When I think of all those on the frontlines, all the families affected and all the anxious entrepreneurs, it is clear that this distress must not be in vain. It must serve a higher purpose, one that is constructive and positive: to create a better future for our society.
The construction industry is no exception, in fact quite the contrary. And what if, now that the world as we knew it has been turned on its head, we had a chaos that creates a unique opportunity to shape our industry? An incredible chance to collectively define a new normal? Before the crisis, the construction industry - one of the most archaic there is, let's be honest! - had undertaken a slow but promising transformation. We are now seeing more collaboration, more innovation, more trust among the players in our ecosystem, from coast to coast.
Chaos and change are often seen as barriers to growth. But I see them as an exceptional opportunity, if not an obligation, to accelerate the transformation of our industry. Furthermore, our ability to bring about and embrace change will directly influence the degree of this transformation. Here's why.
A committed contractor, a committed industry
For decades, we have collectively nurtured a way of working in silos which in turn provoked conflicts, created cause for litigation and neglected our common interests. Too often, we put the contract before the goal of the whole project. To bring about fundamental changes in the way of doing things, we must start with the culture in order to create one of openness, innovation, collaboration and trust.
The way the COVID-19 crisis was managed is tangible proof of the potential of such a culture.
At Pomerleau, we quickly implemented a pandemic response plan which we immediately made public to all our stakeholders. Subsequently, players in our industry, large and small, came together to join forces, pool their intelligence and share their best practices and their learnings. Workers, architects, engineers, customers, contractors, associations, government - all have participated in the collective effort to protect the health of workers and their families and the sustainability of our industry.
This experience, which could not have been more collaborative - a first for our industry - is a promising demonstration of our ability to work together when we share common goals. We must draw inspiration from this to devise calls for tenders, whose criteria must better meet the real needs of the project. Of course, price will always be important in the decision, but one must consider, among other things, alignment of stakeholder interests, delivery schedule, flexibility, product quality and experience. We also need to integrate bold sustainable development targets in a much more systematic way. In addition to governance, the sum of the factors retained for a given project must guide the choice of delivery methods in the best interest of the client, the provider of the mandate, and the accompanying partners and communities.
Alone we can go fast, together we go far
This cultural transformation is necessary and can only have positive short- and long-term effects for all industry players. A change of culture will inevitably lead to more innovation throughout the ecosystem of a project.
On the one hand, the transformation of our industry requires our judicious and collaborative use of technology. The collaborative Building Information Modelling (BIM) process, using 3D modeling, is a compelling example of bringing together construction, engineering and architecture players to collaborate in project planning and management.
On the other hand, now that we have mastered virtual construction, we need to go further and seize other data-driven opportunities to create a return on investment like never before. There is an infinite potential to offer solutions that are of better quality, faster, more eco-friendly, smarter, much more economical in the long term, and quite frankly, more fun! Whether it's prefabrication, robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and I’m sure I am missing some, there are many tools and opportunities that help us excel within a project.
With regards to project management, our teams, partners and customers are ready to adopt such changes. In the context of the pandemic, most of our colleagues had to adapt to teleworking in less than 48 hours, demonstrating their great resilience. They doubled up on their creativity to pursue our mission without disruption, while adopting collaborative and videoconferencing tools very quickly. The proliferation of connected and mobile solutions to meet the needs of construction workers was already on the rise before the crisis and this will only accelerate in response to the new reality.
Adopt agile processes
I also see innovation as the best way to optimize ways of doing things.
At Pomerleau, we made a commitment to redefine the way we work, whether by trying new creative approaches or by questioning the usual ways of doing things.
I sincerely believe that this approach has, in a way, prepared us to manage change with resilience: we have learned to welcome change, to respond to fear, to cope with worry, to live with discomfort, to communicate effectively and live our adaptability value.
Collaborative modes will have a direct impact on our ability to be agile and work together in complex environments, making us even more empathetic entrepreneurs, attentive to others and socially and environmentally responsible. The positive effect will be instantaneous, and we will empower a whole supply chain: better training, advanced technology and infrastructure, local purchasing of materials, and more. The transformation will be cross-disciplinary.
Imagine the transformation
I am deeply convinced that our industry is ready for this transformation in accelerated mode. We have the maturity, the talents, the means and the resources. The decisions of the next few days will be decisive not only for construction, but also for our ability to innovate and position Quebec as a world leader.
We need to start with the basics:
1. Provide financial support to the industry to ensure liquidity is maintained, in particular by modifying the payment methods and frequencies, and by adjusting the contractual deductions.
2. Set bold goals related to innovation and sustainable development.
3. Prioritize Canadian talent, suppliers and manufactured products.
4. Develop long-term and consolidated calls for tenders for better visibility of the order book, diversified investment and creation of infrastructures.
5. Support and invest in the creation of prefabrication, modular construction, robotics, artificial intelligence and new technology infrastructures.
Our governments have positioned themselves to make the construction and infrastructure industries a pillar of the post-COVID economic recovery. Let’s help them. Let us stand behind them to support and advise them to ensure an effective and responsible recovery. Let us be proud and show them and our families and friends that construction deserves their trust and that we will respect every dollar invested. Above all, let us use this crisis as a springboard for the transformation of our industry; let’s take the opportunity to rethink construction, from idea to completion. Everywhere. All the time.
Ian Kirouac - Executive Vice President, Strategic Initiatives