WHEN the Covid-19 pandemic hit Singapore's shores 2 years ago, construction work ground to a halt - and construction technology company Novade faced terrifying uncertainty.
"It was actually quite scary for us because we stopped booking new sales, and I wasn't sure if our existing clients would continue to subscribe to our software solutions when projects stopped," recalled Novade's chief executive and founder Denis Branthonne in an interview with The Business Times.
But the pandemic did have a silver lining: it accelerated the ongoing digital transformation of the construction sector, in which Novade itself has been playing a key role.
Founded in 2014, Novade develops cloud and mobile applications for the construction industry. Its applications automate site processes such as quality control, safety inspections, task coordination, workforce management and equipment maintenance, helping to replace volumes of paperwork typically used in construction projects.
Novade recorded a 60 per cent growth in revenue in Q4 2021, compared with Q1 2020. Today, the company operates in 20 countries across Asia and Europe, and its applications are used by more than 100,000 users. It has also grown from a team of just 70 in 2019 to a global workforce of 130 employees.
This growth was partly spurred by new Building and Construction Authority (BCA) requirements for the restart of construction activities in the Covid-19 era.
"When construction companies could resume work in Singapore in July 2020, compliance was key. If you did not meet BCA's requirements, you could not get started," said Branthonne.
As a result, Novade rolled out a Covid-19 Safe Restart module on its platform: a comprehensive digital checklist to help companies verify that their workers adhered to safe site management protocols, health checks, contact tracing and social distancing when returning on-site, in line with BCA's strict guidelines.
Pandemic aside, Branthonne sees the need for productivity as the chief driver of digitalisation, as supply chain disruptions and labour shortages continue to persist for the construction sector.
"Companies are going to have to bid for projects and make sure they deliver them with potentially less resources. So, increasing productivity is really starting to be the central point of discussion for them," he said.
Novade launched 2 new products in 2021: Novade Insights, a predictive analytics platform that aggregates data for business insights; and, Novade Connect, which lets companies integrate their data with other existing digital systems.
Having started with large multinationals as their clients in Singapore, Novade has seen more local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) taking on its solutions in the last 2 years. According to Branthonne, 70 per cent of Singapore's A1 grade contractors - which are mostly SMEs - use Novade's applications today.
This digital acceleration comes on the heels of the government's push towards the use of prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction (PPVC) technology, in which Novade is heavily involved. PPVC is a building method of pre-fabricating modular units in a factory before they are transported to the construction site, as opposed to the conventional method of building at the location itself.
"It's very important for companies using PPVC to be strong in logistics, workflows and processes," said Branthonne. "We help these companies digitalise their operations so they can be more efficient - from tracking the status of the elements located in the factory, all the way to conducting quality controls when they are assembled on site."
In December 2021, Novade was awarded a 5-figure-sum contract by United Tec Construction to work on Avenue South Residences, 2 192-metre-tall residential towers in Bukit Merah. Avenue South Residences is set to be the world's tallest PPVC building when completed in Q1 2023.
Looking ahead, Branthonne wants to cement Novade's position as a leading industry player in Asia-Pacific (Apac) by first engaging with top real estate developers such as Thailand's Magnolia Quality Development and Hong Kong's New World Development, then moving down the value chain to construction SMEs.
With the support of government agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG), Novade was introduced to Indonesia real estate developer Sinarmas Land at the 2019 Smart Cities Tech Showcase in Jakarta organised by ESG.
It has since partnered with Sinarmas Land to secure 25 new projects for Indonesia's Bumi Serpong Damai in 2021. This includes residential projects, where Novade's digital construction checklists were deployed to ensure quality assurance processes were in place, from the construction stage right through to the handover to the project owner.
For Branthonne, the Apac region holds a big opportunity for Novade, as he believes the company's competitive advantage is its ability to reconfigure its platform for different construction standards across markets. Besides Indonesia, Novade is also seeking to expand its existing market share in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.
"The challenge most startups face in this industry is scalability - they may have optimised and hardcoded their solution for their home country, but this makes it difficult for the product to travel," Branthonne said.
"When you build software, it depends on what your level of ambition is, and what it is you want to create. Since day one, I knew I wanted to create a company not just in Singapore, but one with an impact across the region."
Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.