‘Quality needs to become visible and discussable’

Reviewing products or services online has now become the norm for consumers. Such transparency is thin on the ground in the construction industry. Insight into the performance of suppliers, contractors/subcontractors and advisors is not a given. Heijmans is aiming to change this. Not just for its own benefit, but also for the entire construction industry. Procurement Director Esther Donders shares her vision of this development.

February 16, 2018

Before consumers buy a product, they often browse the Internet looking for reviews and critiques. Such information is harder to come by in business-to-business markets. And the same goes for the construction industry. Construction firms frequently perform their own form of supplier assessment internally, but that information isn’t widely available. This is problematic because in construction there are lots of quality issues resulting in high costs of failure, whereas margins are usually low. All in all it’s high time for increased openness to facilitate active dialogue on quality between companies in the industry.

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Too little, too late

‘I’m aware of examples of evaluations that weren’t held until a year after completion of the work’, says Esther. ‘Sometimes suppliers and subcontractors whose performance was below par were put to work on another one of our projects again. That’s too little, too late. What’s more, we didn’t have an adequate perspective on suppliers that were performing well.

Knowing who does provide quality and innovation is crucial in order to live up to our strategy in terms of such factors as sustainability, circular economy and digitization. The method of evaluation used was inaccessible, the information wasn’t always available at the right time, and reports were only possible to a limited extent. And what was being done with the evaluations was inadequate. The intended goal, namely improving quality, wasn’t being achieved. Time, then, to take supplier assessments to the next level.’

This change was necessitated by the fact that, as is the case for many other construction firms, more than 75% of Heijmans’ turnover is dependent on the performance of third parties. Add to this the desire to achieve a greater degree of transparency and the digital way of working, and the idea for an online platform enabling anyone in the construction industry to assess suppliers, contractors/subcontractors and advisors was born.

Evaluation platform

‘Such a platform didn’t exist yet, though’, says Esther. ‘After exploring the options, Heijmans chose 12Build because they already had a tender platform called “Matchmaker”, which was already being widely used in the construction industry by businesses large and small to call for tenders in the market efficiently. A simple evaluation tool was already incorporated into this platform. 12Build further expanded the platform in conjunction with Heijmans. The upshot was “Evaluator”.

It’s really great when you’re putting a project out to tender and straight away you’re presented with a weighted assessment of the relevant supplier or subcontractor.’

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Transparency

The evaluation platform has been live for nearly two months now. Right from the outset the evaluations came flooding in. ‘In the first few weeks we received in excess of 80 evaluations’, says Esther. She states that ‘Evaluator’ isn’t an end in itself. It’s merely a tool that Heijmans can use to measure and improve the quality of its subcontractors and suppliers. The aim is to acquire greater insight into performance that’s good and not quite so good, enabling us to discuss such performance. Quality has to be visible and discussable.

Heijmans is thus doing its utmost to increase transparency. ‘We’re throwing the doors open, as this is giving other companies the opportunity to assess Heijmans as a subcontractor. I do hope that this openness will encourage other companies to improve their services. Which will improve the quality of the finished product and drive down the costs of failure.’

Objectives

The online platform ties in seamlessly with Heijmans’ objectives in terms of cooperation, digitization, sustainability and the circular economy, as well as with our vision: The Contours of Tomorrow. ‘It’s now possible to assess all suppliers on these points. Which is handy, as this way Heijmans will have a clearer idea as to what the most sustainable concrete mortar company is, for instance, or which demolition company is actively embracing the circular economy.’

Scale from 1 to 10

Esther states that using the platform is child’s play. ‘It’s an accessible platform and functions intuitively. During the launch we gave a short demonstration of its functionality. A couple of colleagues weren’t able to attend. Nevertheless, they were able to start initiating evaluations straight away without that instruction.’

Anyone with an account can rate a supplier or subcontractor on a scale from 1 to 10 and provide an explanation. This could be done for such parties as a construction materials business, a subcontractor that carries out excavation work, a firm of solicitors or a marketing bureau. Companies keen to assess their suppliers internally on the basis of more specific questions can make agreements on this with 12Build.’

How do you prevent people giving very low figures for emotional reasons? ‘Ratings lower than a five won’t be posted online immediately. These ratings are quarantined so as to give the company being rated time to respond. Once any discussions have been held, it’s down to the person giving the rating to decide whether he’ll amend the evaluation or publish it unchanged.’

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Prove itself

Esther emphasizes the fact that ‘Evaluator’ wasn’t just developed for Heijmans. Esther: ‘Heijmans isn’t participating in the tool and in 12Build in any way whatsoever. It’s an independent platform, and other companies are already working with it now too. I hope that as many parties as possible will start using the tool, and I’m confident that everyone in our industry will benefit from it. It could also work for such sectors as transport and cleaning. Obviously I can’t force fellow construction companies. The platform will have to prove itself.’