Nov 30 2009

A public PS: Paul

Looking back at my open letter to Paul Morrell, I realised that it would probably need to be printed out and posted to him, or at the very least emailed, so perhaps we need a post-script….

A public PS: Paul

I would be delighted to be proved wrong, but I suspect you probably don’t read many blogs, use Twitter or engage in m(any) social networks. Your communications probably revolve around email, but think what a powerful message it would send to the industry if you, the new Chief Construction Adviser, actually started to engage in online conversations with construction industry people?

Think about blogging, for example. Instead of relying on the traditional media to relay your ideas to the industry, you could speak direct to industry professionals, and read their reactions yourself. Having your own online ‘voice’ would also do wonders for your personal reputation.

Why not deploy online forums and polls to learn what people at the work-face think are important, to gauge reactions to your policies and plans, or ‘crowd-source’ innovative ideas to seemingly intractable problems?

And if you are serious about the future of the construction industry, you will also need to look at how we recruit and retain the industry professionals of tomorrow – many of this Gen Y (and Gen Z) cohort are highly conversant with networking platforms like Facebook, and will be making career choices influenced by such media.

You could even use Twitter. “Oh, I won’t have time for that,” I hear you say. Well, numerous MPs and even Government ministers such as Lord Drayson (post) are online regulars, often finding that Twitter and Web 2.0 tools such as RSS and Google Alerts saves time over other channels, so that ‘lack of time’ excuse carries little weight. You would also be in good company with another government adviser, director of digital engagement Andrew Stott, who both  blogs and Tweets, and has nearly 3000 followers as a result.

[Update (04 December) – Much to my surprise and delight, Paul Morrell actually responded – see the comments to this post.]


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  1. Paul Morrell

    Well you’re right: I am an e-mail sort of person, but I know enough people who inhabit the internet to have received two or three copies of your message – which I guess rather makes your point for you.

    For the next few months, my priority is really to listen rather than to talk, as the greater part of the job is to form a sufficiently balanced view of the priorities of the industry and those of Government (as client, sponsor and regulator of the industry – already a complex mix) to help to bring those priorities together in a way that reinforces a productive relationship between the two. Whilst I don’t have the completely open mind (who was it that said that congratulating somebody on having an open mind is like congratulating them on having a hole in their pocket?), I am sufficiently self aware to know that my views have been formed by my own experience, and that nobody’s experience would be sufficiently broad to step into this job with a fully formed strategy.

    Just one those topics (and I need no persuading that it is a big one) is indeed the enormous potential that lies in more intelligent use of ICT. On that subject, the part of my mind that is closed is the part that is already persuaded of that potential in improving communications, reducing or removing transaction costs, transforming the way that buildings are designed, creating more direct links between design and fabrication/assembly, removing the coordination errors that too often block productivity etc. The part that is open is in recognising that there will be still more potential beyond my current understanding, and indeed beyond the general understanding of the industry – and also the part that addresses the hard issue of barriers to adoption. These are easy to list out: too many people of my generation in positions of influence, the multiplicity of systems (so that any single member of the supply chain who moves one way, will certainly find themselves dealing with other members who have gone a different way), the fact that if we don’t do it pragmatically we could spend the rest of several lifetimes talking about inter-operability etc; but I am open-minded as to which of these barriers are perceived and which are real, and as to the best way of hurdling them.

    So yes, as I embark upon a major programme of consultations, I absolutely have on my agenda looking at what can be done to encourage the take up of existing and future ICT tools in what you rightly call “this great industry of ours” (and isn’t it telling how, whilst all of us occasionally moan about it, none of us would want to work in any other?).

    As for engaging in on-line conversations, I am, as I say, principally in listening mode over the next couple of months; but I certainly intend within that period to set up a blog which, whilst it may be a bit slow motion for generations Y and Z, will provide an opportunity to show emerging thinking – and, above all, get some thinking back.

    Already, on day three of the job, it is clear (from contributions like your own and others) that it’s just going to get more and more interesting.

    Kind regards
    Paul M

  2. Paul

    Dear Paul

    I am absolutely delighted that you responded to my blog posts. I am also encouraged:
    that you have people around you who are helping you keep tabs on what is happening in the ‘blogosphere’
    that you are keen to expand the general understanding of the industry regarding ICT issues, and
    that you will be setting up a blog sometime in the next couple of months.

    Having spent much of the past ten years working in construction ICT, I am convinced it can be a key enabler in industry change, but I also believe that technology is only part of the answer. I repeat the mantra used many times by collaboration vendors (among others): successful collaboration is only 20% technology, it’s 80% people and processes. If you can help encourage change in related areas such as procurement, contracts, project insurance and intellectual property, then we will be a long way towards reaping the benefits of the significant advances that are happening in ICT, not least the advent of building information modelling, BIM, and of mobile technologies (where construction – due to its dispersed, fragmented nature – has often been at the forefront).

    You are right to start out by listening (indeed, it is also a strategy freqently advised for anybody starting out in their use of social media). I look forward to your transition from listening to engaging in conversations with people online, and also I hope that your example encourages other industry figures to do the same.

    Kind regards

    PS: any chance you might start Tweeting?

  3. Martin Brown

    This is a very encouraging response from Paul Morrell and hopefully one that will see an increase in the use of collaboration through web enabled tools, be it the social twitter or more business / project orientated Building Information Modeling tools.

    After all this is a construction client commitment!

    I would agree with you Paul (W) that Paul (M) should engage with the twitter built environment discussions. There is a growing community, both UK and globally, of design, construction and facilities management individuals and organisations slowly shaping a future for communications, on a social and organisational level.

    It makes so much sense for our Chief Construction Adviser to be part of this community and its discussions.

    I would also flag our be2camp manifesto to Paul (M), in particular that the current sustainable construction debates, strategy thinking and development are far too important to take place behind closed doors.

    With the ease of use and access to collaborative and social applications there really is no excuse in not engaging with those working within the built environment sector.

  4. Su Butcher

    Hello Pauls both,

    Congratulations to Paul Wilkinson for his open letter, and I’m delighted to hear that Paul Morrell is to write a blog, and would definitely encourage the ‘slow motion’ approach.

    The greatest advantage of these tools is their openness. Why don’t we help Paul M with his consultation exercises?

    I would encourage you Paul, to use your blog to promote the consultation process. As well as being a good vehicle for engagement in itself it could act as a very effective home for your role.

    Concerning twitter, even if you find that twitter is right for you to use personally (and some people don’t), those of us with a wide contact base in UK construction would be able to help put the word out using the highly effective combination of twitter and blog.

    Earlier this year I was asked to talk to the RIBA Practice Stakeholder’s forum and used twitter, blog and linkedin to “crowdsource” the presentation. From a reach of many hundreds I recieved help and advice from over 70 individuals in just a few days.

    I hope we would be able to assist you towards an effective and highly visible consultation process.

  5. Luke O'Rafferty

    As a member of “generation Y” I thought I’d throw in my two pennies. Despite Mr Morrell’s concerns, slow motion isn’t a problem – engagement is the important part of the process. I understand the reasons that Mr Morrell will be in listening mode for the near future but for that very reason I would say a blog is perfect. A few thoughts perhaps, but mainly as a place that questions can be publicly asked to gauge reactions and find as many view points as possible. A blog allows for an excellent arena for debate.

    As regards the comments on ICT in the industry, I think it will increasingly play a massive part in how construction moves forward. Despite any suggestions of a technophobic industry, there is a huge pipe line of particularly computer literate graduates entering the industry. It is rare indeed to find any student who does not have a laptop at University and the vast majority are adept at putting them to good use (even if that means a fair few of us may have forgotten how to use a pen). There is only so long that inertia can hold back the industry before you find a critical mass driving forward an ICT related agenda. The question I would put forward is how can we direct that push in the most effective way?

    If Mr Morrell is concerned that barriers to adoption include “too many people of [his] generation in positions of influence” then connecting with younger members of the industry is important and that is easily accomplished with an online presence. You need only look at something like G4CNet to find a willing audience and participants in discussion.

  6. Dave Glennon

    Great responses so far and very encouraging to see the interaction.

    To build on Luke’s comments, I often sit between the Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers and try to get the parties working together with technology. I’d suggest Gen X have moved on – quickly and quietly – the gap in the use of ICT is narrowing.

    I do agree though that the potential is massive and I get the feeling we’re at the tipping point when looking at improving traditional processes. When all parties can see the benefits in the use of ICT to speed up or improve the traditional ways of working it can be easy to introduce the technology.

    The bit that is harder to work on is the use of ICT in the industry that is not related to the traditional processes such as blogs, twitter, Social Media, etc. It’s hard to show an ROI on that and you have to be brave to push it!

    Should be an interesting few years for our industry.

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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by EEPaul: @DirDigEng Any chance you might encourage new Govt construction advisor Paul Morrell to embrace Web 2.0? http://bit.ly/6hu5p4

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