He is pretty much right: construction is changing reactively under a barrage of criticism and initiatives, with only vague concepts behind the objectives driving the agenda. And few would argue that construction needs to improve its performance for customers, society, its people and its investors. So what does that leave for the industry to consider as its vision?
Two years ago, the Reading Construction Forum (RCF) started to evaluate the marketing and business development functions in construction firms. It discovered that at root construction doesn't understand how it can add value to its customer services. The simplistic chant of "on quality, on time and on budget" presupposes that you understand the value of what you are providing and best value, another buzzword, can easily be perceived by some firms as merely meaning lowest cost. Value equals benefit over cost: you have to understand the benefit potential – that's the beginning of marketing.
Developing this theme, the RCF held a conference called Designing the Future, to look at how we want the industry to develop over the five years to 2007 and beyond to 2012. The conference, on 5-6 February, aimed to create a futuristic model of the construction industry, which participants could then use to shape their own firms' development strategy. The idea is that the pull of vision was to replace the push of fear of failure, which Egan himself has said might not be strong enough to change us.
The outcome of the conference was clear: everyone agreed that the customer of the future should be served by "integrated solution providers" – companies that could offer a fuller service to clients. We called them built environment solution providers, or BESPs. This customer services model would offer "system integration"; design and construction and operation, provide finance and define customers' needs through business consultancy.
Construction is changing reactively under a barrage of criticism and initiatives – but what is its own vision of the future?
The BESP seems to promise satisfaction for all the stakeholders. Clients don't want buildings as an end to themselves, they want the benefits of having the facilities they need without getting distracted from their core business; the BESP can be a full outsource to both public and private sector. Construction firms want a stronger business model, with less cyclical patterns and more long-term growth potential and the BESP could provide just this. The BESP would be potentially far more stable and dynamic than a pure construction company, attracting a high private equity ratio and investment funds. The BESP concept is inherently long-termist, needing stable supply networks and thus providing a context for innovation and collaborative working. The BESP's long-termism makes it responsible for the full property life cycle and as a result better able to support the sustainability agenda, and it creates a platform for good design.
The BESP vision also implies the integration of the property, construction and facilities management industries. This process is already under way, as businesses in each sector enter the others, forming networks to tackle PFI/PPP projects. Pure property, pure construction and pure facilities management are all underperforming compared to combinations.
Sussex and Brighton universities are already two years into a study of integrated solutions businesses and the issues they raise. We plan to build on this to create BESP scenarios that will provide planning guidance to member firms and the industry.
The whole property-construction-facilities nexus needs to be much better understood; for example, how value flows and how it is added to our clients' end customers.
Richard Saxon CBE, of Building Design Partnership, is chairman of the Reading Construction Forum.