Quality means different things to different businesses. If you’re a car manufacturer, it could be producing the most desirable and reliable vehicles. For a hospital, it might be providing the best treatment for each patient, matched with high-quality bedside care. Ultimately, quality means performing for your stakeholders–whether that’s customers, shareholders, employees or the public–and continually improving what you do.
World Quality Day recognised annually in November, has become a key event for UK construction, as well as other industries globally. The event offers an opportunity to recognise the role everyone plays in building and sustaining trust for all parties. Unfortunately, however, quality is not a word often tightly associated with UK construction. The industry’s reputation has been badly damaged, with high profile incidents like the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, closure of 17 schools in Edinburgh and the collapse of construction giant Carillion weakening public trust.
Nevertheless, there is a significant appetite for change in construction, and higher quality could not only rebuild trust but improve firms’ competitiveness and productivity, through reduced rework. So why does quality remain such a challenge–and how can firms use technology to enhance their performance?
The UK’s Construction Quality Gap
Construction quality is a common topic in UK construction but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. The tragedy at Grenfell Tower highlighted major shortcomings in quality (as well as safety) processes; moreover, the subsequent review by Dame Judith Hackitt, a former Chair of the UK Health and Safety Executive, has found that these issues are widespread in high-rise residential buildings across the country. Meanwhile, a survey by the House Builders’ Federation found that 98% of owners of new homes reported defects to their builders within a few months of moving in.
While these cases may seem extreme, many construction businesses experience challenges with quality. Digital Foundations, a recent study by PlanGrid and Construction Manager, found that dealing with mistakes and rework is the main cause of unnecessary time delays for 68% of firms. This results in a significant quality gap, where construction firms fail to meet the needs of their clients, ultimately the end users of a building.
Understanding the Shortcomings
So what lies behind the quality gap? Critically builders are often under significant pressure on projects. Clients’ demands are high and both schedules and margins are tight. Unfortunately, quality is far too often an afterthought. At the same time, the efficiency of construction firms is poor. Altogether, this can compromise the quality of projects.
This challenge is intensified by current working practices on-site. Builders are often left without the information that they need; in PlanGrid’s study, 42% of construction professionals indicated that this is the biggest hindrance to their productivity. Lack of information and data often leads to delays and errors on-site. Problems sharing drawings and documentation can also hamper collaboration between stakeholders on a project, leaving issues unresolved.
Quality in construction is also directly impacted by the industry’s skills shortage. Businesses can struggle to source the talent they need, with the technical competence and relevant experience to deliver the best quality results, and this is set to be the biggest challenge for 38% of firms in the next 12 months. Construction firms need new ways to assure the quality of delivery and improve efficiency on projects.
Supporting Quality from the Ground Up
Quality in construction must be entrenched on-site, and it’s here particularly that technology can help. Using digital tools makes it easy to record and share information in real-time. As one example, Sobha Hartland, a construction firm operating in Dubai, introduced PlanGrid to their projects with the specific objective of achieving quality with speed. As a result, the technology helped the clarity and speed in which project information is recorded and shared across several platforms and devices. That means that the whole team at Sobha Hartland can now access up to date drawings as soon as they need them, reducing the risk of mistakes and ensuring that snags and defects are resolved in a timely and effective manner.
Technology can enable–and encourage–workers to spend more time physically on-site. Replacing paper-based processes dramatically reduces the administrative burden on projects. At Sobha Hartland, employees were visibly energised by using a digital platform. Business leaders found workers were spending much more time on-site as a result. This is critical to delivering the best quality on all projects.
Using technology on-site can also help construction firms to improve quality in the long-term, by supporting business intelligence. Digital tools gather data that can be analysed for insights to improve operations in the business: for example, findings that can lead to preventative, rather than corrective, measures to fix frequent issues in the business. Technology can also support standardisation, clearly outlining best practices for project teams and reducing time spent problem-solving. All of this supports a principle of right first time–and greater quality on every project.
New Standard for Quality in UK Construction Industry
There is a clear appetite for improving quality throughout the UK construction industry. Dame Hackitt has called for ‘root and branch’ reform in the wake of Grenfell, and it’s an issue that is of increasing importance for construction clients. Better quality equates to improved efficiency and productivity on our projects. It also creates competitive advantage–so could be a critical differentiator for firms in the challenging months ahead.
Using technology on-site is a powerful way to deliver enhanced quality in UK construction projects. To use it to its full effect, businesses should consider a comprehensive digital strategy, focusing on embedding technology into their business’ processes. World Quality Day is the perfect opportunity to address and implement change, which will ultimately improve the long-term quality of construction and help bridge the quality gap.
Read the full Digital Foundations report to learn how to improve productivity on your construction sites.