The Current Scenario:
These are tough times for the real estate industry. The industry was already struggling due to the continued decline in sales over the last few years and the COVID-19 has worsened the situation. While considering the current lockdown and distancing measures, things are not looking good for the real estate sectors. Most of its routine operations, including personal site visits from engineers and architects, have become challenging. As most of the planned works have been derailed and the supply chain network will require significant time to get back on track, the real estate sector needs to look for alternative options for both the current and post-COVID-19 situation.
I know there is a lot to talk about the spiraling downturn in the real estate sector in recent times, however, it would be unfair if we focus only on the negatives of the sector. As they say, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Despite being the second largest employer of both skilled and unskilled manpower, real estate sector has been lagging in adoption of technology in comparison to manufacturing and pharma industry.
If we look for reasons why the real estate sector has been the slow adaptor of technology, the foremost reason would be the traditional mindset. The sector has always relied on the manual handling of the processes. From tendering to approvals and site inspections to procurement, the sector has been inordinately and un-necessarily dependent on manual intervention.
The other major reason is the heavy reliance on daily wage workers (majorly unorganized). And if we look at the current scenario, this is one of the worst-hit areas of the real estate sector. Most of these daily wage workers are faced with the loss of livelihood and the majority being migrant workers, are in the process of going back to their native places. While the real estate players are struggling to seek balance in the current scenario, there is a going to be a bigger challenge for them in the post-COVID-19 era.
Now, as we speak about the challenges, we should also highlight the solutions to these challenges. And I would like to categorize them into two different parts – The Lockdown Era and Post-COVID-19 Era. I guess this will simplify the overall positioning of the subject.
The Lockdown Era:
I want to be as realistic as I can. The real estate companies in India started feeling the heat of COVID-19 from the first week of March. As the cases started coming, the government came into the picture and took some strict measures, including the lockdown. From the viewpoint of the operations, the monsoon period has always been the slow runner for the real estate sector compared to other seasons and hence, the pre-monsoon period becomes very critical for the business. However, the current lockdown has hit the pre-monsoon badly and will have an adverse impact on the monsoon period.
Now, what can be done in this lockdown era to maintain some momentum in the coming days? As I said earlier, we also need to highlight the solutions.
As I believe, this is the best time for the real estate sector to identify and deploy the right technology solution for their business operations. This will help them in two ways –
1) To identify the areas where the technology can come into the picture.
2) To measure the monetary benefits of the same. The detailed study of each area will help them identify the time and money factors associated with it. Hence, the search for the appropriate technology solution will begin with re-visiting the existing loopholes.
Today’s technology is more about data and analytics and most of the sectors have realized that cloud is their preferred technology option. The technologies like big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) have become the hot hubs for tech-savvy sectors. Let’s consider an example of the finance and healthcare sectors. Today, these two sectors are showing how technology benefits all the stakeholders by minimizing human intervention. Employing more and more use of technologies including online ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software applications and Mobile Apps for site visits and site inspection.
As they say, innovation is the key, and necessity is the mother of innovation. The post-COVID-19 era will once again prove the solidarity and reality of these two sayings.
Compared to other sectors, traditionally, the construction industry lags in digitization and data-driven decision making. This is largely due to the heavy dependence on skilled and unskilled manpower. However, with the technologies, such as big data, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality and Augmented reality (AR/VR) has brought great transformation opportunities to this industry.
The industry players need to re-think the way they manage their projects and the decision-making process. The industry lacks the data-driven decision making and to counter the post-COVID-19 challenges, the industry players need to rely heavily on the data collected remotely from sites.
Moving ahead, it is going to be very critical for the construction industry players to chart out a plan to make things smoother and stable. Apart from the existing pain areas, the COVID-19 situation has also created some newer pain areas, especially in the labor-management and the supply chain segments. Hence, technology adoption becomes a must for this sector now.
The technology focus should be on reducing manual site visits by using technology for remote supervision, digital procurement management, project management, scheduling, inventory management, accounting, and most importantly, the sales part through digital processes. Apart from the web & mobile applications, the trend for conducting online meetings must be continued to reduce the wastage of time due to commute. If we look at all the functional areas in a real estate organization, there is one common factor that connects them and that is, digital data processing of the project.
I strongly believe that online software and systems to digitally manage construction projects have become essential for monitoring and decision making. Building information modeling (BIM) to virtualize the construction project and monitoring through Virtual and Augmented reality (AR/VR) technologies without actually be present on the site will be a boon to address the industry challenges brought by COVID-19. I believe the industry should start learning and adopting this sooner than later for the survival and growth of the business in this industry.
Apart from the innovation, two more important aspects will drive quicker technology adoption in the real estate sector and they are, finance and time. From the financial viewpoint, it is essential to understand the cost-saving or cost overruns on the ongoing projects on a real-time basis. This could be gauged by adopting project monitoring tools that provide the planned versus actual progress of the project along with the comparison of budget to actual costs. The technology adoption will also reduce the time taken in process and project deployment and drive in-time project deliveries.
From the real estate industry perspective, it is very essential to promote concepts like a single-window clearance system (SWCS). SWCS will bring that much-needed collaboration amongst all the parties involved in construction permits and will bring them on a single platform to avoid difficulties faced by real estate owners in running from pillar to post chasing multiple agencies to obtain different NOCs and losing a significant amount of time in getting the permission.
Also, the post-COVID-19 era should be used to encourage and expedite the adoption of e-governance for the construction sector. For example, government authorities should implement and promote the system for issuing online construction permits.
I strongly believe that the support from industry and government leaders is imperative for further R&D in this complex space to bring delight to all the stakeholders. We aim that authority portals across the world should be able to issue construction permits along with all applicable NOCs from various internal as well as external agencies through an online Single Window Clearance System. More and more industry players and government bodies should come ahead and make optimum use of such technologies.
BIM technology (3D/4D/5D) can bring a breakthrough and we must leverage that for this industry. We all have to remember that we are living in the era of digital data and no sector can afford to overlook that. The technology is available and technology players’ like SoftTech have been constantly innovating for the industry.
The Final Word:
There is a wider and better scope for technology adoption in the construction industry. Although the transition is unlikely to be that smooth; however, this is the opportune time to go for it. Considering the challenges posed by COVID-19, the technology adoption will help the construction companies in three major areas – labor management, supply chain, and overall project management. The real estate industry should consider the current situation a blessing in disguise to take that much-required leap towards technology.
As I mentioned earlier, government agencies will have a major role to play in pushing technology adoption hard in the construction sector. Through different smart cities initiatives, e-governance, and other citizen-centric initiatives, the government can use technology to the benefit of the construction & real estate industry.
There has to be a cohesive and collaborative approach between government agencies, real estate companies, construction contractors, professional consultants, and technology solution providers like us. To reiterate, this scenario has also brought an opportunity for all of us to strive higher in terms of technology innovation. Stay Safe! Challenge Situation! Be Digital!