The construction industry has the potential to adopt high-tech methods and solutions which could lead to a win-win situation for all the stakeholders - customers, contractors, architects, and even the workforce - in a post-Covid world.
By Shivam Shukla
The pervasive gloomy situation that has spread in all possible realms of life due to the Corona virus pandemic has only strengthened the great old saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ - be it the improved capabilities of IT professionals to work from home, increased usage of online learning/conferences/webinar or a major push to Make in India (a valid example is set up of more than two lakh enterprises to manufacture PPEs!). In fact, many industries have invented ways to not just adapt to the changing times but also proliferate their businesses. Hence, it is only apt to say that for the construction industry in India (in which technology intervention has been comparatively slow and less disruptive), a booming future in a post-Covid era is possible if the status quo is challenged through a paradigm shift.
Home buyers would expect faster deliveries with lower cost, commercial park occupants would demand huge reductions in rent, and a segment of construction workers will have apprehensions in joining back the workforce. Well, all this certainly will be a driving force for a new normal across the industry - be it construction of houses and their interior fit-outs, buildings, factories or any other infrastructure.
Technology to the Rescue
In view of the aforesaid, let’s get an overview of one such disruptive idea, primarily focussed on construction of buildings and factories, interior fit-outs, and residential construction, which could be a game changer for the industry.
The entire lifecycle of such projects is largely based on manual methods of correspondence and supervision, including email, WhatsApp, Excel and PowerPoint reporting. Moreover, there is an absolute lack of automated mechanisms to raise a red flag when a milestone deadline is breached, when there is a discrepancy in specifications and quantity of material received at site compared to the Bill of Quantity (BOQ), when there is a dilution in design, when there is discontent between contractor and customer for BOQ reconciliation, or when the labourers are not adhering to PPEs.
Another critical concern at construction sites (which till now has been preferred to be sent to oblivion), is the unsafe and unhygienic work environment for the labour workforce. This will now become of utmost importance when work resumes in full force, in a world scarred by the deadly Corona virus. All these concerns and challenges ultimately result in delays in project completion, sometimes unprecedented, along with cost escalations (the brunt of which has to be borne by the customers and contractors alike), and violation of safety norms. So, for the construction industry to be competitive and to rebound with a bang, use of technology is imperative to not just lower costs and deliver projects on time, but to also pay heed to the plight of the labour workforce. A cloud based IoT enabled platform seems to be the right solution. Let’s explore how it works.
Cloud based IoT enabled platform for Construction Projects
At the onset, the platform, which should be essentially an application, could serve as an end-to-end solution right from the design conceptualisation till the project hand over and snag completion. To go a step further, the app can also extend its features to cover the repairs and maintenance of the infrastructure as well, till the building lifecycle ends.
Once the customer/developer decides to create a new infrastructure – a new office campus, a new residential project or maybe a new commercial building – the app comes into the picture. All the stakeholders (employees of the customer/developer) could download the app and browse through several design themes as well as architects, to not just select what best meets their requirements but also the latest market trend. Of course, the enterprise that owns this app would have to onboard the architects on its platform.
Once the architect is finalised and is ready with the BOQ, approved makes, 3D layouts, etc., all these documents can be uploaded by the architect on the app. The customer can now browse through several contractors, whether turnkey or activity based, on the app and select whichever is best suitable. All the selected contractors could see the BOQ, approved makes, layouts, etc. Point to note here is that this might not be as simple as it sounds, and a fair amount of feature upload will have to be provided by the app owner. The best part of this would be that the contractor would be fully aware of the entire project scope right from when he is awarded the contract, along with the architect and the customer. This does seem like solving half of the project problem – the communication gap between architect, contractor and customer.
When the project starts, the app features could help the customer set milestones and the contractor would be able to feed in the entire project schedule into the app - whether it be Gantt Chart, S curve or any other thing. This would then let the customer as well as the contractor know, automatically, whenever a milestone is breached or whether the daily scheduled tasks are completed or not. All this, literally at the tap on your phone!
For a win-win situation
Apart from this, through the use of simple IoT solutions like Bar Code generators and scanners, the customer and contractor can virtually track the entire manpower and material movement onsite, which eventually would enable the customer to know what material has come to the site and what is yet to come. Moreover, there could be some mandatory checks in the app that would need the Project Manager to click and upload photos on a daily basis and which could be accessed by the customer and the architect, which would help in immediately flagging any design dilution. The project deadline, thus, would fall in place by default. So, the architect is happy that his/her firm’s design is being executed as desired; the customer is happy that he is getting value for money; and the contractor is happy because it would add to his company’s reputation to execute a project as conceived, and on time.
Other approaches can also be integrated to this app-based platform, including a third-party payroll process to ensure that all labourers get paid as per their working hours, along with entitlement to the other benefits of organised labour. There is a plethora of IoT sensors that can be used - like drones, proximity sensors, wearable gadgets and much more, which would land the customer a completely connected site, right on the phone.
Unarguably, this is only a beginning of an era in the construction industry which has a mammoth potential to adopt deep tech methods and make the best use of them for all the stakeholders - customers, contractors, architects or even the labour workforce - resulting in a win-win situation for all, and, to an extent, doing away with the jinx that the construction industry is set to see a downturn in a post-Covid world. That world surely can be surprised!