need to worry directly about changing your marketing unless your organization truly seeks to adapt or implement new technologies or processes. But you may have an existential reason to worry about whether your business will survive if processes change quickly and the disruption happens faster than you expect or plan.
You can certainly spend some time and resources to learn about the changes. As an example, in Ottawa, I have voluntary responsibility for programming with the local Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) chapter, and we’re bringing in as a speaker the Canadian government official responsible for introducing BIM into the government’s building portfolio — obviously relevant for designers and builders in the nation’s capital.
As well, you should look closely at your relationships both upstream and downstream (and through relevant associations, at your own level) and watch for signs of adaptation/change. If you see these things happening, I’d latch on right away, become engaged, and communicate and work with these clients, vendors and non-competitive peers to understand how they are facing and changing because of the new processes.
Finally, fortunately “new” marketing — that is, Internet-based websites and advertising — are not too expensive or risky, in case you need to change or start marketing when you see something happening.
I’m living through these processes as we develop our new-era Ontario Construction News “newspaper” — purely digital, but designed to disrupt long-held advertising and business practices for certain legal advertisements in Ontario’s construction industry. We’re certainly the disruptor here. The question is how well we can manage crossing the chasm. Time will tell.