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What Does It Mean to Change the Game?

Embracing “disruption” requires a shift in mindset, but those companies that welcome change can dramatically improve project outcomes.

Q4 2019
Disruption is about more than just technology. It’s even about more than the rapid rollout and development of technology that we’ve seen in recent years. The word “disruption” refers to processes or products that are game-changers — fundamentally different from what is currently in use and that render unforeseen, large-scale changes. Disruption is impacting the construction and manufacturing industries significantly, but companies can learn from other industries’ mistakes and embrace disruption, turning it into innovation.

When industries and companies fail to quickly adopt innovation, new technologies, or workflows, it is usually due to entrenched mindsets and failure to imagine sweeping change. Companies that are already experiencing success rely heavily on whatever formula gained them that success. But this approach can result in resistance to change. The desire to protect a successful business model leads to the rejection of new things — and by the time those new things are widespread in the marketplace, it can be too late to catch up.

A company can be well-managed and responsive to customer feedback, but still fail when disruptive changes seem to “come out of left field.” Sometimes these changes are products or services that were initially considered inferior, but then mushroomed and cut into existing markets. In fact, a 2015 Harvard Business Review article — “What Is Disruptive Innovation?” by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael E. Raynor, and Rory McDonald — noted that it is entry into lower-end, neglected markets that allows new competitors to get a foothold, positioning them to move upmarket and challenge existing companies

. Another reason disruptive products or services can seem to come out of nowhere is that they are developed in other fields and/or start out being viewed as mere novelties. Oren Harari’s famous observation — “The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles” — is worth keeping in mind.

The good news is it’s possible to poise your company to excel at the “next big thing” without being a futurist. The first hurdle is to change your company’s fundamental approach and attitude and embrace innovation and disruption. Begin with evolutionary, strategic thinking. For example, hold off-site sessions dedicated to the effort, where an entire team examines areas in which your business might be disrupted and considers new business models; or address disruption in planning and leadership meetings. It also helps to seek outside partnerships and alliances. Technologies and their related changes tend to function in ecosystems; find the ecosystem that is going to impact your business and establish connections.

When deciding which changes might be worth investing in, pursue multiple options. Invest in talent that will bring different perspectives when hiring, then give employees the freedom to act and explore ideas. To keep such exploration within productive parameters, encourage a mindset shift toward accountability, and establish conditions for piloting and scaling new technologies and services. Finally, recognize that the approach to address and embrace disruption requires a shift in mindset and the allocation of significant resources. It cannot be accomplished as a sideline or afterthought.

Recognize that the approach to address and embrace disruption requires a shift in mindset and the allocation of significant resources. Use the Right Tools
In addition to shifts in culture and attitude, companies should use available tools now to identify where processes are falling short as well as find new paths forward.

Consider capital projects. The capital investment and appropriations phases of a new-build facility are areas in which many companies stick with the old way of doing things, because teaming with new partners or investing in new workflows and resources can initially seem to threaten productivity. But as disruption experts have pointed out, protecting existing models can set companies up for future failure.

When it comes to site selection and planning, outdated methodologies — such as basing cost estimates on rough sketches or on noncomparable facilities — cause capital projects to have huge disadvantages built in from the beginning. Using cutting-edge technology and innovative approaches can help companies avoid missed deadlines, cost overruns, and financially infeasible capital projects. Having a preconstruction process is critical for aligning members of the project team, which enhances collaboration and information-sharing. And a preconstruction process that leverages technology can do more than identify challenges at an early stage — it can result in predictable outcomes.

The right combination of technology, software, data, and project planning approaches can help decision-makers dramatically improve project outcomes. Examples include:
  • Big data and analytics. Cost estimates can fluctuate dramatically if large changes take place during planning, design, or construction. Databases populated with actual historical project costs — and updated with current market pricing — can be used during early planning to produce accurate numbers and minimize fluctuations.
  • Simulation, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). VR is an interactive computer-simulated environment — more akin to walking through a space than viewing a model of it. AR, while similar, uses the real world as a visual backdrop and superimposes computer-generated information. Because these types of simulation can be quite realistic, they represent a new era in architecture, engineering, and construction. They show great promise in improving the accuracy of decisions made during project planning, catching issues that are hard to spot using traditional sketches and drawings, as well as helping stakeholders who aren’t used to reading drawing sets achieve a better understanding of what’s being discussed.
  • Companies that are nimble, agile, proactive, and willing to embrace change will be future industry leaders.
  • Building information modeling (BIM). BIM is now in wide use, with recent program versions broadening the range of information contained within a model. Conceptual models can be created for use during capital appropriations and early planning phases, exploring various building design options and informing budgets; the models are then built upon during the design phase. Preliminary project schedules should reflect the BIM process for document development.
  • Laser scanning. Field measurements performed with laser scanners capture very detailed geometric information in the form of “point cloud” data — that is, a large set of points on a coordinate system — which can be fed into BIM or CAD files to generate highly detailed, accurate drawings.
  • Drones and geolocation. Drones, which continue to become more proficient in communicating with software on the receiving end, can collect information in locations that are hard for humans to access. Captured images can support site assessment, construction progress, and inspections. Some companies are taking drone footage and converting it into three-dimensional pictures and videos that can be compared to architectural plans.
Drones can also work in conjunction with geolocation technology, being outfitted with GPS, taking high-definition photos and/or generating images using light-detection-and-ranging (LIDAR). Once incorporated into 3D models, this information can improve a project team’s understanding of ground conditions, which can be especially helpful during early planning. Having drone footage of existing site conditions prior to construction has another benefit: it can serve as documentation for future reference.

Companies that are nimble, agile, proactive, and willing to embrace change will be future industry leaders. The question is, how many manufacturing companies will be among them?

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