Engineers, architects and builders must have a “frank debate” about why collaboration is still not happening across the supply chain, according to new RIBA President Jane Duncan.
She told last week’s ‘Collaboration in Construction’ Forum, sponsored by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), that BIM was creating an appetite for collaboration, but did not go far enough.
“We need to tackle the pressure points and conflicts between team members…and look at special forms of contract where everyone involved is a stakeholder,” she said. “This is particularly important in infrastructure work.”
The speakers, representing architects and contractors, agreed that specialist sub-contractors were still not involved early enough in the process to deliver best value.
BESA Immediate Past President Andy Sneyd told the Forum, which took place at RIBA’s headquarters in central London, that the industry had demonstrated collaboration on many “superb projects” in the past, but the way contracts are structured still does not reflect the growing use of digital construction methods.
“There are some very strong relationships through the supply chain and some good skills, but a lot of the standards we are working to haven’t caught up with the technology,” said Mr Sneyd, who is design and engineering director Portakabin Group.
“The different professions are digitising their work, but the challenge is to bring it all together. The specialist tends to be involved too late in the design process and, when we are involved, our input is too little,” he added. “The link is the way we contract with one another.”
Architect Jo Bacon, a Partner at Allies and Morrison, agreed that the different professions were “doing their own thing” and that there was a lack of “transparency” about each other’s scope of work.
“Contracts and insurance do not reflect collaborative technology or a collaborative approach to work,” she said. “We are riding the technology of the future with little time to get the system right - we need to get back to first principles and avoid dumping risk down the chain,” she added.
However, Lyndsay Smith, director of education and national frameworks at Morgan Sindall, said the industry was “doing OK” and should be proud of its efforts.
“No other industry was expected to bring together some much information in such a short space of time.” Yet, she added the pressure points were created by “time and cost restraints; lack of skilled resource; inadequate scoping; poor allocation of risk” and urged clients to choose “mature” procurement methods “that lead to early specialist involvement and are not completely driven by price.”
Ms Bacon agreed that if specialist contractors became involved earlier in the process, they would be taking on more design risk and, therefore, that should be reflected in how they were paid.
“Architects can lead the process, but payment has to reflect the extra risk the contractor is expected to take,” said Mr Sneyd.
He also pointed out that there is a lot more technology coming into buildings making it more difficult to co-ordinate all the different elements - a task that falls on specialist contractors. “That skill needs to be rewarded,” he added.