Reviving the Singapore Construction Sector with Data

The construction sector in Singapore is in a delicate position.

With the shortfall in resources, fluctuating raw material costs, project delays, and supply chain issues blowing budgets out and leading to sectoral insolvencies, the past two years have brought incredible and unprecedented challenges to the sector.

While the construction industry is slowly recovering, current macroeconomic and geopolitical factors, inevitably raise new issues for builders in Singapore. In the first seven months of this year, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) data showed that 1,371 construction businesses have ceased operations.

No one predicted a global pandemic of this scale and impact. Having dealt with that period of uncertainty, construction companies need to be more astute now and always factor in other cyclical economic and business uncertainties bringing them as close to predicting the future as possible. Being future-ready is key to sustained momentum and long-term growth.

Thankfully, Singapore has always had its sights set on the long-term. The Building Construction Authority (BCA) recently refreshed its Construction Industry Transformation Map (ITM), its vision was to place the nation firmly at the forefront of digital construction. New key transformation areas build on Singapore's Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) approach, which provides opportunities to facilitate seamless delivery of digital information right from the early stages of a project.

A good project plan counters risk head-on and shares information between design and strategy, supply chain acquisitions, engineering, labour hire, training, construction management and more.

Data for foresight

With continued labour shortages the sector needs to look for new ways to build predictability and counter these risks.  Data plays an important role in providing foresight and good data management. Businesses in the construction industry in Singapore and beyond need to go back to the root of the problem and buffer for risks that have already existed in the industry including intensifying overseas competition that has led to declining contract values and slim margins.

IDD enables project stakeholders to connect and streamline their work processes by using innovative technology. This approach means all parties along the value chain have access to the same high-quality information. Implementing digital construction strategies is all about optimising and digitally integrating the project delivery process. The result is faster, cheaper, and safer construction.

Why is this so important to businesses today?

Predictability is a requirement for a cost and time-effective project. This requires visibility across the entire lifecycle, from design to implementation. Few builders, designers, or subcontractors have implemented the kind of tech needed to get this. This has knock-on effects on how these parties quote their bids.

Adapting to change is much easier than many believe it to be and the future of work depends on constantly improving productivity. But the technology already exists to side-step these issues.

Data science has become as crucial to construction as engineering. In fact, it makes for better engineering. Starting a project without data visualisation is like building a skyscraper from the top down – it’s expensive and probably won’t work.

Bidding for projects

Data is underused in the construction sector, with firms following antiqued methods to calculate costs, often falling back on legacy systems. It could be argued that insolvencies from underbidding often come down to calculation errors.

Calculating a bid price involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the entire supply chain, including subcontractors and skilled labour availability. Firms also need to manage safety concerns across the entire business. This is usually based on an assessment of subcontractors’ past performance, using data silos or excel spreadsheets.

But these spreadsheets fail to capture the whole scale of interconnectedness between supply chains, business units and staff. While quoting for projects in the past, firms stuggled to get an accurate visualisation over the lifespan of these projects and typically ended up not basing quotes on enough information.

Variables span safety compliance, emissions released in construction, the cost of sponsoring visas for expert qualified staff, and even impacts of weather disruptions and climate change.

Without good insight into these factors, builders attempting to win work by lowering costs wind up seriously undervaluing themselves. Cutting profit margins and aggressively pricing work leaves a very slim gap for error.

There’s no cookie-cutter approach to bidding on projects. Every piece of work is different. Even within a single company, a truly accurate price for similar projects is going to vary wildly – but the costs will impact the whole business. It is dangerous to rely on old habits or old underperforming supply chains.

Data for validation

Ultimately, a company that can clearly demonstrate value for money is going to be the best placed to lead a project to completion. This involves showing exactly what costs are involved and providing full transparency. It also means gaining visibility over unnecessary costs and liabilities.

Data helps. Once a firm has established high-quality data analytics for its costings, proving its value will be simple.

Effective project visualisation provides clever insights into what is holding a firm back. It could be an unproductive supply chain partner, or even funding poor fuel efficiency vehicles – every litre of diesel counts.

A plan involving data is more responsive and resilient and massively reduces business risk. This value proposition can help ease hesitations from consumers.

Builders could use AI to demonstrate a build scenario. This allows firms to fully visualise a project from start to finish, and quickly identify any quirks or errors that might exist.

Meanwhile, remote communications enable teams to collaborate across the business, creating a fully transparent workspace – one where no hidden cost goes undiscovered.

Once a project is off the ground, having access to up-to-date data informs better and faster decision-making. If you’ve got a water leak on one floor, knowing exactly what was done could help mitigate the problem for the rest of the building before it becomes unsalvageable.

This quick thinking could be the difference between project failure and success.

Taking the first step

Operating in extreme circumstances is a challenge for any business and predicting these circumstances is even harder. Building resilience throughout the entire project lifecycle is more than just predicting the future, it’s about understanding how the whole business – and its projects – click together and operate.

The construction industry needs to solve complex projects more efficiently, connecting teams and workflows seamlessly. Implementing IDD strategies provide room for greater access to information, improved collaboration, and identifying construction challenges in advance.

If the construction sector continues to operate on pre-pandemic mindsets, we may see these issues continue to plague the industry. For the sector to weather black swan events, an internal transformation is imperative. Habits need to be broken, and firms need to understand – not assume – risks and rewards. Firms can no longer neglect the role of data in this context. As they say, the data-poor pay twice.

William Low

Regional Manager (Asia Pacific Region) · Autodesk Construction Solutions