Shaping the future of construction: a breakthrough in mindset and technology

Construction industry Building materials Sustainable building design and construction Innovation

The world is changing faster than ever before. Consider just one of the global megatrends shaking up the construction industry: the population of the world’s urban areas is increasing by 200,000 people per day, all of whom need affordable housing as well as social, transportation and utility infrastructure. In the face of such challenges, the industry is almost under a moral obligation to transform. Its transformation will have transformative effects elsewhere: on the wider society, by reducing construction costs; on the environment, by improving the use of scarce materials or by making buildings more eco-efficient over time; and on the economy, by narrowing the global infrastructure gap and boosting economic development in general.

While most other industries have undergone tremendous changes over the last few decades, and have reaped the benefits of process and product innovations, the Engineering & Construction sector has been hesitant about fully embracing the latest technological opportunities, and its labour productivity has stagnated accordingly. This unimpressive track record can be attributed to various internal and external challenges: the persistent fragmentation of the industry, inadequate collaboration with suppliers and contractors, the difficulties in recruiting a talented workforce, and insufficient knowledge transfer from project to project, to name just a few.

This report begins with an assessment of the industry’s present state and the global trends that will impact on the industry. It then introduces a conceptual industry-transformation framework, listing a number of measures, grouped in eight topical areas, that would profoundly change the industry system. The measures are classified into three groups: measures taken by private companies on their own; measures taken by companies in collaboration with their peers – or by the industry as a whole; and measures taken by the government, acting both as the regulator and as a major project owner. For each of the topical areas, the report identifies current best practices, and provides illustrative case studies of innovative approaches, to prepare for the industry’s transformation. The eight topical areas are:

  1. Technology, materials and tools
  2. Processes and operations
  3. Strategy and business model innovation
  4. People, organization and culture
  5. Industry collaboration
  6. Joint industry marketing
  7. Regulation and policies
  8. Public procurement

The World Economic Forum Future of Construction project is a collaborative endeavour, aimed at supporting the Engineering & Construction sector as it pursues its transformation. (Collaboration is, or should be, a hallmark of the construction industry itself: the industry’s future success will rely heavily on effective collaboration among all stakeholders.) The project is planned as a multiyear effort. In its first year, the project is commencing with this wide-ranging report – a detailed map to help navigate the current industry transformation. Subsequently, the project will focus on specific topics; for example, the ways that new technologies, materials and processes will improve the project delivery and the life-cycle performance of buildings, and the ways of selecting relevant measures from the industry transformation framework.

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