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4 Implementing Activities for Breakthrough Improvements: Recommended Actions Implementing the five interrelated activities identified in Chapter 3 by the committee as opportunities for achieving breakthrough improvements in efficiency and competitiveness for capital facilities construction will require a strategic, collaborative, evidence-based approach. It will need to be strategic because no single group of stakeholders or individual organization can drive change through the entire capital facilities sector. The large corporations and government agencies that regularly invest in capital facilities and infrastructure will benefit most directly from improvements in the industry, and they will need to take a leading role if breakthrough improvements are to be achieved. The approach to implementing the five activities will need to be collaborative in order to overcome fragmentation among stakeholder groups, construction processes, and construction practices if interoperable technologies and prefabricated components are to be used effectively, if job-site efficiency is to be improved, and if appropriate demonstration installations are to be identified and used. Collaboration will also help mitigate the risks and spread the costs and benefits of innovation. Evidence- based best practices and effective performance measures will be needed in order to make a compelling business case for the adoption of new processes and technologies throughout the capital facilities sector. Many of the ingredients needed for a strategic, collaborative, evidence-based approach are already in place. In some cases, additional research and development will be necessary to fully and effectively implement the identified activities that could result in breakthrough improvements in the next 2 to 10 years. DRIVING CHANGE STRATEGICALLY THROUGH COLLABORATION Those owners that regularly invest in capital facilities and infrastructureâlarge corporations and government agenciesâare in the best position to drive change in the capital facilities sector. They have a significant influence on the construction market and on some of the largest and most professional construction firms. Because they are contracting and paying for capital facilities, such owners can facilitate innovation in processes, technologies, and behaviors through contract provisions, incentives, and contractor selection processes. These owners will also realize the greatest, most direct benefits from improvements in construction efficiencyâhigher-quality, more-sustainable buildings and infrastructure, produced at lower costs and in less time. Effective implementation of contracts that require the use of innovative technologies or practices or the training of workers will require that owners work closely and collaboratively with their contractors to allocate the risks, costs, and benefits of innovation appropriately: Shifting all of the risk to contractors would undermine collaboration and lead to adversarial relationships. Widespread deployment of interoperable technologies, automated equipment, and prefabricated components will also require more effective planning up front. This in turn will require owners to work closely and collaboratively with general contractors, subcontractors, and designers. An owner-driven strategy has been effective in past initiatives. As noted in Chapter 2, when owners began taking an active role in construction worker safety, they established objectives, measured 37
38 ADVANCING THE COMPETITIVENESS AND EFFICIENCY OF THE U.S. CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY progress toward those objectives, and greatly reduced injuries and fatalities on their job sites (BRT, 1997). Improvements in construction productivity could be driven in a similar fashion. Collectively, large private-sector owners and government entities could set goals and objectives for efficiency improvements (e.g., the National Science and Technology Councilâs national construction goals, [NSTC, 1995]), establish metrics, monitor progress, and share best practices that can lead to improvement throughout the capital facilities sector. However, these owners cannot drive change without the collaboration and support of large contractors, subcontractors, equipment manufacturers, standards-setting organizations, and researchers. A critical mass of these stakeholders will be needed to develop methods collaboratively to share the risks, costs, and rewards of more efficient projects and processes. The committee believes that the critical mass of stakeholders needed to achieve breakthrough improvements can be assembled through a coalition of professional industry and government organizations. Such organizations include the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT), Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Construction Industry Institute (CII), Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), American Institute of Architects (AIA), National Academy of Construction (NAC), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the Department of Commerce, and the National Science Foundation (NSF). CURT, an independent, not-for-profit organization, describes itself as the âownersâ voice to the construction industryâ (CURT, 2009). Its membership includes not only owners (private-sector companies and several federal government agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the General Services Administration, and the Architect of the Capitol) but also associate members (contractors and professional or trade associations, including the Association of Union Contractors). CURT facilitates discussion among many of the largest companies and organizations in the United States. The owner organizations in CURT can influence the efficiency of the construction industry (and improve their own projects) by demanding improvement and monitoring progress through metrics. The AGC is a construction trade association representing all facets of commercial construction. This trade association collaborates with owner organizations and other construction stakeholders to âfurther the ever-changing agenda of commercial construction contractors, improve job site safety, expand the use of cutting-edge technologies and techniques and strengthen the dialogue between contractors and ownersâ (AGC, 2009). The CII, a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin, is a consortium of more than 100 leading owners, engineering and construction contractors, and suppliers from both the public and private sectors (CII, 2009). These organizations have joined together to enhance the business effectiveness and sustainability of the capital facility life cycle through CII research, related initiatives, and industry alliances. CII funds evidenced-based research to develop best practices for the construction industry and has conducted its research through more than 40 universities throughout North America. The ABC is a national association representing 25,000 merit shop construction and construction- related firms in 79 chapters across the United States. ABCâs membership represents all specialties within the U.S. construction industry and is composed primarily of firms that perform work in the industrial and commercial sectors of the industry. The ACEC numbers more than 5,500 private-sector engineering firms throughout the country. The ACECâs member firms range in size from a single registered professional engineer to corporations employing thousands of professionals. Combined, these firms employ thousands of engineers, architects, land surveyors, scientists, and other specialists and are responsible for more than $200 billion of private and public works annually (ACEC, 2009). The AIA is the leading trade association representing architects. The NAC is an honorific organization of industry leaders recognized for making outstanding contributions year after year to the U.S. engineering and construction industry. NAC members promote the industryâs advancement through service and strategic initiatives.
IMPLEMENTING ACTIVITIES FOR BREAKTHROUGH IMPROVEMENTS: RECOMMENDED ACTIONS 39 Evidence-based research and standards will be needed to fully implement and deploy the committeeâs five priority activities and other construction-related innovations. Some research and standards are being developed through FIATECH, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), and some private-sector companies. Two federal agencies positioned to take a leading role in producing evidence-based research are NIST and NSF. The mission of NIST is to âpromote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of lifeâ (NIST, 2009). NIST conducts research in the areas of building materials, computer- integrated construction practices, fire science and fire safety engineering, and structural, mechanical, and environmental engineering. Its research products include measurements and test methods, performance criteria, and technical data that support innovations by industry and are incorporated into building and fire standards and codes. With its laboratories, NIST is in a position to sponsor the testing and evaluation of high-cost, high-risk, and high-impact construction-related technologies. NSF, an independent federal agency, was established âto promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense. . . .â (NSF, 2009). NSF is the only federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering (except for medical sciences) and whose research is integrated with education and training (NSF, 2009). Each of these professional industry and government organizations has an important role to play, and a stake in, improving the competitiveness and efficiency of the capital facilities sector of the construction industry. Together, they comprise a critical mass of key stakeholders. They also provide the venues required for the collaborative activities necessary to change existing processes and practices and, in some cases, the resources and facilities required to conduct industry-related research. These organizations also have access to the industry media (e.g., trade journals such as Engineering News Record) and academic journals, which reach hundreds of thousands of construction professionals each month. The media could be used to disseminate research results and evidence-based information about best practices, new technologies, and innovations in construction. The committee believes that as these owners, contractors, and researchers effectively use innovative technologies, they will improve their own efficiency and competitiveness. And as these owners, contractors, and researchers disseminate the results of their efforts through trade and academic journals, presentations, and best practices, smaller firms that wish to remain competitive can follow their example. In this way it will be possible to effect widespread change throughout the capital facilities sector of the construction industry. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MOVING FORWARD The committee is not in a position to mandate action by leading construction firms or professional organizations, but it can suggest a path forward. The committee believes that the sponsor of this study, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is well positioned to work with key construction-related organizations in the public and private sectors to develop a collaborative strategy for improving the productivity of the capital facilities sector. NIST regularly works with a wide range of construction stakeholders, including owners, contractors, and researchers from industry, academia, and government, to support the development of construction-related standards and technologies. NIST also has sophisticated testing facilities that can be used for evaluating innovative technologies, demonstrating their capacity for improving effectiveness and productivity, and verifying their readiness for deployment on a widespread basis. The committee identified the five interrelated activities that it believes have significant potential to advance the competitiveness and efficiency of the capital facilities sector within 2 to 10 years. To expedite the deployment of these activities on a widespread basis, the committee makes the following recommendations:
40 ADVANCING THE COMPETITIVENESS AND EFFICIENCY OF THE U.S. CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY Recommendation 1: The National Institute of Standards and Technology should work with industry leaders to bring together a critical mass of construction industry stakeholders to develop a collaborative strategy for advancing the competitiveness and efficiency of the capital facilities sector of the U.S. construction industry. The collaborative strategy should identify actions needed to fully implement and deploy interoperable technology applications, job-site efficiencies, off-site fabrication processes, demonstration installations, and effective performance measures. NIST is uniquely positioned to work with public- and private-sector owners, contractors, researchers, and standards-setting organizations. The committee recommends that NIST convene a series of meetings involving representatives of the Construction Users Roundtable, Associated General Contractors of America, the Construction Industry Institute, the Association of Builders and Contractors, the American Council of Engineering Companies, the National Academy of Construction, the American Institute of Architects, the National Science Foundation, and other government organizations. The purpose of the meetings should be to develop a collaborative strategy for fully implementing the five activities identified by the committee that could lead to breakthrough improvements in efficiency and competitiveness for the capital facilities sector of the U.S. construction industry. In some cases, this will entail finding ways to deploy automated equipment, information technologies, and prefabricated components more effectively. In other cases it will require identifying the additional research and resources needed to fully implement these activities to achieve breakthrough improvements. Because implementation of the five activities would require a workforce that has the education and training to use new technologies and collaborative processes effectively, the strategy for implementing them should also address how to attract and retain skilled workers and recent graduates to the industry. Finally, the strategy should address how to effectively disseminate best practices and other information throughout the capital facilities sector. Recommendation 2: The National Institute of Standards and Technology should take the lead in developing a âtechnology readiness indexâ similar to indexes developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense for high-risk, high-cost, high-impact construction-related innovations. Such an index could help mitigate the risks of using new technologies, products, and processes by verifying their readiness to be deployed on a widespread basis. A technology readiness index is most appropriate for evaluating the maturity of high-cost, high- risk, and high-impact technologies. Such an index could be used to provide a common understanding of the status of a technology and its level of risk. It could also be used to help make decisions about funding for additional research and development or for deploying the technology into widespread practice. Recommendation 3: The National Institute of Standards and Technology should work with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and construction industry groups to develop effective industry-level measures for tracking the productivity of the construction industry and to enable improved efficiency and competitiveness. With its stated mission of measurement science and its resources, NIST is the organization best positioned to take the leading role in developing industry-level measures for construction. Collaboration by NIST with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and construction industry organizations will be required in order to develop industry-level measures that help identify trends in construction industry productivity. Industry organizations can help NIST and others to determine which types of data can reasonably be collected and validated for this purpose. Developing measures that can be used to measure efficiency in different segments of the capital facilities sectorâcommercial, industrial, heavy construction/infrastructureâas well as a single index for the industry may also be desirable. Consideration should also be given to differentiating the data collected by region in order to capture regional differences in the costs of labor, equipment, and materials, and in climate. In collaboration with other government organizations, NIST should also determine whether there is value in developing measures that would be comparable to construction productivity measures used in other developed countries.