HOW INNOVATION HAS SKIPPED THE WAY WE BUILD OUR BUILDINGS AND HOW TO OVERCOME THE HOSTAGE SITUATION IN CONSTRUCTION
By Nicholas A. Hofer, AWC Construction Services
Successful organizations, over the last decades, have shown a remarkable ability to adapt to new ways of doing business, improve processes, and increase productivity. Just by looking at a few examples of common business operations - project management or workforce planning for example – we can illustrate that: organizations move freely from project management approach to project management approach, adopting changing paradigms and methodologies (e.g. scrum, waterfall, agile, etc.) with ease. Changes in the workforce and shifting priorities have led to significant developments in our workforce and impact how, where, and when people show up for work (home office, open concepts, flexible hours, etc.).
Today’s global leaders look and feel significantly different than the organizations they were 20 years ago, and if anyone would look at a firm and see rows of 6 feet high cubicles, time stampers, and even desktop computers they would immediately think how outdated that organization was. And – if they are looking for a job – run away as fast as possible. Organizations have evolved impressively and almost all aspects of a successful business have been subject to change. In short: successful businesses know how to implement change and do so freely.
If we are the most innovative economy out there, why are we still building our buildings like 75 years ago?
How come that those exact same organizations, with change and innovation so ubiquitous, still approach their built environments like it was 1950? What if someone told you that even the most dynamic companies still utilize outdated techniques and materials that are seriously underperforming, flawed to begin with, and then virtually hinder the organization’s innovative development by binding them to standards unfit to support it?
Organizations go through significant changes in their built infrastructures (i.e. buildings, offices, conference rooms, etc.) every 5 to 7 years. This life cycle may be shorter or longer for certain industries and geographical regions, such as healthcare or education in high growth areas of the country, but it is generally accurate to assume 5 to 7 years as an average.
Why is this? It is because an organization has to make decisions about design and usage ahead of time, to create a space that will support the organization’s operational requirements now and in the future, understanding that changes will have to be accommodated. And because it is impossible to know what those changes will be, leaders fail, by no fault of their own, to complete the impossible task: to foresee the future.
Generally, it takes about 5 to 7 years for innovation and progress to outpace leaders’ ability to predict and forecast, meaning that the space will then not support the operational requirements anymore. So, organizations have to go back to the drawing board every 5 to 7 years, doing it all again. And again. And again…
So, what does that mean for an organization? In a nutshell, it increases the overall cost for construction and, worse than that, it leads to inefficiencies difficult to identify or even quantify. Somehow, because it has always been done this way, we have turned blind to the blatant lack of efficiency and ineptitude of how construction works today. In the first graph, we see two trends against the two axis Change and Time. One trend, the green arrow, shows how our organization develops over time – we change constantly, become better and more productive. The other trend, the blue arrow, shows how our built environment evolve – it in this case, doesn’t. It stagnates. As a result, we continue to increase the delta between the blue and green arrows, creating a significant gap between what we do as an organization and what the space was designed to do – signified by the red shading. Ultimately, when this delta gets wide enough to justify a construction project. But the high costs, both apparent and hidden, associated with construction, organizations continue to put off the investment – until the organizations has no other option than to swallow the bitter pill of a major renovation. And that is when organizations find themselves in a hostage-like situation with construction. And, to make matters worse, once renovations to close the gaps are complete, organizations restart the same cycle again, operating on the very same, flawed premises.
The solution for this cycle is simple – find a solution to build a space that allows adaption as changes develop, without the disruption and costs caused by conventional construction. In doing so, the decision to renovate or update can be made earlier, long before the organization falls hostage to conventional construction as the only way out. And if this solution can easily adapt over time, the guesswork of planning can be avoided changes can be addressed as they occur or become imminent, with better information, and therefore, a better return on investment.
How can organizations break-through the cycle of inaccurate forecasting and the hamster wheel of construction?
So, what IS the solution? Getting a conventional construction project lined up is tedious and costly, and it is definitely not a valid option to bring in the jackhammers every time an organization needs to accommodate a minor change. And that’s where DIRTT Environmental Solutions comes into play. A revolutionary way to build interiors, DIRTT allows changes as the need occurs, without the hassle of new construction – by simply switching out wall elements like writeable surfaces or technology, without sacrificing fit and finish. DIRTT, thanks to its proprietary software ICE, allows to build fully customized spaces using 21st century manufacturing that then allow rapid tilt-up construction to save time and money for owners, general contractors, or architects.
Looking at the same type of graph, the situation with a DIRTT solution looks significantly different. The organization’s innovative change implementations may still outrun the building’s adaption rate, but changes to the space can be made on the fly, in smaller, less disruptive increments. As a result, the previously large delta (red arrow and red area) is reduced to smaller deltas (yellow areas), and a number of smaller space updates addressing specific needs, instead of a major renovation project. Thanks to DIRTT, organizations use future-proof construction and are no longer held hostage.
Beyond the most obvious benefit of having an updated space at all times, the model of future-proof construction offers other benefits:
DIRTT allows for updates without the noise and disruption of conventional construction. Instead of one big, conventional construction project, the progress is split up in a number of smaller, non-disruptive updates without noise or waste;
The cost to complete a major conventional construction project is significantly higher than the cost associated with minor updates, without the need of heavy machinery or high labor requirements;
The hidden cost of idle space is virtually eliminated. In a conventional construction project, the space under construction could be useless for months. With DIRTT a room may go offline for a day or two, but the overall idle time will remain minimal;
Waste is virtually eliminated. Existing product can be re-used or – at worst – recycled. With conventional construction, all the waste will go directly to the landfill.
DIRTT’s revolutionary approach to a future-proof environment has already had an impact on a number of organizations. Organizations that have tried construction with DIRTT have found this new approach a significant improvement leading to cost savings for space updates, decreased down-time for buildings, and increased productivity thanks to shorter lead-times for built solutions. As a result, DIRTT was able to establish itself not only as a true alternative to conventional construction, but was able to show some significant advantages over the conventional way of building. And without the waste and disruption of conventional construction, organizations can continue to build more and adapt faster, ultimately leading to increased productivity, more competitiveness, and higher return on investments.
About the Author:
Nicholas Hofer is the Director of AWC Construction Services, leading the charge for DIRTT construction in North and South Carolina. Prior to his engagement in construction, Nicholas worked as a management consultant for an international consulting firm and helped private and public organizations achieve more of their potential. Nicholas has a passion for creating efficiencies that elevate performance and improve outcomes for both his own organization as well as his clients and partners.
He holds a Master of Arts. from the University of Zurich (Switzerland) and an MBA from Vanderbilt University. He lives in Raleigh, NC with his wife and three young sons.