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Can Canadian construction hit its innovation potential?

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by LINDSEY COLE

When you see “made in the U.S.A.” you think of an aggressive, proud message.
Pierre Boucher, the first appointed president of Canadian Construction Innovations (CCInnovations), recently spoke about increasing productivity in the construction industry by encouraging innovation, which he says has been a challenge for it on the whole to embrace.
Pierre Boucher, the first appointed president of Canadian Construction Innovations (CCInnovations), recently spoke about increasing productivity in the construction industry by encouraging innovation, which he says has been a challenge for it on the whole to embrace. - Photo: LINDSEY COLE

Japan, you think "innovative, avant garde."

But when it comes to Canada, you think "great," but at the same time the country appears to be "timid and underestimating its potential."

So says Pierre Boucher, the first appointed president of Canadian Construction Innovations (CCInnovations), when it comes to Canada's role in being innovative and cutting edge.

"We have to have our own brand. The challenge is not the talent that we have," he told audience members during an event in Toronto entitled, Quebec-Ontario, Increasing Productivity, Best Practices in the Canadian Construction Industry, which was organized by the government of Quebec. "This industry as a whole, not individually, is not all that innovative and is lagging behind in terms of productivity and that is a serious issue. This industry as a culture works in silos, is not much prepared to share, does not spend much money on innovation."

CCInnovations was established in 2013 to provide a framework, play a leadership role in securing research funding and promote industry-wide collaboration for innovation in construction.

It was the result of both a Canadian Construction Association (CCA) challenge and a report commissioned by the federal government that called for a "clear focus on the commercialization of Canadian research and innovation," the Daily Commercial News previously reported.

"We needed a new institute in Canada...to bring about change," stated Boucher.

He explained in most industry budgets there are line items for legal issues, but rarely is innovation considered. The government of Canada, he added, is willing to invest and has invested in research and development (R&D), but the return on investment is fairly low.

"The money is there, because the federal government wants to spend money on R&D. We want collaboration," he said. But first, attitudes have to change.

"There's very little connectivity between those who want to do innovation and the industry or those who do innovate keep that to themselves. They don't want to share and they are very protective of their IP (Intellectual Property). Innovation in Canada now in the construction industry needs to be industry driven."

And Canada provides the right climate for innovation, he said, with a reputable education system, a stable political realm, no social unrest, plentiful resources, a strong economy, and it's located directly next to the U.S., a major market.

However, despite all this, according to the World Economic Forum, noted Boucher, Canada ranks 23rd out of 144 countries in business sophistication, 27th in company R&D spending and 26th in capacity to innovate. A prime example of the reluctance to embrace new systems is Building Information Modeling (BIM), Boucher said. BIM uses files, which can be exchanged or networked to support decision-making, and makes it possible for BIM software to be used in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of physical infrastructures.

"We had to cancel the whole series of seminars," Boucher stated about an event that had been scheduled previously. "BIM is happening. It's real. The large contractors are using it. We're 15 years behind our time."

After Boucher's presentation, representatives from several companies showcased innovative products and explained how they stay current through creativity.

"For Show Canada it's all about going back to the basics.  It's about the people," said Pierre Marchand of Show Canada, which designs, manufactures, and installs scenic and specialized architectural elements.

"Providing your resources the tools they need to do the job. We don't do it to satisfy some government grants. Teach yourself to be productive and be creative. It's all about us the people and the team."

Jean Berube, representing Belanger, a company that designs and manufactures faucets and plumbing products states he hears, "why change? We get (that) all the time. We changed and we increased our sales by 38 per cent in 24 months."

He says by adopting new practices and developing new processes Belanger was able to show it was a company that was willing to change.

"Think differently. It's the only way you can really celebrate innovation. Bring all the good that innovation can bring to your company," he added.

"Improve yourself first if you want to improve your market position."

Boucher added that innovation doesn't just occur with products, but also with procurement processes, HR, IT, market diversification and a variety of other areas.

He adds if more companies were willing to work together, as well as with government, innovation could become a priority.

"This is a huge industry, very capable. But again you have to have someone that thinks about innovation, wants to bring in a new culture, wants to assemble them," he stated.

"Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. We can be complacent. The resources should be there for us to say we'll do better than that. We have some fantastic work here."

For more information about CCInnovations visit www.ccinnovations.ca.

Follow Lindsey Cole on Twitter @DCN_Lindsey.

One comment

  • # 1

    Derek Smith

    As a long time supporter of innovation in Canada, I agree that Canada needs to change, but, being back in practice after a number of years away from practice, it is evident that the key driver of change is in the hands of the buyers of construction services. As I am constantly engaged in a race to the bottom on fees for service, far outside the recommended range offered by the professional associations, it is that simple trigger that reduces the capacity of any small firm to embrace a new way of designing buildings or exchanging information. Creating a value for BIM processes, or other processes for that matter, they must be recognized by the end user. Without that recognition; ergo, status quo prevails. Focus on that value add, and we will see some change.

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