Canem Systems Ltd.

Tearing Down the Silos

Canem Systems on Issues in Construction Industry and its “Building Performance”

“The issue of productivity, innovation and performance is at the heart of the matter of not just construction industry but Canada as a nation.”

— Clint Undseth, Vice-President of Corporate Development at Canem Systems Ltd.

For over 50 years as a construction trades and technology contractor, Canem Systems has lived through the cycles of the Canadian construction industry, and the firm works to address some of the hard-hitting issues currently present in the industry — issues that spill over and affect many areas of the Canadian economy.

The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Clint Undseth, Vice-President of Corporate Development at Canem Systems, on a host of issues including the upcoming shortage of skilled construction professionals, as well as Canem’s plan to address the structural challenges with the construction industry in order to create innovative building solutions and more inclusive building efficiencies to deliver higher performing buildings to Canadians.

While Undseth sees a great potential for the industry going forward, he also points at the challenges, such as the looming shortage of skilled labour which may obstruct future growth of the construction industry, and design and operational disconnects which may translate into costly operational inefficiencies.

“Building Performance”

“Canem has recognized the Centre for Building Performance is a positive contributor in attracting and developing diversified talent,” says Undseth; however, the Centre goes beyond the professional skills training, and works to address issues that Canem and the construction industry at large must face today — bridging the historical disconnect between design, construction and operations.

While “Building Performance” may mean different things to different stakeholders – whether its “financial performance”, “employee productivity”, “global responsibility”, or “resource consumption reduction”, Canem works to establish a common universal meaning for Building Performance within the construction industry.

Canem’s “Building Performance” represents a whole new outlook on the buildings construction process, looking beyond the construction phase, encompassing the whole lifecycle of the building in the construction costing equation. This idea stems from the fact that Canem focuses mainly on commercial and institutional construction, and the firm realized that today’s buildings incorporate more complex systems in energy management, environmental management and sustainability strategies.

“Today, a building’s financial lifecycle is typically 50 years. Construction costs represent 20 to 25 per cent of the total cost, and lifecycle of a building costs about 75 to 80 per cent. We have seen a historical disconnect between the design, build and operations, and we have set out to bridge this disconnect. We are beginning to collaborate with the educational sector (British Columbia Institute of Technology; and Southern Alberta Institute of Technology), and with building owners and building operators,” says Undseth.

As an example, Undseth noted that real estate investors such as pension funds hold real estate portfolios.“For these funds it is about translating sustainability into financial benefits. Canem has set out to address these shifting imperatives, and set out a plan on how we – the trades, the builders, designers and the building owners – work together addressing the topic of the integrated process.” 

“Canem is out to prove that a smart sustainable building will have a positive impact in improving occupant productivity. For example – just for fun – let’s assume that the average private sector compensation in commercial buildings is $60,000 a year, so a one per cent increase in productivity yields additional $600 per employ per year. In other words, that may represent an additional three dollars per square foot benefit annualized. That’s meaningful discussion for Canem, as a trades and contracting construction company, to have with the industry.”

“Efficiency Measures”

Undseth says that according to the Building Owners and Managers Association, the 440,000 commercial and institutional buildings in Canada account for 14 per cent of the end-use energy consumption, and 13 per cent of the country’s carbon emissions, with the building industry consuming more energy than the freight sector.

In today’s construction industry, certifications like LEED or BOMA Best provide a guide post with respect to design construction and operation of high performance green buildings, providing building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable solutions.

Undseth remains reserved in regard to LEED as a definite measure of building performance. “LEED was created with the most sincere motivation, but we have to ask, ‘How can we dynamically verify what’s behind the plaque on the wall?’ This is an opportunity! Buildings are constantly changing, they are living and breathing organisms and so should the quantification of their performance.

“Today, there are over 600 types of different green rating systems in North America alone, but how do we know that the building performs as it was intended to perform? This is what Canem has set out to reconcile in our ‘Building Performance’ model — to measurably quantify improved results, to monitor whether the buildings perform as intended with the design model, and to provide automated actionable information on where to rectify the issues if the building does not perform according to the standard.”

Set in Its Tracks

While Canem’s idea of Building Performance may deliver higher long-term efficiencies, productivity, and savings to the bottom line, the firm recognizes the need to demonstrate initial cost savings through the latest technologies to its clients, and proving the full potential of business benefits of connecting seemingly disparate systems and making them work together, and Canem sees this as a great opportunity.

“We are talking about innovative collaboration, bringing solutions, with all of the right skill sets together as one team, creating the right synergies for our clients. Canem sees a future where buildings are intelligently connected and environmentally proud. ‘Building Performance’ for clients is about increasing net operating income, improving buildings’ asset valuation, and improving tenant attraction and retention. Our goal is to bridge the historical disconnect between design, construction and operations in the building industry.

“The economics of green building are an important topic. When we developed our brand strategy with ‘Building Performance’ it was our objective to earn the right to better serve our clients. We learned it is also an asset for talent attraction,” concluded Undseth.