All together, better – why collaboration is key in construction says JCA

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Building engineering principal contractor, JCA Engineering, looks at the critical importance of collaboration in construction projects, as well as the benefit to the future success of the construction sector.

 According to the Oxford English Dictionary, collaboration is defined as “the action of working with someone else to produce or create something.”

In the context of the construction industry, however, this could be considered something akin to the holy grail. It remains a hugely fragmented sector with lots of different companies, often unknown to one another, brought together to deliver a particular project, which then move on. Such fragmentation means that it takes a long time for best practice to filter through. For example, a particular project may see some innovation that could benefit the whole industry but this is lost at the end when the team disintegrates.

In an ideal world, a truly collaborative venture is where all parties focus on the delivery of a unified set of goals but generally, reality shows a different and more difficult route to completion. Typically, each party has differing objectives, despite a common outcome and these could be conflicting. Success for one party, therefore, could result in failure for another. For example, a project’s mechanical system might be deemed unfit for purpose, while its structural design is award-winning.

In short, while some degree of collaboration in construction is necessary for any project, the process is often a struggle involving competing sub-contractors, disconnected agendas, broken trust and poor communication. Worst case scenario is that a project is derailed and perhaps compounded by legal proceedings which, in certain high profile cases, leads to a public vilification of the construction sector.

In addition, the industry has had to grapple with a lot of wastage. Some owners, architects or designers might demand certain criteria in a building’s specification, such as environmental product declarations that require certain sustainability standards, yet there is a tendency for procurement teams or contractors to overlook or discount such requirements in their pursuit of short-term cost reduction.

New technology and sustainability-focused building standards such as BREEAM are, however, helping to break down the silo mentality in the construction process. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD), which advocates the collective harnessing of all participants’ expertise, is one approach that many in the industry think can make the process more joined up. A central aspect of IPD is Building Information Modelling (BIM) which can be a real force for collaboration, according to JCA Engineering’s Key Account Director, David Johnson:

“BIM actively encourages the need for a co-operative, fully integrated approach to a project because it demands contractor involvement from the outset. As a digital model, changes to specifications and design can be viewed by all parties. The advent of email was detrimental to the construction sector as changes could be withheld but BIM makes the process more transparent and therefore more collaborative.”

Johnson advocates the use of BIM to deliver projects more smoothly, faster and more cost-effectively. Since 2016, all new public sector buildings must be developed using the technology but there is room for improvement in the wider industry, particularly on lower level projects, where contractors have not invested in such systems.

However, JCA recognises that technology on its own is not the whole solution. The need for the right people with the right skills and experience together with a shared vision and financial clarity are all key elements in successful delivery.

By way of an exemplar on the benefit of collaboration, Kao Data appointed JCA Engineering as its preferred Design and Build contractor for its first data centre. The approach was to be unique to the data centre industry for such a major development. Enabling the project to be engineering-led, the client benefitted from a design and construction process that was in harmony with the overall purpose of the facility and complementary to the mechanical, electrical and ancillary infrastructure services.

Kao and JCA Engineering undertook an open approach to encourage the free-flowing of ideas, high levels of project dynamism and problem solving to ensure the project was completed on time and on budget. Whilst there were multiple challenges that had to be overcome, the overarching principle of collaborative engagement enabled Kao to achieve its objective and take delivery of one the most advanced data centres anywhere in the world.

This was succinctly put by Paul Finch, Kao’s Chief Operating Officer:

“The collaborative engagement on Kao Data London One was unprecedented and should be championed by the industry to demonstrate that adversarial contracting on major developments is not the only option.”

This approach was a major factor in both JCA Engineering and Kao becoming finalists for the 2018 DCS Awards.

Click here for more information about JCA’s integrated approach.