The real estate and construction sector is amongst the biggest industries globally. According to IBEF, it’s among the top 14 major sectors in India in terms of how it impacts other sectors of the economy. In fact, the real estate sector is expected to touch US $1 Trillion by 2030, accounting for 18-20% of India’s GDP, as per the same source. It is also the second-highest employment generator after agriculture. Yet, the sector is not as organized as other major sectors like automobiles, retail, manufacturing, etc. On top of that, the sector faces stringent govt. regulatory norms like RERA, which requires developers to meet both construction quality and schedules. Digitalization has therefore become the need of the hour for this sector. We spoke to Sandeep Vishnoi, Founder and CEO of Q-Cop to discuss the challenges faced by this sector and how digitalization is the way forward.
Sandeep Vishnoi, Founder and CEO of Q-Cop
Sandeep feels that digitalization is a must for the construction industry due to the sheer complexity of construction projects they undertake. Some of them can be massive running into a million or even 10 million sq ft. area. Delivering such mega projects on time requires dealing with multiple contractors, labor, customers, and even govt. offices. “They need digitalization to keep track of every stage of the project, or else they won’t be able to track its progress or spot quality issues”, said Sandeep.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
What are some challenges being faced by the construction sector and how can digitalization help alleviate them?
Sandeep: The construction industry in our country is an essential indicator of development. The need of digitizing operational practices becomes a prerequisite in order to achieve a faster pace of growth. To ensure rapid progress and desired quality, every construction project or site requires regular checks concerning various activities, safety norms, and productivity targets. The use of modern technology to monitor all such actions not only ensures an economy of time and resources but also obviates the chances of human error and negligence.
With govt. pushing regulatory frameworks like RERA for construction and real estate companies to comply with, how can digitalization help?
Sandeep: Given how the govt. has introduced RERA, it is important for developers to be on top of each and every aspect of their construction on a daily basis. This is a big challenge as RERA intervenes at every stage of the project right from the beginning. At any given time, you have to submit your plans to RERA, get them approved, and continue updating their progress. They even rescue customers if there’s any delay or complaint.
RERA was badly needed in this sector especially as successive construction accidents started becoming rampant. The media was filled with news of such mishaps as flat’s ceilings or a bridge collapsing due to construction defects, etc. There was also news about delayed possessions, diversion of money for other projects, and financial irregularities to name a few. In most construction-related cases, what emerged was that the developer had not complied with certain regulatory requirements. With RERA, it has become mandatory to file everything online. It helps the govt. to keep track of all projects, and enables them to refer to records at any time should they get any kind of complaint about any project.
Every commercial project must obtain a RERA number, without which the developer can’t market it. The number also helps customers obtain all information about a project from RERA’s portal if they’d like to know more about it or have a complaint to file.
All this makes it essential for developers to undergo digitalization, or else they won’t be able to submit their plans’ progress, quality, etc. on time. For instance, if RERA says you have to submit the quality checklist for each activity, e.g. waterproofing, you have to submit the status of the activity in digital format on RERA’s website. Otherwise, a penalty can be charged.
Our software allows developers to do this, and it even helps them capture the images about the completion of the activity.
Building customer trust is a big challenge for real estate and construction companies, especially when it comes to quality of construction, meeting construction commitments and timelines, handover, etc. How can digitalization help develop greater trust among customers?
Sandeep: It’s not just compliance, but also about being transparent with customers so that they can know what’s happening at every stage. To provide information transparently to customers, many developers provide information on their websites also. They have to ensure the quality of their development for project management as well. There are a few hundred activities running at any time. To ensure that they don’t miss out and compromise on quality, it’s important to get data related to all quality aspects. Without digitalization, it’s extremely difficult to maintain such quality checks.
Another challenge is coordination with multiple contractors. How can technology help smoothen this process?
Sandeep: In most construction projects, there are multiple contractors and coordination is the biggest challenge as activities are dependent on each other. Every activity is assigned to a certain contractor. Technology helps in coordination between multiple contractors for different activities. So, when you have done digitalization, you know when a stage is complete and another is starting. For the management, it’s important to know how different contractors are doing in order to track their quality of work. In projects in remote areas, connectivity is an issue, but now the govt. is providing connectivity everywhere. There are multiple mobile apps for monitoring.
Tell me about your own solutions for Digital Transformation in this sector.
We should have a system that’s beyond any ERP solution to track what’s happening at the construction site. We have a mobile phone app so that when different people are working at a construction site, they can register their activity on the application, and send it to the site engineer or project manager. They can submit the completion of an activity so that the project manager can come to do quality checks and submit it back to the contractor with the picture.
We’re not only mobilizing the activity using digital apps but also tracking and ensuring the activity is completed on time. It brings transparency, and accountability while ensuring adherence to timelines and quality checks.
Can developers offer customization of their projects to customers through your solution?
Currently, customization is not being offered by developers as it’s a costly affair for them. Many developers provide the unit with bare minimum standard interiors so that it’s left to the customers to customize it as per their taste. We’re also offering it to a certain extent where developers can offer a certain level of customization to their customers. The builder can show the last checklist when the customer visits the premise.
How’s your sw different from a traditional ERP system, which is also supposed to automate business processes? What’s the USP that you offer?
ERP takes care of procurement, accounting, finance, budgets, etc. However, when it comes to actual work happening at the site, the information has to be passed from contractor to contractor to manager to quality control. That’s the space where we play. ERP doesn’t cater to what’s happening at the construction site. We digitalize all information being passed between different stakeholders on-site so as to ease their collaboration. This ensures greater efficiency and productivity while ensuring quality. Our solution brings contractor engineers, consultants, project engineers, etc. on the same platform so that they can work, have visibility of the site, where to focus on, etc.
Ours is a construction management application. So while ERP can only be accessed within the company, our sw can be accessed by multiple external stakeholders onsite.
Do you offer dashboards for the management?
Yes. Our software collates all info from mobile apps to provide the right information to the management. For instance, it can provide performance indicators for every contractor so that the management can keep track of how are they performing. You can check their project history to avoid giving repeat work to contractors who haven’t done well. It will even provide the mgmt. with information about defects, delays, actions taken, activities not being closed, etc. All in all, it enables the management to take the right decisions at the right time and have more control over their construction activities.
Construction is a very complex industry, where sensitization about the importance of digitalization is necessary. Developers need to understand that digitalization is the future and they must start their journey now. Over time, as transformation continues, we’re likely to see even more advanced technologies being used in this sector, like AI or IoT.
It’s important for developers to realize this else it will become even more difficult for them to get on this journey.
By Anil Chopra