CXO In Conversation: Transformation of the Construction Sector


(From Left to Right: The panel of speakers for 5 Nov's CXO in Conversation comprised of Mr Johnny Lim, Executive Director, Teambuild Engineering & Construction, Mr Kelvin Wong, CEO (Designate), Building & Construction Authority, Mr Haresh Khoobchandani, Co-opted Councillor, SGTech, Mr Tan Kiat How, Minister of State, Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of National Development and Mr Ashvinkumar Kantilal, Group CEO, Ong&Ong)

Pandemic the catalyst to transform Singapore's construction sector

The pandemic has brought challenges to the construction and facilities management sector, but within this crisis lies an opportunity for the industry to transform, reinvent and emerge on a stronger footing post-COVID-19.

Intending to bring together different stakeholders to discuss how this opportunity can be further exploited, SGTech hosted its latest webinar, CXO In Conversation: Transformation of the Construction Sector on Nov 5, joined by guest-of-honour Mr Tan Kiat How, Minister of State, Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of National Development.

Taking part as panellists were Mr Kelvin Wong, CEO (Designate), Building & Construction Authority (BCA), Mr Ashvinkumar Kantilal, Group CEO, Ong&Ong and Mr Johnny Lim, Executive Director, Teambuild Engineering & Construction. Moderating the session was Mr Haresh Khoobchandani, Co-opted Councillor, SGTech.

Kicking off and setting the perspective for the discussion, Mr Khoobchandani said research shows that although 72 per cent of companies in the construction sector deemed digitalisation as important, only 13 per cent of companies are considered digitally mature. "We are furthest away in digital adoption when compared to other industries."

In his address, Minister of State Mr Tan acknowledged that the pandemic restrictions have made it tougher for the sector, and assured that the government would continue to provide assistance and relief for companies, with recent initiatives being a $1.36 billion construction support package and passing of the COVID-19 temporary measures act.


(Minister of State Mr Tan Kiat How gave the opening address to the participants, pointing participants to the opportunities that digital transformation can provide.)

"COVID-19 has amplified the urgency for the industry to transform," said Mr Tan. He added that even before COVID-19, an Industry Transformation Map (ITM) was set in place with the vision of an integrated sector embracing leading technologies and led by progressive companies.

Mr Tan added that the Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) initiative, aimed at improving industry collaboration across the value chain, has seen more than 150 firms participating and the number of private sector projects has grown to 48 from 12 in 2018. An Advanced Digital Solution (ADS) scheme, which was announced as part of the Resilience Budget 2020, also provides $20 million in funding that can be used to ensure the safety of workers jobs. 

BCA and IMDA had also earlier in March launched an Industry Digital Plan (IDP) to enable SMEs to defray costs when they adopt pre-approved solutions that enhance productivity.

"We should turn this crisis into an opportunity to become more productive and press on with our transformation efforts to emerge stronger from COVID-19. We can leapfrog and transform the way we do things," Mr Tan said.

"With projects like Terminal 5 coming up, new MRT tunnels being built and efforts to make Singapore a 'city in nature', our construction companies can transform Singapore's urban environment. There are also opportunities for them (sic) to eventually become world beaters," added Mr Tan.

Sharing their Digital Transformation Journeys



(Mr Ashvinkumar Kantilal (left), Group CEO of Ong&Ong, and Mr Johnny Lim (right), Executive Director, Teambuild Engineering & Construction, sharing how early adoption and the mindset change towards digital transformation helped their companies overcome  challenges.)

Describing his organisation's digital transformation, Mr Kantilal said Ong&Ong started digitalising in 2011 when BCA announced that projects must follow the Building Information Modelling (BIM) standard as a submission requirement. 
"We discussed if we wanted to use BIM to achieve the requirement or to invest in digital technology to overhaul our work processes. We asked ourselves: 'do we want to be disrupted or be the disruptor?", and decided on the latter - to invest in digital technology so that Singapore and all our regional offices would be on the same platform."

Since then, Ong&Ong has also invested in mobility, with 30 per cent of staff working on fixed desks and 70 per cent of workforce remote or hot desking. This has enabled office space for Ong&Ong's staff to be reduced from six floors to two floors.

Mr Kantilal said a key to successful transformation is that he always considers technology as an investment, not as an expenditure. "You should see grants as an investment, not as a tool to defray costs. You also need the stamina to run the mile. Within one to two years, your staff's productivity will go up."

Similarly sharing his company's experience as an early digital adopter, Mr Lim said Teambuild moved into 3D modelling and adopted a more flexible Pre-fabricated Pre-finished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) method back in 2013, at a time when the industry still preferred concrete.

"If you use conventional methods, you need a large labour force to be onsite, PPVC allows you to do much of the work off-site. Because it's volumetric, the drawing requirements, the details, the coordination in terms of services or the structural requirements etc. must be resolved at the start. This can only be done through 3D modelling."

With PPVC, the reliance on technology becomes a critical business need, said Mr Lim. Teambuild is also more productive as it can monitor their workers and track the progress of projects off-site from the factory. Manpower was also cut by half, reducing the reliance on foreign workers.

On BCA's end, the goal is to enable tech adoption to be simpler and to move towards common standards and better interoperability. 

"We're trying to push for the adoption of a common data environment and data sets. We're launching (this initiative) sometime the end of this year as a trial and to make it a national standard by next year," said Mr Wong. "By providing guidance on a common environment, we hope to standardise the objects that are being currently used on many platforms."



(Mr Kelvin Wong, CEO (Designate), Building & Construction Authority, share how the Authority enables tech adoption by facilitating the industry's move common standards and better interoperability)

In this pursuit, he said BCA is working with different software providers to develop open APIS that are interoperable, as well as speaking with developers for their involvement and feedback.

On the benefits of going digital, Mr Wong said it has enabled consultant architects in the industry to continue working and many design projects to go on despite the circuit breaker restrictions earlier this year.
"I think this crisis has demonstrated that there's a better way of working. We must now get the broader ecosystem to move forward, accelerate adoption and leverage the government support that is in place."

The panellists agreed that the success of digitalisation often requires the support from the staff, and a mindset change is often necessary.

"Mindset is the most difficult part. You have to get your staff to buy in, educate them on what the changes and benefits are, and gradually you demonstrate and show why it is more productive," said Mr Lim.

Mr Kantilal said the industry players must make a concerted effort to come up with a framework that can positively influence the mindset and encourage new talent to join.

Raising awareness through activities and events is one way of doing this, Mr Kantilal said Ong&Ong has developed a 'digital sharing platform' and holds an annual symposium called Beyond X that brings in speakers and key players in the digital industry to showcase how the industry is using new technologies. The public and students from the institutes of Higher Learning are invited to attend Beyond X to inspire creativity and innovation among them.

Mr Kantilal believes that digital transformation will create opportunities for companies, but they must be bold to make the change. "My advice for SMEs is to have conviction and stamina. When embracing new technologies, it becomes difficult when you start weighing the pros and cons and start thinking if you should spend or not spend. It becomes a conundrum. You must have the conviction and take the bull by the horn."

In his closing, Mr Khoobchandani encouraged companies in the sector to explore the avenue of joining trade associations like SGTech, which works closely with different government agencies and develop programmes that advocate digital transformation and connects to other industry players. 

"There's a lot of work going on in SG Tech that helps businesses and individuals, not just in terms of their development or skill sets but also in conversations and dialogues and in finding a big brother that can mentor them."


We thank Mr Tan Kiat How, Mr Kelvin Wong, Mr Ashvinkumar Kantilal, Mr Johnny Lim and the business leaders who participated in the “CXO In Conversation” webinar.

 To get the full sharing, you can catch the webinar recording.



The webinar is jointly organised by SGTech and Singapore Contractors Association Ltd (SCAL), with our partners Autodesk, Singapore Business Federation and AmCham Singapore, and in collaboration with Sphere Exhibits Private Limited and BuildTech Asia.


Published Nov 2020