Post Email: a route to productivity gains?

Collaboration is essential in the construction industry. Bringing together multiple stakeholders, dispersed supply chains and numerous delivery teams in a project environment creates risk. Failing to collaborate effectively increases this risk and puts the efficient delivery of projects in jeopardy.

Email, whilst still the most common collaboration tool, is starting to show its age. Whilst still certainly serving a purpose in construction, email is facing increasing competition from ‘real-time’ collaboration software solutions.

Linear email threads, in which numerous collaborators communicate, are extremely difficult to keep track of, often leaving vital information buried. However, the shortcomings of email are being addressed in the form of new construction management software and work stream collaboration technologies. New technologies and software applications are increasingly being used to facilitate the effective sharing of project-related information between geographically dispersed, multi-disciplinary members of a construction project team.

Do these tools offer a route to productivity gains in the construction industry?


As an industry, construction is considered poor at adopting new innovations. Indeed, we have seen numerous initiatives by Government to encourage innovation and collaboration with the desired outputs of waste reduction and delivering better value to customers. A succession of reports have considered how this can be achieved. Sir John Egan’s 1998 report ‘Rethinking Construction’ suggested that changes need to be made to existing structures and working practices. The report proposed integrating the project processes and teams around the product, proposing that designers should work in closer collaboration with other participants in the project so that they can, for example, better understand how components are manufactured and assembled. Sir John Egan submitted that reducing fragmentation in this way would deliver better value to the customer and eliminate waste in all its forms.

Even before Egan’s report, Sir Michael Latham noted the importance of adopting an integrated approach to construction, placing a greater focus on teamwork. The report refers to the concept of ‘partnering’ - a formal arrangement (not limited to a particular project) where parties agree to work together, in a relationship of trust, to achieve specific primary objectives by maximising the effectiveness of each participant’s resources and expertise. The report suggested that such a system would encourage greater levels of openness and teamwork between supplier and client, facilitate continuous improvement and reduce completion time and cost. To do this though requires a high degree of openness and collaboration between parties.

More recently, Mark Farmer’s 2016 report ‘The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model’, described the lack of innovation and collaboration in the industry as being at the root of its change inertia. He said the reality was that many are conditioned to operating in an adversarial way and do not see the case to move towards a more collaborative and integrated approach for fear that a lack of commercial tension will impact their own financial outcomes. Farmer suggested that this approach prevents the industry sharing risk more appropriately and is preventing it from scaling up.

To read our full report on construction collaboration technology, click here