Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 1 October 2004


Egbu, C. and Anumba, C. (2004), "Editorial", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 11 No. 5. https://doi.org/10.1108/ecam.2004.28611eaa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Construction organisations like others, from other industry sectors, are facing competition and pressure to provide better quality products and services, to improve the speed in the market, and to improve organisational agility and innovation. Trade liberalisation and rapid fall in communication costs; global communications; technological and scientific understanding; and the increasing knowledgeability of, and demand from, clients are some of the reasons why innovation is even more urgent today. The collection of papers in this special issue addresses various aspects of innovation in architecture, engineering and construction. Innovation is about the successful exploitation of an idea, where the idea is new to the unit of adoption. It covers product, process, service, technological and market innovations.

In the first paper of this issue, Egbu examines the role of knowledge and intellectual capital in improving organisational innovations. The paper commences with a critical appraisal of the different schools of thought on innovation, knowledge management and intellectual capital. Through a series of case studies he presents a host of factors that combine in different ways to produce successful organisational innovations. Some of the critical success factors include having a vision and an innovation strategy, an innovation supporting culture (including people issues, performance management, reward, and risk management) and an innovation champion. He argues that many of the debates on whether construction organisations are innovative or not are founded on weak premises. He suggests that understanding the innovation trajectory which an organisation embarks upon gives a better understanding as to whether the organisation has been successful at innovating or not. He notes that innovation is a complex process, and no best strategy exists or is suitable for managing innovations in every organisation. He reveals that knowledge and intellectual capital (human, structural and customer) are vital in building the core competencies and capabilities needed for sustained organisational innovations. He suggests that tacit knowledge, which is often difficult to mimic and copy, unlike explicit knowledge, offers greater potential for innovation and competitive advantage. Egbu's paper makes a contribution to the development of the knowledge management theory and its link to innovation. It also offers practical suggestions for improving and measuring the impact of innovations in organisations.

Steele and Murray's paper attempts to raise awareness of the key issues relating to innovation, diffusion and associated management of change. Their paper addresses a host of issues relating to the creation, support and sustaining of a culture of innovation. Resistance and fear of change are cited as real barriers to develop an organisational culture that embraces innovation in all its forms. The paper demonstrates that creativity, the promotion of a culture of innovation, and the development of intellectual capital are vital in generating and maintaining a proactive and entrepreneurial organisation. The paper is of interest to industrialists and researchers who are involved in promoting and introducing the products of innovation and R&D into industry.

Kumaraswamy et al. consider the need for integrating procurement and operational innovations for construction industry development. They argue that uncertainty as well as the reluctance to embark upon potentially long learning curves, have militated against the much needed holistic innovations in the construction industry. Their paper presents and discusses a conceptual model to improve innovation in construction to deliver improved performance. At the heart of their proposed model is the integration of innovative procurement sub-systems and operational arrangements through intelligent selection to suit given priorities and contexts; increased transactionally efficient teamworking- based relational contracting principles; assembling of more transactionally focused supply chains; appropriate supply chain integration; and strong product oriented linkages from R&D to marketing and maintenance. The effective integration and implementation of their model will, however, not be easy.

Still on the theme of integration for improved innovation, Hartmann and Girmscheid's paper focuses on the innovation potential of integrated services and its utilisation through co-operation. They define co-operation, which can be internal or external, as the voluntary collaboration of persons or organisations with commonly agreed goals. It is noted that the development of trust among members of a network is an essential part of the ability to co-operate. They argue that the optimal solution for construction clients can only be found if the know-how of all levels of value added of a building is combined through integrated services.

Innovation is not only the preserve of large organisations. Sexton and Barrett's paper focuses on the role of technology transfer in innovation within small construction firms. Their study observed that small construction firms absorb and use technology that can contribute to the business in a quick and tangible fashion, and which links to their organisational capabilities. Any technology which requires too much investment and too much risk tends to be swiftly sifted out. The “people factor” is key in innovation in small construction firms. The study has shown that in technology transfer, the people factor centres around the capability of staff to use new technologies. A model is presented, which provides a framework or checklist to help owners identify necessary actions to be taken to progress an innovation in a systematic and integrated way. The findings of their study have implications for policy makers and for small construction firms, especially with regard to how small firms absorb new technologies compared to large construction firms.

Many organisations experience several difficulties when designing a knowledge management (KM) system or implementing its initiatives. Al-Ghassani et al. present and discuss these difficulties, and offers a systematic and innovative approach to identify KM problems. Their approach, which was developed within the cross-sectoral learning in the virtual enterprise (CLEVER) project and supports the definition of knowledge management problems within a business context which has been encapsulated into a prototype software system. The paper describes some of the features of the innovative prototype tool for improved knowledge management. A host of factors are worthy of consideration to develop a proper definition of KM problems, and have been incorporated into the developed prototype software. These include proper identification of the type and nature of knowledge that needs to be managed, clear business goals for implementing KM initiatives, proper identification of the characteristics of knowledge, and clear understanding of the relationships between sources and users of knowledge, and associated enablers and resistors. The proposed and innovative prototype software will add real value to organisations. It is applicable to different types of organisations because it covers a wide range of issues. It allows users to add to the already built-in information, and allows for subjective answers, thereby ensuring that any type of KM problem can be individually considered. One of the outputs is a report containing a summary of KM problems and a distilled set of specific KM issues.

There is an increasing need to offer innovative forms of learning delivery to meet the needs of construction professionals in an ever changing business environment. Practitioners require flexible education and training, and one which complements work place experience rather than distract from professional obligations. Educational technology is seen to offer an exciting opportunity in this regard. Moreover, technology-based learning (TBL) is supported by the present UK government, which is keen on promoting a learning society, expansion of the higher education postgraduate education, as well as lifelong learning. Ellis et al. focus on technology-based learning and the project manager. Their paper compares a new distance learning project management educational software application with traditional multiple-media resources and a well-established postgraduate module delivered in part-time mode to establish the pedagogic effectiveness of distributed interactive multimedia. By examining the data related to the pedagogic effectiveness of the three alternative modes of delivering postgraduate project management education, this paper found no statistical difference in the performance and confidence of students between the traditional control and distance learning experimental groups. Their study, however, did not examine contextual issues that characterise the implementation of novel educational learning resources. Their paper concludes that distributed interactive multimedia applications can offer an alternative means of delivering project management education. Their study also supports the view that the academic performance of students is not compromised by the use of computer-based delivery techniques.

Edum-Fotwe et al. examine construction innovation and standardisation on major projects. They argue that the concepts underlying innovation and standardisation present an apparent divergence in what each strives. They contend that this has partly contributed to the low take up of standardisation within the construction sector. By discussing and presenting a case of how one major public sector (health sector) outfit is attempting to achieve innovation within an agenda that involves a widespread adoption of standardisation, their paper identifies the elements of apparent incongruity between the concepts, and highlights how the case organisation has resolved the divergences. The scheme and the case organisation has in place, which is based on a central standardisation database (CSD), inter alia, enables the effective capture of elements of innovation, which is then standardised to ensure that their standardisation effort reflects changing developments within the industry. The approach has wider applicability beyond the health sector, and construction related organisations could deploy the approach to suit their requirements.

The final paper by Moselhi et al. describes an innovative 3D-modelling system for selecting and locating mobile cranes which is designed to assist practitioners in planning crane operations. The paper focuses mainly on case examples to demonstrate and illustrate the use and capabilities of the developed system. The key features of the proposed system include a relational database design to store the crane's geometry-related variables and to present them using powerful graphics; a selection module supported by an algorithm designed to satisfy geometrical requirements and necessary clearances, accounting for site constraints and lift configurations; and 3D animation to facilitate the planning of crane operations. The main benefits of the system are in avoiding potential accidents and in the reduction of time and cost associated with planning and execution of heavy and critical lifts on construction sites.

The Guest Editors would like to express their gratitude to the referees who reviewed the papers. Each paper was reviewed by at least three referees. In addition, the Guest Editor would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by Professors Ron McCaffer and Professor Tony Thorpe, the Editors of the Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management Journal.

Charles EgbuGlasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UKChimay AnumbaLoughborough University, Loughborough, UK