Market Influences Changing Construction Product Specification

Traditionally the construction industry has been slow to change, yet recently a series of initiatives are influencing the way construction design decisions are made. Initiatives that are pushing for changes in construction methods and innovation in the construction supply chain. These changes will influence the construction decision making unit; Client, Architect, Engineer, Main Contractor, Specialist Contractor, as well as the construction product specification, which defines how the construction project will be completed. This in turn will impact on the way that building product manufacturers need to market their products. In this blog I provide a summary of the changing specifier influences.


Construction Client Attitudes are changing Towards Lifetime Value of Buildings

Forward looking Clients are recognising the important factor is not the capital cost of a building but the operating costs and hence lifetime value of the building. Very often savings in capital costs will have implications for operating costs. For example heating systems with a lower purchase cost will invariably have higher running costs, or require more frequent maintenance. These are costs which, over the life of the building, can far exceed the original purchase cost. This does not just apply to operating plant, many lower cost products have shorter operating lives. It is not just these basic maintenance costs but also how building components contribute to the function of the building.

The concept of health & wellbeing is also being grasped by many Clients. In its simplest form, this is the idea that the building’s environment, in particular levels of light, noise and temperature can impact on the productivity of the workers, or in the case of retail the levels of customer spend. Staff costs are often the largest cost for a building occupant, so spending money on the building in ways which can improve productivity, even by a few percent, is a good investment.

For many years there has been the appreciation amongst Architects and Engineers of the value for money represented by some premium products. But often these products have been ‘value engineered’ out by Contractors. Now Clients are more receptive to lifetime benefits so manufacturers should be preparing data which demonstrates the returns their products and systems can contribute to the building’s operation to justify the initial capital cost and prevent specification switching.


Demand for Digitising Data via BIM Content and Construction Product Identifiers

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a key enabler to the metrics of measuring lifetime value of products and systems. With the government mandate introduced in April 2016 the use of BIM has continued to grow in popularity with Clients, Designers and Contractors. Manufacturers need to provide BIM content, which is different to BIM objects, to support the use of their products and systems. Providing BIM content could be considered a means of gaining competitive advantage but very soon companies unable to offer it will find themselves excluded. There are a number of formats and approaches and potentially this can be very expensive for manufactures, so it is important to understand the options available.

BIM is just one element of the drive towards digitisation. Facilities Managers in particular, are wanting greater levels of information about how a building’s products and systems are performing, to not only reduce operating costs for their Clients but provide valuable information about how a building is used.

In our research report New Technology and Innovation in Construction we found there was a high level of interest in product identifiers, in the simplest form these can provide a link to download information about an installed system. More sophisticated systems monitor and report on how a product is performing. Manufacturers can expect to be asked to provide these capabilities before long, some of which are relatively easy to create.

Virtual, Augmented and Immersive reality are also starting to have a presence in construction. This might be a means for an Architect to see what a system will look like when installed in their building, operating in conjunction with the BIM model. Or a means of providing product installation instructions or subsequent maintenance information. Product enhancements the manufacturer can make available to gain competitive advantage, but also create potential installation and maintenance savings.


Significant increase in Design for Manufacture and Assembly

Also known as Offsite Manufacture, this can take several forms, from complete volumetric assemblies, to pods or component assemblies. Some manufacturers are now starting to provide their products in pre-assembled forms, reducing the need for skilled tradesmen on site and speeding the construction process. Our research into UK Offsite Manufacture shows that we are on the cusp of a significant increase in the use of offsite with the potential for the share of the market using these systems to quadruple in the next few years. While the manufacturing approach will not significantly change the products being used, it will change the decision makers and the timing of these decisions. Our research suggests that in 75% of cases product choices will be made by the offsite manufacturer. This is quite a fragmented market and product manufacturers will need to put in place a sales channel to ensure it is their products which are being selected.


Communicating effectively with the Construction Decision Making Unit

Competitive Advantage regularly conducts research into the communication channels used by construction industry decision makers, see our Construction Media Index research. In recent years we have monitored the change from hard copy to digital and the growth of social media. Digital forms of communication are now firmly established as the norm. For the marketer the next stage of development is learning how to use marketing automation systems effectively. Unfortunately, many organisations see these as a means of pushing out unfocused emails to every contact on the database far too frequently. Effective marketing communications is about developing personas to understand the many different decision makers and ensuring that the information they receive is timely and relevant. This is achieved through an integrated approach linking all you touch points such as BIM and literature downloads, blog site visits and technical enquiries to data on project activity. And to be effective, best practice needs to be followed.


Building Product Manufacturers Need to Respond

As is always the case in construction, change is evolutionary not revolutionary, but that evolution is happening faster right now than ever before and building product manufacturers need to respond by:

  • Providing Clients with information on operating costs
  • Providing Designers, Contractors and Facilities Managers with digitised data
  • Innovate not just the product itself but how information about it is obtained on site
  • Consider how to deal with the new supply chains associated with offsite manufacture
  • And adopt an integrated, responsive marketing approach