The better the question. The better the answer. The better the world works.

How an innovation hub will be breaking new ground in sustainable housing

Our design for a sustainable building technology facility will be helping a Middle East government redraw the future of housing for its citizens.

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The better the question

Can an innovation hub lay a foundation for sustainable housing?

The ministry of a Middle East nation strives to inspire consumers and builders to see new technology as a potential solution.

In this dynamic and growing Middle East nation, demand continues to outpace the supply of housing for its citizens. While private developers are eager to build premium housing, lower income citizens often wait up to 15 years for affordable housing, which has traditionally been supplied by the nation’s housing ministry. 

Construction backlogs, system dysfunctionality and rising costs have caused distress and headlines for years. With a predicted shortfall of 1.5 million homes over the next five years, the affordable housing crisis is a pressing social issue that dominates public debate, and the ministry is eager to address the supply-demand mismatch which threatens to undermine its core purpose: to help citizens access housing that matches their needs and financial capabilities and enables them to fulfill their social and economic purpose.

Meanwhile, the housing ministry has identified exciting new services and standards it plans to introduce to drive improvements, modernization and, above all, sustainability of housing across the country.

Prompted by these challenges, the housing minister has launched an organizational transformation with an ambitious vision: to reshape the entire housing ecosystem in the country. The ministry has determined that it can best serve citizens’ needs as an enabler of housing solutions rather than in its traditional role as the primary builder. But this requires a profound shift in thinking among builders and citizens around what constitutes high-quality sustainable housing and how to build it.

“The minister and his team began to see the potential of new technologies in enabling this shift,” explains Mohammed Sear, AIM Government & Public Sector Advisory, Associate Partner, EY, and the project lead. High tech building equipment, new sustainable construction processes, energy-efficient materials and ‘smart home’ systems could together accelerate construction and delivery, reduce costs and improve quality and environmental sustainability of housing. 

“The ministry realized that they would have to work hard to convince builders and citizens alike to consider the advantages but the payoff could be huge and very positive.“

In short, the ministry began to ask a new kind of question. How can industry and citizens alike embrace building innovations to construct a new, sustainable housing ecosystem?

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The better the answer

Design thinking and a shared sense of purpose can ignite inspiration

A unified, interactive showcase enables all stakeholders to experience innovation up close.

Already grappling with a complex transformation project, the housing ministry turned to the EY team for guidance. The ministry had identified two key objectives for the project:

  1. To promote new building technologies to builders and citizens
  2. To promote its initiatives to citizens and other key stakeholders

To realize their goals, the housing ministry needed a collaborator who would bring multidimensional thinking, global experience and an unshakeable commitment to listening, to its vision and to the many stakeholders that populate its environment.

EY won the ensuing formal bid process against the region’s toughest competitors. The client explained that it was EY’s commitment to keeping the human purpose of the project, housing for citizens, at the core of every decision and tactic that helped the organization win, along with its proven history of intelligent listening, trust and exceptional performance.

Design thinking reveals creative insights that inspire results

Sharing this clear sense of purpose, the EY team assembled by Sear approached the complex project by applying design thinking, an ‘outside in’ model that can help reveal contextual, creative insights that generate better results. The team gained a thorough understanding of the perspectives and challenges of the project’s many stakeholders including citizens, small-and medium-size real estate developers, large premium builders, providers of relevant technology and sustainability tools, and others.

With a design approach, we could better explore the unique needs and viewpoints within the ecosystem, to identify what would resonate effectively and inspire participants to adopt new thinking about sustainable housing.
Mohammad Jameel Sear
Ernst & Young - United Arab Emirates AIM Government & Public Sector Advisory Associate Partner

Interactivity quickly emerged as a key consideration of the project. The ability to see innovations in technology and services ‘up close’ would help citizens, developers and ministry stakeholders understand the potential applications and advantages and encourage adoption. The EY team saw an opportunity to unify the way these could be shared with the entire market. The answer? An innovative, interactive technology hub, the first of its kind in the region, that would showcase exciting, achievable and sustainable construction technologies to builders and citizens alike while also promoting ministry initiatives to the entire community.

Cross-discipline teams ask better questions, unlock better answers

Soon, the EY team was hard at work with its ministry client and stakeholders to develop the technology hub concept. Says Sear, “EY knowledge from colleagues around the globe helped to guide the design and co-creation sessions including input from our Strategy and Customer teams on citizen engagement and communications, in-house leaders in design thinking and EY Transaction Advisory Services peers who helped with the hub’s business and revenue modeling and costing.”

“Our ability to tap into these areas of knowledge across the organization was a key part of the confidence and trust that the client invested in us. They moved forward knowing they had the best of EY thinking in these areas and our ability to bring global leading-practice benchmarks and process to the project.“

As the plans for the technology hub advanced with the client’s enthusiastic endorsement, the EY team reached out to external leaders, working with leading architects in the region to develop detailed design plans, multimedia producers to create video and other interactive content components, and public communication and engagement specialists. At every stage, EY and ministry colleagues continued to reinforce the importance of the central citizen-focus of the project.

This unified vision and commitment has generated several high-value outputs which have been endorsed and adopted by the client:

  • A detailed, shovel-ready design of a physical technology hub and service center, complete with scalable architectural plans and detailed costing model. This includes show-home prototypes, displays and vendor booths as well as conference facility and meeting rooms to foster collaboration and participation.
  • An in-depth implementation roadmap to help establish and build the hub and its content components.
  • Communication, outreach and engagement strategies to increase citizen engagement with the ministry.
  • New synergies between the ministry, partners and stakeholders around collaboratively developing innovation solutions and offerings that address citizens needs and desires.

In developing both the planning framework and the broad suite of implementation roadmaps, the EY team has helped lay the foundation for the next phase of transformation.

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The better the world works

Creativity is fuelling the transformation of a housing ecosystem

Enabling citizens and industry to shape new thinking about affordable, sustainable housing is fostering a market transformation.

Drawing on leading experience within the organization and demonstrating its robust network of leaders in architecture, technology and engagement, and more, the project team has created a technology hub design that helps the ministry’s objectives resonate with multiple stakeholders with a far-reaching impact:

  • It educates builders, especially at the small-to-medium size, about innovative technologies (such as on-site 3D printing and automated bricklaying) and emerging developments in building systems and materials, encouraging them to adopt them to profitably address demand while also improving sustainability.
  • Citizens can explore innovations including compact living, energy-efficient materials and ‘smart home’ tech systems, all to help reshape their expectations around good-quality, affordable and environmentally responsible housing and how it can be delivered. This was a key part of the ministry’s goal to shift the conventional mindset that government is the sole housing provider.
  • Vendors, particularly those based locally, can promote innovative products and services, reaching new buyers, encouraging the growth of home-grown industry in the region and potentially accelerating the rate of tech adoption in the nation and beyond.
  • The ministry’s many internal players have a unified, state-of-the-art user-focused platform on which they can engage meaningfully with citizens and other stakeholders on new initiatives, standards and programs.  

A technology hub that reimagines the future of housing and citizen engagement

The hub’s multidimensional concept serves as an exciting and innovative tool to help reframe the housing ecosystem and, ultimately help more people access the good quality, affordable housing that allows them to participate fully in the nation’s growth and success. What’s more, EY’s approach represents a model for a new generation of highly transparent, meaningful citizen engagement. As such, it has the potential to reshape the way governments and businesses interact with citizens in other sectors or countries.

Collaborative design thinking cultivates innovation through creativity. In every project, EY teams aim to be creative in problem-solving while also integrating creativity into each approach.
Mohammad Jameel Sear
Ernst & Young - United Arab Emirates AIM Government & Public Sector Advisory Associate Partner

“The ministry’s leadership is delighted and continues to champion the project,” says Sear. “He is proud to share it with colleagues and leaders across the Middle East as a model for effective, unified and innovative delivery of government services.” Sear points to the team’s agility in navigating intense, rapidly-changing conditions as a factor in the client’s delight and support to this day.

With innovative, “outside in” design thinking, coupled with a breadth of experience drawn from disciplines across the organization and an unwavering commitment to shared purpose, the EY team has helped this leading ministry calibrate a new standard of government-citizen-industry engagement and draft a blueprint for an era of transformation in the region.

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