At a typical construction site in Malaysia, more often than not, you’ll find managers use traditional spreadsheets to carry out crucial tasks like budgeting, monitoring and ordering of materials.
Communication among on-site employees, site managers and head office, meanwhile, tend to rely on phone calls and instant messaging applications like Whatsapp or WeChat.
These tools get the job done, but are they the most effective?
“The system is very manual. We call it a human system,” says Teoh Pui Mun, founder and CEO of property tech startup Speedbrick.
Imagine having to make a million ringgit decision based on spreadsheets. There is no single source of truth, it takes time to verify information before a decision can be made
“The challenge with that is you will have information stuck in one place. For example, it is difficult to trace past information or requests using Whatsapp. And when a dispute happens, who will be held accountable?”
“Similarly, with spreadsheets, they are usually on the computer or laptop. If I want to know how much material I need to order today, it is difficult for me to access the information easily.”
The law graduate from the United Kingdom felt the pain points first hand. Teoh worked at her father’s construction company, helming roles as site supervisor, purchaser to project coordinator and contracts manager.
“Imagine having to make a million ringgit decision based on spreadsheets. There is no single source of truth, it takes time to verify information before a decision can be made.”
Teoh realised the inefficiencies were not unique to her father’s company; it is an industry problem. “So, I drew up a 16 page proposal for the board of directors at my dad’s company on how to improve processes by using an application that organises everything.”
“They flipped through it, and then tossed it away,” she says with a laugh.
That incident, seven years ago, became the impetus for Teoh to start Speedbrick. She sat on the idea for a year until she met banking software developer Looi Ferng Yi, who became co-founder of Speedbrick.
Risks Facing the Construction Industry
Speedbrick offers two key solutions. The first is called COMPOSE, a cloud management software to standardise workflow by allowing users raise material requisition requests and purchase orders to the procurement department.
“Instead of writing it on a piece of paper, the workers on-site can raise (the orders) on their phone. The information will reach the procurement department as well as directors for approval within seconds,” Teoh explains.
It needs to be easy to use. So, we have built it with any 70-year-old uncle in mind
In short, COMPOSE aims to simplify the entire supply chain management, allowing contractors to know who, when, how much material was procured and if it is within budget. Information is in real-life, linked straight to contractors' team's phone.
“COMPOSE also keep track of your last purchase price for materials,” adds Teoh. “Basically, we are building an international company data centre for you.”
Speedbrick’s second product ECHO, meanwhile, serves an early financial risk alert by helping companies monitor contractual deadlines, progress claims and payments.
“Late and non-payment issues are very common in Malaysia,” says Teoh. “ ECHO keeps track and monitor your contract conditions. For instance, if a contract specifies that I have to submit my claims by 25th of every month, ECHO will alert me. Thus, helpings contractors to stay on top of projects' contract and financial performance at all times.”
Speedbrick Aims To Minimise Risks, Mistakes in Construction Project Management
Speedbrick has served over 20 clients, comprising main and sub-contractors, since it launched a year ago. Among the projects which Speedbrick has assisted are Solaris Parq, Hilton I-City, Forest City and Sefina Mont Kiara.
While most major contractors already have their supply chain management system in place, the softwares, according to Teoh, are often complex and difficult to fit into the local culture, making it challenging to get people on the ground to use.
“It needs to be easy to use. So, we have built it with any 70-year-old uncle in mind,” says Teoh. “Everyone gets a personalised dashboard, focusing on what they need to see to action only.”
How Much Time and Cost Can You Save Through Speedbrick
Speedbrick aims to get every contractor in Malaysia to be on-board with digital adoption, which tend to lag behind other industries.
“We want to capture 30 percent of contractors in the Klang Valley by the end 2020. There are close to eight thousand qualified contractors who fall under the G7 category. So, we are targeting roughly 2000 companies."
We want to capture 30 percent of contractors in the Klang Valley by the end 2020
Teoh says the company, helmed by a small team of eleven, aims to build more solutions for the construction industry, including developing a subcontractors management portal and linkage to accounting software. It is also looking to link to Building Information Modelling (BI) in the near future.
“We are at this stage where still have to do a lot of education among contractors. We have to tell them the risks they are facing.”
“Unlike twenty years ago, profit margins can go up to 20, even 40 percent. We are looking at single digit profit margins right now. Some contractors are even willing to do projects at a loss just so that can turn over.”
“Thus, cash flow management has become very critical for construction companies and you must have effective control in each and every department. This is where Speedbrick can help."