When sales are down, customers are struggling to find forward work, and margins are under pressure it is easy for most businesses in the construction industry to put effort into immediate requirements to reduce costs and work harder at chasing sales, forgetting about the need for innovation.
Doing things better today than we did yesterday is the way forward in challenging times, and that means innovation in product, services and processes. Effective innovation is not necessarily about the big breakthrough idea.
While we take an “all hands to the pump” mentality in tough times, there is no better time to step back from the battle and observe what is happening. What problems lie ahead, what moves are competitors making, what options are customers considering, what changes could be demanded, how are customers hurting and what opportunities are there to add value to their businesses?
When times are difficult, the things that have always been hassles, but have been lived with in the good times, suddenly become real needs, and opportunities for innovative improvements that deliver real value arise.
Once an opportunity is discovered, and work begins on concepts and then a refined solution, the times we are in can trap us into a development based on minimum expenditure and time.
After all, research and development work is an overhead at the top of most cost-cutters’ lists.
It is imperative that short cuts are not taken. The customer need to be met must be proven to be sufficiently widespread and compelling, and the proposed solution must be presented to customers for feedback that enables refinement and genuine buy-in.
Progressing an innovation project from idea to concept, then to a refined solution and finally to market release must always proceed from one step to the next on confirmed information, not on assumptions made to shortcut the process.
In difficult times it is even more important to ensure that once launched, a new product or service is carefully assessed, and feedback actively sought.
In some ways, small improvements to existing offers are easier to achieve traction amongst customers than new offers that introduce more change and, therefore, are perceived to have more risk.
In this connection, the move in the construction industry should be to sell well specified systems (ie, a number of products that are installed and work together to provide a solution to getting a job done) rather than simply components that require others to work out how to get the most use from them.
This is a positive step for innovators, resulting in lower-risk solutions, faster construction and fewer mistakes in quoting, detailing and constructing.
Recent innovations from Dimond are examples of following the principles described above.
The new Dimond DP955 long run steel roofing profile was developed in response to roofing installers and architects wanting a roofing solution that was not easily damaged by foot traffic, whilst still offering good economy.
For many years, there was a sense of inevitability that metal roofs on industrial buildings would suffer damage. With the market more competitive, roofing spans being extended, contractors facing retentions due to damage, and leakage resulting from the damage, the time was right to find an innovative solution.
Dimond DP955 has a unique rib shape that is a world first for profiled metal roofing. The shape is much stronger than the conventional “top hat” rib shape common on all other metal roof profiles in New Zealand and Australia.
Because of the strength in the rib, the profile was developed with fewer ribs but with superior resistance to buckling, and wider pans to facilitate foot traffic and save on fastening time.
The innovation has been received very positively by architects and installers who have experienced the difference.
Likewise, the new Dimond Affinity Cladding System was developed to fulfil the customer need to complete a cladding solution that complies with the New Zealand Building Code.
The aftermath of the leaky homes issue has increased the focus on risk for contractors cladding timber-framed buildings.
The innovative aspect of the system is the proprietary jamb, head and sill flashings that require no fabrication, cutting or sealing on site, reducing the risk to the installer and speeding up the time required to complete the cladding installation.
Faster job completion, less risk of leakage, and an opportunity for customers to extend their business activity to cladding have all been positive outcomes for the innovation.
On top of this, the system is BRANZ appraised, giving peace of mind to architects, building officials and home owners alike. The development has had such positive response that
Dimond is now extending the system to work with commercial cladding profiles.
When sales are down and the pressure is on, customers can be forgiven for feeling a bit gloomy. Therefore, it is most rewarding when problems they have been facing are taken away by carefully targeted and implemented solutions.
Innovation isn’t complete until customers and decision makers find the new solution to be compelling. There is no better time than challenging times for innovators to deliver.