Standards strategy in the built environment

Navigating significant technical complexity, strict safety requirements and tight financial margins is nothing new for the construction industry. That’s to say nothing of quality, scope creep, supply chain relationships and sustainability targets. Managing so many concurrent, and often conflicting, challenges requires resilience, confidence and agility.

By putting standards at the heart of operational decision making and multidisciplinary workflow design, built environment specialists can overcome these challenges, embrace new technologies and remain fit for the future.

The benefits of a standards-led approach to business strategy are felt by construction companies of all sizes. In the past, some smaller business owners have dismissed this approach, concluding it is only for larger, well-established organizations.

This perception is understandable in a resource-stretched SME, but the truth is that standards help small businesses just as much as larger ones and can often have a more significant impact on smaller companies. For example, they can be used to accelerate tender prequalification, and simplify legislative and regulatory compliance.

Outerspace is an award-winning 12-strong landscape architecture and urban design practice, based in London, with a portfolio ranging from the public realm to residential, educational, industrial, healthcare and beyond.

Outerspace has worked to embed standards at the foundation of its activities in recent years and has realized significant benefits. Richard Broome, Outerspace founder, comments: “Although standards have helped in several practical ways – accelerating contract bid processes and driving internal cost efficiencies for example – it’s the intangible benefits that are most powerful. The professional attitude and belief that comes with a standards-based culture is present across everything we do.”

Construction supply chains are built on good communication and trust. Supply chain partners can use standards to develop and maintain these connections as well as deliver important assurances about their operations and responsibilities. In this way, standards act as a common reference point across geographical boundaries and business cultures.

The international ISO 19650 series of standards will improve opportunities across borders for small construction businesses to win contracts in new markets on a more equal basis. Closely aligned with the PAS 1192 suite of standards, ISO 19650 parts 1 and 2 cover information management across the lifecycle of a built asset. Created in response to growing international consensus around BIM’s transformative potential for global construction, it helps optimize international collaboration, reduces project costs and timescales, and improves quality.

Of course, there are many other non-construction-specific standards that every built environment company can use to improve organizational efficiency — standards like BS EN ISO 9001 (quality management), BS ISO 45001 (occupational health and safety) and BS EN ISO 14001 (environmental management). Other universally applicable standards include those which focus on cybersecurity, data protection, and risk management.

Finally, certification to internationally respected standards sends a clear message to existing and potential customers and partners, as well as industry peers. It communicates a commitment to fundamental quality, resilience and innovation – regardless of where a construction organization sits in the supply chain or typical asset lifecycle.