“A new idea must deliver value to the customer”
Jimmy Kirby, Executive Chairman of Kirby, talks about innovation and a digital construction future.
On the Kirby website the Executive Chairman is described as someone who “oversees the strategic development process; identifies strategic options and promotes a culture of innovation”.
Traditionally the Irish construction sector has been slow to innovate but for Jimmy Kirby the need to find better solutions is a core company value.
“We find working with American organisations is a very positive experience,” he says. “They are driven by innovation.
“In our experience American organisation have moved Irish construction in relevant sectors to a world class level since the 1980s. The likes of Pfizer and Intel demanded more and we had to deliver.
“At a project level Americans ignore the usual hierarchy model, using a flat structure so it’s all about what you can contribute.”
Jimmy says that Foreign Direct Investment has helped Irish construction become world class in mechanical and electrical delivery.
What’s the Kirby attitude to BIM?
“BIM was introduced as a project requirement three years ago,” he explains. “We implemented a pilot project, from which we learned a great deal.”
He talks enthusiastically about how BIM will bring about “efficiency gains” in the medium to long term, but there is an initial major investment in skills and people required.
“We’re in a position now where our BIM experience means clients look to us to lead projects. We’ve proven Kirby has the capabilities.”
Although he feels BIM has the capacity to change construction culture, the full potential of BIM will only be realised in an effective collaborative environment.
“Getting people to work together can be a challenge,” he says. “You might have a design company feeding in drawing from India, for example.
“As M&E engineering contractor we can only influence where the project should be heading. The client needs to lead; the chance of success is lessened without that leadership.
“A cultural change is required. It’s the classic situation where people need to be guided through a change process.”
Jimmy says the benefits of BIM have to be properly explained: “A lot of people pay lip service but the challenge is to get stuck in and make it work to the benefit of the project.”
What about the UK Government’s decision to mandate BIM in all projects from 2016?
“One of the reasons the British Government has a stated intention of requiring collaborative 3D BIM on it’s projects is to reduce the capital cost by 20%. This type of capital cost reduction will take some time to achieve.”
“This will succeed at project level only if people start using the tools and genuinely working together,” says Jimmy. He mentions that graduates – who have the IT skills – need to work closely with more experienced older staff that possess the construction skills.
“They need to learn from each other,” he says.
“Lean remains broadly conceptual at present ,” says Jimmy. “There are opportunities for Lean within the construction industry. It means everyone working together for benefit of the project rather than individual organisations working on their own, which can be challenging given that we’re in a commercially driven and competitive environment.”
“Innovation at Kirby is about successfully implementing an idea. A new idea must deliver value to the customer and/or the organisation. The idea must also be in alignment with the overall competitive strategy.”
Jimmy says the introduction of online ‘part’ inductions is a good example of a successful innovation.
“We also introduced tablets to the field, which enabled efficiencies and resultant verified savings,” he adds.
Kirby looks to its staff for new ideas. “A new capability to match an opportunity that delivers for the customer and Kirby.”
Effective Integrated Project Development (IPD)
“Larger organisations with significant capital outlays are looking at this,” says Jimmy. “ Larger pharmas in the UK see value in this approach.
“Where they see the value is getting people working in the interest of the project.”
Kirby used IPD on a recent project where they achieved a verifiable saving of 17% on capital cost reduction.
IPD is about people working in the interest of the project, says Jimmy. “Done well it creates the environment where Lean and BIM tools can be effectively used.”
Speaking about the recent project, he says it was only when all parties came on board with the ideas being attempted that progress was made.
“We contributed strongly to making this work for the project and it was viewed as a big success by the customer.”
Benefits of IPD
“Conflict in the industry happens ,” says Jimmy. “IPD is an approach that helps overcome conflict.
“Early contractor engagement is a key part of IPD, something that is playing an increasingly important role in construction.
Sharing information earlier and building trust under effective leadership – these are the benefits of IPD, he says.
Clear definition of construction scope and early identification of risks are further benefits.
“This is something we really believe in,” is how Jimmy sums up IPD.
“BIM can work well in that IPD environment,” he adds.
“We’re positive about the medium term with strong growth rates in Ireland and UK,” says Jimmy.
“We have experienced serious growth in both markets. There is a strong UK focus where we have three offices. We are also working on a number of projects in Europe.
Kirby had a turnover of €119m in 2014 while this year the company expects to generate €140m. With over 600 staff the focus remains on data centres, power generation, bio-pharmaceutical and industrial manufacturing market segments.
The company is determined to stay at the forefront of innovation and a digital future.
“The construction industry is currently experiencing a technology spike in terms of new methods of how we design and build. I think this ‘spike’ will leave some organisations and people behind,” says Jimmy.
“Strong leaders and leadership exists in the construction industry, it’s a case of applying this leadership to IPD and BIM. A collective industry-wide approach is the challenge.”
Jimmy holds a Master of Business Studies degree with honours from University College Cork and has been a Kirby Board Director since 1997.
This features appears in the December 2015 issue of Construction magazine