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10 February 2012 | Paul Snell
Driving innovation among suppliers and
finding ways to identify new products and services are the major challenges
facing construction buyers.
At the Sustainable Supply Chains
conference in London yesterday, Kieran Brocklebank, head of strategy and
performance, supply chain and commercial at United Utilities - which spends around two-thirds of its £1 billion a year on capital projects –
said the company needed to look to the future, finding the answer to the issue
that “if we keep buying the same products we buy today, we’re never going to be
more successful or sustainable”.
“Where are the new ideas going to come
from? Where are the existing ideas? How are they going to break through to
reach our company to our decision makers? How are they going to get past our
corporate ivory tower walls to the real decision-makers?” he said.
He said his company had chosen innovation
as one of its three core values, acknowledging it needs to “break out of the
cycle” of buying the same products from more sustainable suppliers, to
purchasing more sustainable products and services.
But he added he recognised the challenge
for vendors to get these in front of decision-makers. “I know it is quite
difficult for new suppliers and entrants to reach some of our buyers and
specifiers. It’s about helping people get through the door and there are a lot
of issues we have internally about people changing – not necessarily the buyer
- but us all welcoming new ideas, considering them, filtering them and giving
feedback to suppliers on whether they want to do that or not.”
Skanska UK is taking a structured approach
to developing innovation. It set up the Green Solutions awards scheme, open to
the market, two years ago, to identify and reward innovative products. Andrew
MacAskill, supply chain director at the construction firm, said it had received
more than 100 entries last year, the majority of which were products the
company doesn’t currently use.
MacAskill added the company had also
employed a head of innovation whose primary responsibility is to drive
innovation, including in the value chain. “There is
a good reason for doing it. A lot of innovation is R&D, and R&D
delivers tax credits back into the business and in our case it is,” he said.