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Review of the Building Services Summit

Review of the Building Services Summit

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The recent Farmer Review highlighted the many challenges facing construction and noted that it is time for the industry to ‘modernise or die’. While many buildings still do not perform as well as they should, with energy efficiency considered a particular issue, while takeup of BIM has been relatively slow.

Given that engineering services makes up around 40 per cent of overall construction output, the challenges facing the wider industry were hot topics at the Building Services Summit 2016.

The Building Services Summit, held in November at the British Library, saw the ECA come together with the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA), the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and the Federation of Environmental Trade Associations (FETA).

Familiar problems

For the building designer, there are commercial issues. Above all else, the client is concerned with ‘value for money’. Often this means that technology that could improve building performance is not considered, or that unrealistic pricing agreements force contractors to cut quality or time to save money and meet the requirements.

Kath Fontana of ISS spoke for the facilities managers, arguing that a lack of full commissioning on projects results in end users working with ‘practically complete’ buildings and lacking the necessary capabilities to effectively utilise complex building controls. So what can be done?

Commercial Incentives

Clients should not only be educated as to the benefits of high performing buildings, but given commercial incentives; they must see the building as an investment, not as an end in itself. 90 per cent of building costs are ‘people costs’; clients must therefore be engaged with on this practical level.

Improved building performance depends on the use of data monitoring technology and continued data collection, but this costs money and takes time. Installers and engineers must therefore demonstrate to clients that the benefits lie in offering tenants a chance to control and improve their environment and that in turn, higher rents can be charged for buildings with high performance ratings.

Commissioning and Collaborating

To encourage end users to continue to collect data and adjust controls accordingly, buildings with performance ratings must be monitored to ensure ongoing performance. Only if end users receive fully commissioned, functioning buildings and the necessary training and support from those involved at the building stage, can we expect them to have the full understanding to undertake this.

Roy Evans from the UK’s biggest client – the government – spoke about simplifying the process; designers, contractors and end users should work with realistic expectations, based on shared expertise. He said that for this to happen, representatives of each grouping should be present at the earliest stages of the project process.

Diversifying and Growing

On a wider scale, the industry must recognise and develop its own value; we cannot educate others about ability and potential without recognising it ourselves. Karon Buck, Principal at Medway University Technical College and Dr Susan of the charity Primary Engineer gave an insight into the future talent joining the industry; young people with fresh ideas and excellent training will be looking to join our sector and this must be encouraged.

Similarly, the sector must diversify. As discussed in a previous blog post, only nine per cent of the workforce are female and five per cent come from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Ewen Rose of BESA said the sector's failure to attract a properly diverse workforce was hurting profits. He noted, ‘more diverse companies react more quickly and creatively to big changes in their markets. New people bring a different perspective and spot gaps that can lead to new business’.

With diversification comes a new approach and new solutions, and never has this been more important than it is now, with smart buildings, the Internet of Things and virtual reality (to name but a few) offering entirely new opportunities for the sector to embrace change.

The summit highlighted that if building performance targets are to be met and overall value added to the industry, this cannot be achieved through technological developments alone. A corresponding shift in the attitudes and approaches of those already in the industry has an equally important role to play.

If this has caught your attention and you want to know more, Steve can be found tweeting @ecastevemartin - get in touch!