February 13, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 11:43 am
Q&A

Collaboration reshaping construction industry

William Cianci

Q&A talks about the future of the construction industry with William Cianci, executive director of the non-profit Construction Institute based on the campus of the University of Hartford.

Q: The Construction Institute's third annual Visionaries Program is Feb. 17 with speakers who are among the industry's "Visionary Thinkers," thought leaders who understand that major structural changes are required within the construction industry to survive the current economy. What are some of those structural changes?

A: The architecture, engineering, construction industry is seeing unprecedented change in the way it conducts business, the technologies it uses to facilitate business, and how its constituents work together. Effectively embracing these changes requires innovation within each of the collaborative professions. Historically architects, engineers, constructors and owners working on a common project have worked in relative isolation from one another with highly formalized points of interaction. This silo'd approach has proven to be very inefficient and wasteful. Changes in communication and computational technologies have fostered a new world of collaboration between those formerly segregated professions … and only groups willing to embrace change will survive "the cut" in our current economy.

Q: Those structural changes are contingent upon reform already taking place in other industries, such as marine and aerospace design and manufacturing. How do those reforms help the construction industry?

A: For decades, the design, construction and assembly of ships and airplanes, for example, has taken advantage of techniques and technologies that allow international collaboration between multiple design teams during development. Digital design modeling technologies allow virtual pre-testing of design and fabrication concepts. And, the actual construction of planes and ships is almost entirely based upon the assembly of remotely fabricated large-scale modular components. All of these methodologies are now being adopted by the building design and construction industry to various degrees. The innovators who are quick to understand and exploit the inherent advantages of these techniques are emerging as the new industry leaders.

Q: One of the aspects of the program is to share thoughts on ways in which the construction industry conducts business. Are there aspects of the way business is done that need to be fixed immediately? In the near future?

A: Newly developing projects need to be re-structured to take advantage of these emerging changes, starting with the need for immediate collaboration among all stakeholder parties (architects, engineers, constructors) from the very onset of a project. The communication systems, computer "platforms" and facilitating technologies that will be used to develop those projects need to be jointly adopted by the whole team at the same time. In the past, the industry has attempted to carefully define and separate the various areas of responsibility that ultimately will result in a completed project. Common stakeholders have not "played together," rather they have "played against" each other as a result. The new business norm is increasingly focusing on a "shared risk and shared reward" process that encourages those stakeholders to work toward a common goal (the project) rather than the individual goals (of each firm). No one prospers alone.

Q: Your advisory board vice chair, Peter Hentschel of Tecton Architects, says there has been a rapid level of change in the construction industry. What would some examples of that change be?

A: Specific examples of the changing landscape would include the high level of interest that our industry has in a more highly "integrated process of project development" (IPD), the use of digital "building information models" (BIM) to allow for a "virtual design and construction" (VDC) process, the trend to construct buildings as modular components manufactured/constructed off-site and inserted together on-site (think ship building), and the trend toward creative collaborations between professionals who are geo-located in diverse remote areas (around the world) using emerging technologies.

If you'd like to attend...

Register online at www.construction.org for the panel, which takes place 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Friday, Feb. 17 at Northeast Utilities Auditorium, in Berlin. Cost is $95 for Construction Institute members and $120 for all others and includes a continental breakfast. Registration begins at 7:45 a.m. For more information call: (860) 768-5659 or email admin@construction.org.

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