Singapore’s construction industry has undergone a rapid transformation in the past few years. In 2017, the Building Construction Authority (BCA) launched Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD), which aims to encourage construction firms to adopt digital technologies to improve work processes and stakeholder collaboration. Today, Singapore’s construction sector is one of the most digitally mature among other markets in Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ), according to IDC’s InfoBrief, Digital Transformation: The Future of Connected Construction.

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However, COVID-19 has dealt a huge blow to Singapore’s construction sector, which is expected to contract sharply by 23% this year. Firms have been grappling with a drastic manpower crunch and meeting stringent requirements for clearance to resume work. This comes on top of other challenges such as financial well-being, health and safety, and uncertain market conditions.

Undeniably, the road to recovery will be a long one. Nevertheless, firms can set themselves up for success by focusing on trust and collaboration, which is central to project delivery and pivotal to surviving in the current environment. Adopting technology which has shown to be valuable in maintaining business continuity—is a stepping stone to fostering increased trust and collaboration, paving the way for the industry’s post-pandemic comeback.

Breaking ground on trust and collaboration

Every construction project involves a large number of collaborators, from architects to engineers and other stakeholders within the ecosystem. Additionally, for every stage of a project and each stakeholder involved, there is a level of reliance on the performance of others. Any gaps can therefore directly impact project outcomes, making trust and collaboration essential for successful project delivery.

Yet, an astounding 63% of construction firms globally do not have a “very high” level of internal trust, with firms in Singapore falling well below the global average.

With recently implemented measures—social distancing, remote working arrangements, regular temperature checks, and more—disrupting workflow, the risk of project delays is significantly higher with some firms still struggling to clear their workers to resume work. It is therefore even more crucial to ensure that there is effective collaboration and higher trust between those who have returned to work.

Construction firms which have embraced the use of digital solutions are seeing benefits such as improved sharing of information across stakeholders and reduced time spent in the construction stage. An example is Straits Construction, which has relied on Building Information Modelling (BIM) to mitigate the impacts of manpower crunch and remote working. Using tools such as Autodesk BIM 360, it has been able to improve documentation coordination by over 50%, leading to higher predictability in its construction timeline and reduced potential for rework and waste. In fact, the BCA has also identified BIM as a key technology to improve productivity and collaboration.

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Additionally, firms that have made collaboration central to their strategy have achieved higher levels of trust, and find that they are receiving responses to queries more quickly and hearing about problems immediately. These firms have invested significant effort in building relationships with external stakeholders, developing a culture of open communication and feedback, and increasing transparency across every level of the organization.

With the pandemic imposing strain on manpower, finances, health and safety, and more, an increasingly trustworthy and collaborative working environment is needed to achieve business success. By embracing digital transformation, construction firms can alleviate the impact of these challenges and inch closer to recovery.

Building the road to recovery

While it is easy to say that a digital strategy can help create a more collaborative and trustworthy working environment, there are a number of roadblocks that can get in the way.

According to the aforementioned IDC report, one of the most common challenges experienced across APJ is the integration of digital tools—either across the business or across different parties within the industry. For instance, while the implementation of IDD has been in the works for a few years, traditional approaches to sharing and collecting information still dominate in most construction projects in Southeast Asia. Imagine the challenge of exchanging designs drawn on paper between multiple stakeholders during the lockdown period.

With newer challenges surfaced in light of COVID-19, there is a heightened need for the industry to work together in order to move forward in its recovery journey and reap the benefits of digital transformation. While this process is far from straightforward, there are steps firms can take to secure success.

Firstly, it is important to think ahead and create a strategic digital roadmap that is integrated into the overall business plan. Consider how digital technology can work as a competitive differentiator, by improving labour productivity, resolving issues faster, and enabling greater collaboration between multiple stakeholders across the construction lifecycle.

Secondly, firms should choose digital tools that integrate easily, whether it is linking the site to the office or different stakeholders in the building lifecycle. Leveraging easy-to-use software can help to streamline workflows and ensure effective sharing and exchange of information, which is particularly indispensable in remote working arrangements.

Finally, it is important to effectively manage risk. This is a significant challenge—but predictive insights can help to minimize risk and visualize problems. Digital platforms today have the capabilities to identify and highlight problems before they occur, which will ultimately help to reduce delays, rework, and costs. With project delivery markedly disrupted by the pandemic, these tools can significantly alleviate the challenges firms are striving to overcome today.

Singapore’s construction sector is investing significant efforts to overcome these roadblocks, which will eventually open the door to a more collaborative and trustworthy working environment. Recognising the importance of increased trust and collaboration, coupled with the adoption of digital construction solutions, will help the industry bounce back from the hardships imposed by the pandemic.