John Hagel III

John Hagel III is an author and former consultant who specialises in the intersection of business strategy and information technology. In 2007, Hagel co-founded the Deloitte Center for the Edge Innovation.

‘Harness the technology, but more importantly find ways of creating sustainable businesses around it’

Which of the long-term forces of change do you consider to be the main drivers of change in the construction industry in the coming years?

‘There are many forces, but the one that probably has the greatest potential for impact is the continuing exponential improvement of digital technology and the deployment of digital technology infrastructures around the world. I think one of the things that is particularly interesting is the extension of these technologies into other technology areas. Take a look at the whole arena of 3D printing, where we can now print physical products using digital technology as a key driver, a shaper of that performance. Another related area is materials science, where we now use digital technology to design and deploy materials that can evolve over time, based on sensing of the environment. These are just some examples of the way that digital technology is going to have a significant and continuing impact on the construction industry as well as all businesses.’

What do you consider to be essential for further sustainable development in the construction industry?

‘It is an imperative: you have to figure out ways to first of all harness the technology, but more importantly find ways of create sustainable businesses around that technology, because if you don’t, you will be marginalised. One of the key opportunities and imperatives is to find ways to harness these technologies in the form of business platforms that can mobilise and coordinate activities across an expanding number of participants. We tend to call them pull platforms, where the key is how do you pull out the relevant resources and people when you need them and where you need them. In many respects the construction industry has always had pull platforms in the sense that any new major construction project requires drawing in relevant contractors and subcontractors and expertise. But it has been largely around mobilising them to do a certain task. What we call mobilisation platforms. Our view is that one of the big opportunities with digital technology is to evolve those platforms into learning platforms. Where participants are in the process of learning better and faster together than on their own. This way construction companies can take up a role as trusted advisors to their clients.’

What do you consider to be key elements in defining the strategic agenda for any major construction company?

‘One of the biggest opportunities or needs for companies is to approach strategy from two different time horizons. There is often a tendency in this world of rapid change to shrink your time horizon to focus on what must be done today, as there is so much going on. It is important to focus on a long-term time horizon, asking two key questions: ‘What is my relevant market or industry going to look like in in ten tot twenty years from now?’. And secondly: ‘What are the implications for the company that I want to become in ten to twenty years from now?’. On a much shorter time horizon the key question that should be asked is: ‘In the next six to twelve months, what are the two or three business initiatives, no more, that could have the greatest impact in accelerating our movement toward that longer term destination?’. And then: ‘Do we have the critical mass of resources to realise those two or three business initiatives?’ If you’re not continuously operating on two horizons simultaneously and rapidly iterating back and forth between these two horizons, you’ll quickly get sidelined. But just remember, there’s a very big upside: in an exponential world, small moves, smartly made, can set very big things in motion.’