Will the building industry accept the challenge of change in our industry and society?

Disruptive businesses are thriving with virtually no assets. Hotel chains with no rooms (Air BnB), taxi services with no cars (Uber), recruitment services with no recruiting agents (LinkedIn).

These business models are shaking the incumbents to the core by offering radically different channel strategies and focusing on end-users, providing a service which is far superior to the traditional providers.  A common success factor with these disrupters sees them putting the customer experience at the core of their focus - and by their aim with customer experience is to make their customers not just satisfied, but excited about consuming their offer.

Measuring customer experience is important but this is not done by surveying, polling and annoying them incessantly. In fact, customer satisfaction surveys often degrade the customer’s experience more than any poor service may have don:, survey responses of moderate to low percentages are signs people are fed up with surveys, while responses of over 70% are signs that your customers are engaged and enjoy interacting with you.  BUT you need to ensure that they feel like they’re getting more out of the interaction than you are.

The building and construction industries are facing similar but also quite varied threats, including free trade across borders and continents, the de-skilling of construction, and the modularisation of building elements.

Another threat that has not been clearly articulated is the decentralisation of the work place, with flexible employment agreements, working from home, outsourcing of key skills and satellite / shared serviced offices proliferating.  The future of the workplace is less clear than it’s ever been; could we see a future of the virtual workplace where everyone logs into their work via the cloud from their favourite café, living room or the serviced office just a short walk from home?

The question must be asked then, are office buildings becoming redundant?  In 30 years, will they be anachronistic remnants of a bygone era?  Or will they adapt to the sharing economy and be more of an open source collaborative “workspace”? These are vital concerns to the construction and building products industries.

I suspect the real answers may not be so resounding in either direction; however it pays to consider the segments we engage with and to consider their future as markets, communities, life and the world around us evolves.  In short, the commercial construction sector needs to adapt, evolve and even lead change for the built environments of tomorrow - or face major disruption.

With the possible deconstruction of the office based workplace, we’ll still need places to live right and therefore the housing market is as safe as … erm, houses? Right?

Well, if the affordability problem continues then our ever ambitious Gen Y’ers and Millenials may be pushed to the brink of homelessness or sponging off their parents until their mid-thirties or forties. And as with office space, the great disrupters will work out a way to disrupt traditional housing models.

One possible model which may not be palatable to Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers is transportable homes or RV’s, all temporarily located in desirable locations with like-minded neighbours.  The levels of comfort and convenience offered in the latest batch of campervans and mobile homes is incredible.

Gen Y’ers and Millenials have already transformed many social stigmas and may even dilute the stigmas associated with living in trailer parks, rebranding them to a cooler name (micro homes!) and make them fun places to be.  Close to surf beaches, lakes or the snow fields, where they can work (according to their own timetable) and play without sitting in peak hour traffic each morning and afternoon. 

That may be a bit far-fetched, however other possible models are more realistic. These include the sharing of households for the elderly, multi-generational households or share households.  Flexible workplaces and households are my pick for the next big disruptions, even for office workers and apartment dwellers.

The materials and products we use to build the workspaces and homes of the future are likely to have in-built sensors which are digitally connected to building maintenance systems, providing real time data for operation of systems and advising when a problem occurs, improving damage control, comfort and the health of the building.

Of course, ownership models are ripe for disruption too. Buildings of the future may not actually be owned by individuals: collective investment and the share economy is here to stay.  How we as a commercial and residential construction sector engage with the share economy and the collaborative community is critical to our success.

The future of our industry lies in collaborative business partnerships with flexible business models & technologies putting end users at the centre of everything we do. Can we take up the challenge?


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