Innovation the biggest challenge for construction buyers

10 February 2012

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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.

 

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