What are industry bodies doing to persuade firms of the broader benefits of technology?
next month, The Construction Best Practice Programme, created following Sir John Egan’s Rethinking Construction report, will launch an initiative to encourage greater use of IT.

The aim of the government-funded IT programme is to convince senior managers of the importance in investing in IT, and it will publish tried-and-tested best-practice tips in an attempt to show how other firms are making IT work for them – and their bottom lines.

This point was underlined by Peter Jones, a Kvaerner researcher on secondment to the DETR. Speaking at a Construct IT meeting at the University of Loughborough last month, Jones said: “Part of the programme is to motivate chief executive officers. That’s easier said than done. We need to communicate the message about what others have achieved and to open up the channels of communication to help the industry share experiences and problems.” Putting best practice into action The initial focus will be on medium-sized firms. Companies with innovative projects in place will be invited to be the subject of case studies, co-ordinated by Davis Langdon Consultancy, illustrating how the construction process can be made more efficient and communication improved.

The information gathered from these will be collated in a best-practice guide and passed on to other medium-sized firms. Once the programme is under way, it will be extended to include small and large contractors, suppliers and designers.

The Movement for Innovation, charged with implementing the Egan report, also aims to spread best practice, through demonstration projects. It is looking beyond IT, but chairman Alan Crane, speaking at the Loughborough meeting, said research group Construct IT would be invited to help disseminate the IT lessons learned on the projects.

Construct IT is an organisation based at Salford University that was set up to encourage and increase awareness of IT.

Also at the Loughborough meeting, Construct IT director Marjan Sarshar called on firms to join Construct IT and widen the scope of its research projects.

But Sarshar warned: “We are only interested in innovative firms so that we can bring the best small and medium-sized enterprises to work together.” Members of Construct IT include contractors Amec, Costain, Taylor Woodrow and Laing; consultants Bucknall Group, Gleeds and WS Atkins, as well as major clients, including BAA, Barclays Group Property and a number of UK universities. They meet twice a year to network and exchange ideas.

How a database can cut overheads

Silvester Slavenburg is one executive who has embraced the potential of IT. The managing director of Dutch construction firm Slavenburg Groep claims to have nearly doubled turnover, from £35m in 1996 to an estimated £65m by the end of this year. He attributes this success to IT. “Most of the time, managing directors are busy doing business and going to parties,” he says. “The IT specialists are crying, ‘listen to us!’, but the managing director answers, ‘it costs a lot of money’.” Slavenburg decided to listen. He was looking for ways to reduce overheads, and one answer was greater use of standardisation in building projects. Slavenburg asked the IT department how it could help, and it is now compiling a database of building components that is updated as components are used or developed. Defects or problems can be noted and eliminated every time each component is used, saving time and money. The database was used in a bid for a £6.5m warehouse contract from retail conglomerate Kingfisher. By using the database as a shopping list of components, Slavenburg can define exactly what a customer wants. “Most clients ask how much an office is and why one tender is £700/m2 and another £800/m2. We can show what it involves.”