Back to Volume 2 | Summer 2017

The Shape of Things to Come: Transforming the Delivery of Infrastructure

Executive Summary

In the first three months of 2017, three important reports were published on the future of the construction industry and the delivery of new infrastructure. These reports highlight the distinct challenges we face in developing our economic and social infrastructure, and the woeful performance of the global construction industry over the past twenty years. They go on to make similar recommendations for reform.

These assessments by some of the world’s most respected organizations raise questions as to why the suggested reforms have not yet been implemented. If the suggested reforms were implemented it would boost sector productivity by 50-60%.” So why is there no sign of infrastructure owners and their contractors making these changes? Why haven’t these companies already followed the lead of manufacturers and retailers by using modern production methods and digital technologies to transform their businesses?

In the age of steam power, most factories were compact multi-storied buildings because their layouts were constrained by the belts and drive shafts used to transmit the power from the central steam engines to the machines. When electrical power became available in the late nineteenth century, many factory owners just replaced their steam engines with large electric motors. It took another twenty years for them to develop new single-storied factories to take advantage of the ease in which electricity can be distributed. When that happened, productivity more than doubled, as new and more efficient production methods were introduced.

Infrastructure and construction sectors are in the early stages of transformation. Owners are beginning to use digital technologies to engage with their customers and improve the operation and maintenance of their assets. Encouraged by the government, consultants and contractors have invested in BIM. But, similar to the nineteenth century factory owners, they have usually dropped their new BIM systems into their existing design processes rather than using them to change the way they design and construct their projects.

There is little doubt that we are poised for radical changes in the way we deliver our infrastructure. No modern industry, particularly the construction industry can fail to improve its productivity without being challenged by competitors and new entrants to the market. We also know that the transformation will take many years, and that there will be failures and false dawns along the way. It is difficult to predict exactly how it will happen and what the new business model will look like, but we can identify some of the factors that are already driving this change.

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