Taylor Wescoatt
Mar 4, 2017 · 6 min read

Notes from Build Tech : Innovation in Construction — Last week we launched the first in a series of in-depth discussions with industry experts in the Real Estate sector on what moved the needle for them. Hosted by Seedcamp, FUTURE:Property Tech, and sponsored by Concrete and its founding partners, Seedcamp, Starwood Capital, and FORA, the event was a sold-out success.

Fearless moderator James Dearsley (and world-renowned bee keeper and dim-sum connoisseur) was joined on stage by Matt Gough (Mace Group), Simon Saint (Woods Bagot), and James Daniel (Skanska).

“Driving gains in construction is all about people, the lifecycle, and digitisation of workflow”, Matt Gough, MACE

Great Panelists!

The goal was to have a deep discussion with industry experts sharing their thoughts on what moved the needle for them. The feedback seemed quite positive at the end of the event, and I made and saw some meaningful connections being made over drinks.

What’s the hot topic today in your office? “Modular Construction!”

  • MG, “Focus is on improving productivity, efficiency and outcomes. All the investment we see in modular is in residential; it’s the basic economics of supply and demand.”
  • JD, “Legal & General’s Doncaster factory is a good example. We are all driving towards those Government targets — reduction in build cost, faster programmes, and being more sustainable.”

Worth noting that this was sated by Moderator James, and it’s worth further highlighting the disruption in this sector as Legal and General are traditionally known for Insurance and Investments not construction, so their shift in to this area is something to be noted.

What about Big Changes do you expect coming down the pipe in the near term?

  • JD, “Predictive Maintenance is a big one. The iPhone has already revolutionised what we do, allowing people on the ground to record and share data. Now we need to harness the data produced by plant and equipment, and generally be more connected to all elements of the process.”
  • SS, “Improved Collaboration : changing the adversarial relationship between stakeholders in the standard build process. Tools to support this are a big focus for us. Also increased instances of change in use (by tenant) is driving our change in how we design.”
  • MG, “Construction is lean and we follow lean principles; the really big efficiency gains to be had are in supply chain mapping, and how we improve those relationships with technology, eg with blockchain. Driving gains in construction is all about people and the lifecycle and digitisation of workflow. We talk about assembly instead of construction. Someday soon we hope to get to the science — improvements in materials etc, but that still feels a way off.”
Simon, James, and Matt respond to Mr Dearsley’s questions

What do you find personally most exciting?

  • JD, “Mapping, above all especially within an Civil and Infrastructure environment where assets are large, complex and geographically located across a much wider estate to that of a building asset. Everything we do can now be geo-tagged and it makes it so much easier to understand our assets. Much more to come around this.”
  • SS, “Collaboration tools. BIM has heavy collaboration requirements but the tools are very old. We need processes that make it simple.”
  • MG, “Technology-driven facilities management and asset management. The tech is developing at a rapid rate. We’d like to see improved management of utilities within a building. Better outcomes for clients and the environment.”

How should startups be thinking when they are trying to engage with you?

  • JD, “Take 360-degree cameras for example, they are a big immediate opportunity. What apps can you make using that tech to solve simple problems?”
  • SS, “Whatever it is, its important that you demonstrate the impact, and data. Help us work faster, help us be more agile, or reduce accidents by 5%.”
  • MG, “Important that you’re able to integrate into an already complex operating environment, recognising what other technologies are already in place. No one wants to start over from scratch, and generally can’t afford to. Though admittedly, someone who comes in and does a clean sweep of new tech is a distinct possibility. None of the big incumbents have it bang on.”

In the realm of VR/AR? The general consensus was that “Yes,tech such as Hololens / Daqri is the future but its a while away from widespread adoptions. Heads-up display allows workers to have two hands free, and that’s a big benefit to safety, and even real-time collaboration. Imagine a site manager showing remote colleagues what he’s looking at, receiving instruction of what to adjust, and having those colleagues watch him do it.”

What about Robots? — “Not really, too much bespoke work. A construction site is very different to a factory production line. But we do need to figure out what robots mean for construction. Drone-based visuals are great. Robotic arm printing of complex forms is also attractive. From a societal perspective we need to accept them first before we integrate them in to our industry as a side by side operation.”

What are the fears in the Construction sector about new technology?

  • MG, “We are worried about taking on things that may not be able to scale. We’re a big industry. We have experience of start-ups having great ideas, but not being able to support deployment at the scale we’d need. And we don’t like that risk. Construction is a very risky and dangerous environment, its important not to add to this risk.”
  • JD, “Fear of change and failure, there is a long held belief that because ‘we have always done it this way’ is met with a ‘why should we change’. However this is changing and we are now seeing a change, where parts of industry that are associated with traditional manual labour efforts are now becoming receptive to technology, for example our Highways Maintenance Teams don’t have at a fear of tech per say , they know how to fix problems in domains they are already familiar with. If you give us a new platform that’s great, what we are worried about is not knowing how to fix things that go wrong with it. In short, support change, and you see a reduction in failure.”
  • SS, “You need to be able to scale up and scale down as changes come into play (eg vision or budget). We’re a cyclical industry. So long-term investment requirements / contracts can be intimidating. You also need to be able to roll out what you are doing to the many people that you are collaborating with.”

If you’re a startup, clearly to engage with the big players on the scale of Mace, Skanska, and Woods Bagot, you’ll need to speak the language that they care about. As an investor, I found the insights really valuable, and you can be sure I’ll be taking them on board as we look for the next great Construction Tech company around the corner. Once again thanks to Concrete’s founding partners and please reach out if you’d like to find out about working with us : info@concretevc.com

Taylor Wescoatt

Written by

Proptech & Product. Concrete VC

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