Will We Ever Collaborate?

Blog author: Richard Saxon CBE, JCT Chairman

2016 was another year in which insightful reports were published castigating the UK construction industry for its dysfunction and making recommendations that may or may not ever be acted upon. The recent much publicised Farmer Review: ‘Modernise or Die’, was preceded by ‘Collaborative Construction: More myth than reality?’, produced by Pinsent Masons. Mark Farmer joined the December meeting of JCT Council to discuss his report’s implications for contracts.
The Collaborative Construction report is the result of a wide consultation and strong analysis. It sees pressure mounting to change the way we work as the potential of new technology becomes apparent. Collaboration is both enabled by BIM and enables better use of BIM. Digital technology is bringing the potential of whole-life optimisation of the built environment. Yet the industry resists change in its short-termist, silo-based working approach. Many reasons are identified:

  • We are comfortable with the familiar, even though it underperforms;
  •  We perceive collaborative working to be more costly and time-consuming;
  •  Those involved in any project for a limited time think in the short term;
  •  Incentives tend to be sticks rather than carrots;
  •  Industry leadership is quiet on the issue and frustrated by the industry’s fragmented nature;
  •  Clients are reluctant to share project control;
  •  There is little training in collaborative working on offer;
  •  The most used standard forms of contract and professional appointments do not embrace collaboration;
  •  Insurance models are based on the familiar allocation of risk.

They suggest several shifts that they believe would help move the situation forward:

  • Project success measurement needs to become based more on whole-life outcomes. Completion on time and budget is too limited a view of value;
  • BIM blurs responsibilities (beyond Level 2) and contract-writers and insurers need to respond. Project insurance and latent defect cover should replace approaches which drive team members apart;
  • Single-stage tendering should go, with the constructor ideally on board before design is committed, either in charge of the supply team or in partnership with the client and consultants (similar to the US definition of Integrated Project Delivery);
  • Clients should share control of the project with their team, to avoid self-inflicted risks; decisions should be unanimous;
  • Consultants should rethink their aversion to delivering fitness for purpose; they stand to descend to tier two level otherwise;
  • Gainshare incentives, right down the supply chain, would oil the collaborative wheels without costing the client;
  • Alliancing styles of contract may be the best route forward, based on a project board, collaboration, risk-sharing and use of digital technology;
  • It will take more time and cost to set up better projects, but it will pay back.

Some of these ideas are bold and need more development. A second Collaborative Construction report is promised in mid-2017 to take them further. I will be staying close to this process to assist JCT in developing forms of contract for Level 3 BIM use and for the broader future.