By Dr. Ala Suliman, Postdoctoral Fellow; Morgan Day, Marketing and Communications Coordinator; and Brandon Searle, Innovation Director, all, Off-Site Construction Research Centre, University of New Brunswick
Labour-productivity in construction has significantly lagged when compared to manufacturing and the total economy globally. This lag presented a need for technological advancements, which have been identified and recognized through innovative improvements in how we procure, construct, operate and maintain infrastructure projects across Canada. While the industry has seen recent adoption of digital technologies, it is evident that effective guidance in how to implement and adopt new technologies and processes is needed to navigate the ever-changing world of digital technologies. Inspired by this, the Off-site Construction Research Centre (OCRC) at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) initiated a digitization research roadmap in hopes to benchmark the current level of technological innovation in the construction industry. Ultimately, the goal of this project is to showcase the potential of new technologies, help industry leaders benchmark their current maturity level, identify the gaps where their organization could improve, and provide decision-makers with the tools and knowledge to make more informed decisions within their organization.
“Innovation” is a qualitative concept that represents turning anything new into common practice. Construction projects, processes, and emerging technologies are complex, so measuring change is challenging. A common framework can help us understand, measure, and talk about innovation in a tangible way.
Conceptual frameworks are often tools used to help drive and direct innovation efforts effectively. They provide mental models that attempt to represent, simplify, and clarify complex real-world issues. They assist understanding and reasoning about the complex issues associated with the qualitative topics such as innovation in a specific sector.
Conceptual frameworks can be categorized into single-dimensional and multi-dimensional classification models. During this project, it was found that multi-dimensional classification models are superior and more suitable for modelling innovation in construction. Accordingly, the project developed a multi-dimensional model for innovation in construction. It builds on previous research and expands three key dimensions which are technology, application, and innovation. These dimensions are represented in a three-dimensional space that attempts to accommodate any construction-related innovative applications of new or existing technologies (diagram on facing page).
Bob Iger once said, “the riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo”, and this could not be more accurate when it comes to adopting new technologies and processes across an industry. Technologies are constantly evolving and reinventing themselves, meaning that mapping or classifying existing technologies based on their application, smartness, outcome, or any other aspect would quickly become outdated. With this in mind, it was vital to account for the world the technology “resides” in, which could be adopted, and slightly modified, from the Industry 4.0 technology classification system:
With the same analogy, technology applications can be modelled based on various aspects such as the construction lifecycle and value chain. The digitization roadmap proposes a novel combination of three management phases which are subdivided into five management levels.
Measurement of qualitative concepts, such as innovation, are also difficult to quantify. In contrast, maturity-based assessments, are a method which allows researchers to measure the maturity (or level of acceptance) of a qualitative concept. Additionally, when the model is applied to measure the current state (benchmark), it provides, by nature, the foundation to create a roadmap (desired state) through the identification of maturity gaps. Therefore, the research project had to create a method to measure innovation using maturity-based scales. To do this, the research looked at two separate areas where innovation is occurring: research maturity (or academic publications) and industry acceptance levels (through surveys). In practice, this framework will allow researchers and practitioners to know their current maturity level, for example: 15% of construction projects use cyber-physical (e.g., augmented reality) for collaboration (e.g., people) during the execution phase.
In parallel to the digitization roadmap, the OCRC is finalizing an industrialized construction roadmap with hopes of benchmarking the maturity of industrialized construction across Canada. As a next step, the OCRC aims to engage industry partners to expand the use of the developed frameworks by benchmarking the digital technology acceptance in industry practice and advancing the adoption of new or existing technologies through research and development efforts.
If you are interested in getting involved in this initiative or other research and development projects, please feel free to contact the Off-site Construction Research Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org.