Scots builders urged to open up over innovation

Lucy Black - B&W
Lucy Black

INNOVATION is an area of the Scottish construction industry that still needs a lot more encouragement.

That’s the view of Lucy Black, the new senior business relationship manager at the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC).

Lucy says that in times of decline, it often becomes “survival of the fittest” and those firms that are looking at new ways of doing things and how to open up other markets are the ones that are going to thrive.

A former senior technology transfer executive at Scottish Enterprise, Lucy has vast experience in helping companies develop and fund innovative projects.  In her new role at the CSIC, she will work closely with construction businesses, overseeing the progress of ambitious and potentially ground-breaking schemes.

The CSIC was launched two years ago with the aim of bringing together industry, academia and the public sector to deliver “transformational” change in the sector. The centre is supported by the Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and 13 universities.

Lucy told Project Scotland, “I was really encouraged by the fact they (CSIC) were looking to do something which was going to help companies become more innovative and encourage growth in Scotland through collaboration with universities.

“My previous roles have been very much about collaboration. Within the construction sector there’s a lot that could be done with the skills, facilities and expertise that already exist in Scotland and it’s an opportunity to encourage more Scottish companies to work together, individually or in a supply chain, with the colleges and universities. (Joining the CSIC was) really a chance to work on a more focused level with the industry.

“It’s well documented that the construction sector is probably one of the more conservative industries. Although innovation does exist, it’s still an area that needs a lot more encouragement to get the growth of the industry at a level we’d like to see it at and meet some of the targets the government has set on energy efficiency and new homes to be built.

“At times when the industry is in decline, it does become survival of the fittest. At these times companies need to open their eyes, they can’t bury their heads in the sand and hope for it to pass. It’s the ones that are really looking to increase their efficiency, become more productive, look at new product development, new ways of doing things and ways in which they can open up new markets – these are the companies that are going to survive.”

Through her role at Scottish Enterprise, Lucy already has experience of working with the CSIC at partnership level. Although still a relatively new concept, she believes the centre has already shown what it is capable of.

“The first year was very much about getting the recruitment sorted out, people on board and word out there on the street to get some of the initial projects moving,” she explained “So far they’ve done a great job. 30 projects have been supported already.  What has impressed me the most is the leverage they’ve had so far from the industry. For every £1 CSIC has put in, the industry has come up with £2 in cash and £1.50 in time which is a very strong leverage and showing the commitment by the industry to move forward on an innovation front.

“Projects that have come forward so far have been from across the supply chain – from large companies and contractors to younger, smaller companies; SMEs who have innovative technology that they can take to contractors and put into projects.

“Obviously we’re now looking to get word out much wider and encourage any type of company  – from a start-up right through to the large players,  contractors and housing associations – to come forward and really talk to us about their plans for development, their plans for productivity improvement, moving into new markets and where they need to work with others to find out where we can help facilitate those partnerships and hopefully bring money. 

“Companies may wish to look at their business models and decide really where they should be focusing most of their attention, how can they become leaner and more efficient, where are the bigger market opportunities. We’re here to help them look for these opportunities and help inspire, connect and assist. Through events, training, support programmes and funding, we provide access to new knowledge, connections, demonstrators and access to academia’s knowledge and facilities.

“Projects to date have been across the spectrum. Quite a few have been focused on housebuilding and improvements in housebuilding techniques, particularly towards building more energy efficient homes. We’ve also got some infrastructure projects and environmental projects. One of the early ones was with Transport Scotland, looking at developing acoustic barriers for use alongside motorways.”

Lucy said that key to the process is early engagement to understand companies’ strategic plans and where innovation might sit within that so the CSIC can work with them to help shape new projects and advise where external advice, partners and funding can be brought in.

“It’s very much an open door policy whereby we’re looking to sit down, have a discussion and build that relationship over time,” Lucy said. “The project may not come out for another year or 18 months, or even longer. But really it’s to get talking to the industry, get closer to them and help them move through the innovation cycle.

“The opening of the Advanced Construction Centre at our new premises in Hamilton in the autumn should also be a stimulus to get companies innovation active.

“It will offer leading edge technology and equipment to allow companies to develop and prototype  new concepts, explore innovative processes and upskill and train staff in the techniques of tomorrow.

“However, collaboration and innovation is not just about new product development. We don’t want people to think innovation is only about developing something revolutionary. Evolutionary innovation is key too, with small marginal gains across a business often helping to create a more innovative culture.

“It is about change and about doing something better or faster to help to get a stronger place in the market. As well as product innovation, we’re looking to talk to companies about their processes, services and markets and how they can be collaborating to reduce costs and be more profitable.”

The second Construction Scotland and CSIC joint conference, featuring hundreds of key influencers and decision makers from the Scottish construction sector, will be held on Tuesday 13 September at the Hilton Hotel in Glasgow. Registration and attendance at the event is free. Those wishing to attend should register at