With the Construction Playbook setting out a clear policy direction for the transformation of the sector, Trudi Sully, impact director for manufacturing at the Construction Innovation Hub, argues the time is right for a shift to platform solutions
The eagerly anticipated Construction Playbook published in December was a timely and critical milestone in the sector’s long and eventful transformative journey. The seemingly unending cycle of lockdowns and ever-evolving myriad of rules have played havoc with a sector which depends, above all, on certainty.
As well as helping to restore some degree of certainty in these trying times, the construction playbook paves the way towards a very different future for our sector. Government is using the single biggest lever at its disposal – it’s huge buying power as a client – to accelerate the shift towards newer and better ways of doing things. As Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm emphasises in the very first pages of the document, if we are to build better, faster and greener, we must change our approach to delivery.
To do so, however, we must abandon outdated practices that are wasteful and inefficient, and instead embrace the innovative, digitally enabled manufacturing approaches which have long been standard practice in other major sectors.
A ready-made solution
A core policy objective of the playbook is “accelerat(ing) the development and use of platform approaches, standard products and components”. Recent in-depth analysis carried out by the Hub reveals the truly transformative potential of the platform approach. Our team has collated and aggregated the forward pipelines of key Whitehall departments including health, housing, justice, defence and education.
This was the first time that space-level information has been brought together across government departments. Of a total £50bn pipeline examined, a massive £35bn was identified as being suitable for delivery in whole or in part using a platform approach. Why then, you might reasonably ask, is government not already applying the platform approach at scale?
One of the main blockers as identified in our analysis, titled ‘Defining the Need’, is a lack of commonality, compatibility and standardisation across Whitehall. Public bodies use a variety of quantifiable and qualitative descriptors to articulate their requirements, with some being machine-readable and others open to subjective interpretation. Our analysis tallies with previous research in this space which revealed a government procurement landscape complicated by a high degree of complexity and governed by numerous regulations containing a wide range of requirements.
The gap between where we are now and where we need to be may appear extensive. However, our analysis also illustrates, in quantifiable terms, the potential scale for platform solutions within the construction industry according to Akerlof founding partner, Jamie Hillier. Defining the Need, he argues, provides the clearest indication to date of a new model of delivery and market for manufacturing in construction, one that should unlock opportunities for industry and add value for government through economies of scale and better social infrastructure.
Unleashing this transformative potential of platform solutions will require a number of actions which are outlined in Defining the Need. Key measures include driving greater alignment of requirements across different departments (Health, Education, Justice etc), early onboarding of client groups and supply chains and adoption by public bodies of standardised methodology right from the outset.
Ripe for a platform revolution
With a clear policy direction set out in the Construction Playbook and a strong evidence base provided by the Hub, the time has never been riper for a fundamental shift towards platform solutions. Change, of course, won’t happen overnight, but thanks to the collaboration we’ve had across government and industry in developing the Hub’s Platform Rulebook and System, change has never been more achievable.
The next few months will be critical for us as we continue to develop, test and roll out the critical elements of the programme. The sector’s transformative journey is gathering momentum and has not been without its challenges, but the destination has become so much clearer and indeed more certain.
Impact director for manufacturing
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