Slow to change

This Issue This is a part of the Building quality feature

By - , Build 166

Why don’t builders take full advantage of the latest technology and new products to improve the quality of their work? BRANZ took to the road asking the question and to see what help industry needs to change.

Figure 1: Industry respondents’ attitude towards change.
Figure 2: Barriers to change.
Figure 3: Enablers of change.

ADVANCES IN technology are regularly being developed for use in the building and construction industry. Building information modelling (BIM) is just one area where technology has the potential to have a huge impact on new-build design and construction.

Other IT technologies and new products also have potential to make how we build faster, easier and of a consistently higher quality. These are important attributes at a time when there is pressure on industry to provide a significant volume of housing to meet growing needs.

Barriers investigated

What impact is this new technology having? Undoubtedly, there is some, but there could be more. So what is stopping the building and construction industry from adopting new ways of doing things?

BRANZ asked this question over the last 6 months via an industry survey (761 respondents) and seven workshops across the country where 75 industry people shared their views.

There is an appetite for change

Most people adopt either a wait and see attitude or want to get involved with change (Figure 1). There is a significant number who also want to lead change.

Figure 1: Industry respondents’ attitude towards change.

Reasons people resist change

Reasons for resisting change were identified by 288 respondents. Cost was the most commonly stated reason. Specifically, respondents identified an unwillingness to invest time and money in change. This was mentioned by 48 respondents. One said, ‘If it is going to take an excessive amount of time and money for little or no benefits, I’m not going to do it.’

An aversion to untested change, with unproven results, was the second most common reason (37) for not adopting new ways of doing things, followed by difficulties with red tape (36). Other reasons were:

  • information/education (24)
  • I don’t see value in the change/is it for change’s sake only? (22)
  • change is stupid and impractical (20)
  • risk (18)
  • I don’t need more work/I don’t have the time for new things (17)
  • how do I know it will be any better or have any value or benefit? (17)
  • negative attitudes (11)
  • wanting to stay with what works (11).

Red tape and cost biggest barriers

Clearly, there are some disincentives to changing how we do things, with nearly 400 out of 761 people taking time to tell us what they think the barriers to change are.

Red tape, regulation and council processes were considered the biggest barriers to adoption of new ways in the industry (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Barriers to change.

Change always carries a cost, even if the eventual outcome is a more cost-effective way of doing things. Cost was the second most commented on barrier to adopting new ways. Not only does innovative technology have a price tag, it also takes time and resource to put into practice. In an industry rushing to meet unmet demand for housing, many told us they simply were not able to afford the time or money. One respondent told us, ‘Introducing change requires learning, and this takes time and effort. This means a loss of production time for us.’

Risk is another big barrier

Risk is also an important barrier. New technologies, tools and products may be unproven and therefore present risk to a potential adopter. Ask anyone in an industry where risk is already a huge issue to take on more risk, and the answer is going to be ‘no way’.

Why would someone move from a proven way of doing things to an unproven one unless they are sure it is going to be a value proposition? As one respondent said, ‘I have a fear of unintended responsibility if we are the first adopters of a change.’

Flexibility and support needed to change

If systems and processes are set up to work in a certain way, changes to how things are done may be difficult for those systems to manage.

Adopting new ways requires flexibility, and that is not a strong point in some parts of the sector or in the industry as a whole. Flexibility, along with good collaboration and cooperation, will enable higher uptake of new ways of doing things.

Support is needed for training, particularly around IT changes, so the value of the tools can be realised. Education and product support must be in place if new ways are to be adopted.

Human nature to resist change

Finally, barriers to change relate to the human condition. Human nature is to maintain the status quo by resisting change. This is nothing new. In the 19th century, handloom weavers did their best to resist the introduction of power looms. One of our survey respondents told us, ‘It is fear of the unknown that stops me adopting new ways. It is easier and safer to stick to my knitting than learn a new way of doing things.’

What will enable change?

It is not all doom and gloom. Survey respondents and workshop participants were keen to see innovation if it benefited them in what they do. The main enablers of change were identified as price and cost, regulatory flexibility and access to new and better products (Figure 3).

The issue of cost and profitability was the single most important factor mentioned. As one respondent stated, the answer is ‘to find solutions that are economic and easily communicated’.

Where there is a likelihood of increasing value while reducing time, there is likely to also be an appetite for adopting new ways.

Figure 3: Enablers of change.

People want leadership

The final cog in the wheel of enabling change is leadership. The research participants indicated they are looking to regulators and legislators for this leadership, as well as to BRANZ.

BRANZ is currently leading the Industry Transformation Agenda (ITA), which takes a whole-of-industry approach to support system-wide change. It calls for leaders to drive greater innovation and help the industry adopt new ways.

There was a clear commitment from many participants to do the best for the people of New Zealand by building quality, affordable housing. The appetite is there, but the barriers need to be overcome. With good products, good education and support and a flexible attitude, we can get there.

For more

The full report on this research will be available at later in June.  Further information on the Industry Transformation Agenda is available at

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Figure 1: Industry respondents’ attitude towards change.
Figure 2: Barriers to change.
Figure 3: Enablers of change.