Digitising the construction industry: reducing costs and improving efficiency

Research conducted by academics at BCU has helped overcome workflow challenges in the construction industry by digitising the supply chain, which allows contractors to cost work and purchase materials more efficiently.

Not only has this led to significant savings across two national contractors, but the approach has also been integrated into a national report and adopted within UK Government departments to help reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Research summary

Dr David Boyd’s research found that difficulties in communication across the supply chain in the construction industry was having a significant effect on how construction jobs were supplied and costed.

The research revealed communication and planning difficulties within the supply chain when using digital platforms such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), a common tool used to organise information about a build.

The research team’s recommendations called for cultural change where the supply chain is engaged in the BIM process so that costing can be properly tracked throughout the build. This allows contractors to keep track of costs and optimise their processes.

Research background

Through several research activities focusing on how communication between suppliers and contractors can lead to unnecessary expenses, the research team found that:

  • The complexity of negotiations during projects created a separation between digital and project activities, meaning BIM was not used to its full potential;
  • That costing didn’t adequately reflect the work that was carried out, and;
  • Cost information is not always created by the sub-contractor carrying out the work, resulting in inaccurate quotations.

The main takeaway from the research was that the construction industry should use digital means to create more collaborative work habits with the supply chain, preventing the repetition of mistakes and delivering the best end product for the user.

Research outcomes

Two large national construction companies; Willmott Dixon (WD), and NGB; have applied Boyd's recommendations to costing and procurement in the supply chain, thus saving money and delivering better projects.

NGB was open to cultural change and was able to better integrate their digital transformation processes by improving the engagement with supply chain partners. Since then, they have been able to reduce uncertainties around project delivery and there has been an increase of confidence in expected contract performance.

Boyd’s research informed the Procuring for Value report delivered by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC). In September 2019, the recommendations of the Procuring for Value report have been adopted for value-based procurement within government departments. A value toolkit was produced in July 2020, resulting in huge cost and time savings across the £110bn industry.

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Professor David Boyd

Professor of Construction

David has a background in engineering, but is better known for his management insights of the industry. He has researched and designed solar heating schemes for housing estates, as well as developing a model of projects in the industry as complex adaptive sociotechnical systems. He has completed research on construction clients, which was then published as a book and adopted by the Construction Clients’ Group.

David joined the University in 1987, originally working as a Senior Lecturer at the Birmingham School of Architecture. Prior to this, he worked as a Research Fellow and assistant at the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster) and Kingston Polytechnic (now Kingston University), respectively.

Hong Xiao

Senior Lecturer

Hong obtained his BEng in Industrial and Civil Buildings in 1985, and MSc in Construction Management in 1988 from Hunan University, China. He lectured there until 1998.  He came to Britain in 1998 as an academic visitor sponsored by the Chinese Government, and then began his PhD study at the University of Wolverhampton. His PhD research project was ‘A Comparative Study of Contractor Performance Based on Japanese, UK and US Construction Practice’, and he obtained his PhD in 2002.

On June 2003, Hong joined the Birmingham City University as a Research Assistant to conduct a DTI sponsored research project, ‘An approach to knowledge management for SMEs’. Upon the successful completion of the research project, he moved to a lecturing post and has been teaching and researching since.