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Technology identified as offering chance to boost Singapore construction industry

Moves by the Singaporean government to incentivise construction companies in the city state to embrace new digital technologies should be seen as a business opportunity, an expert has said.30 Oct 2017

Sean Hardy, a construction expert at Pinsent Masons MPillay, the Singapore joint law venture  between MPillay and Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that it was encouraging to see the potential of 'infratech' being featured in the mainstream press in Singapore.

This is part of a series exploring the opportunities and challenges of infratech, the integration of technology into infrastructure. You can read more in our special report or request an exclusive Pinsent Masons research report

However, Hardy said a number of challenges remain for infrastructure owners, construction and engineering companies and technology providers to overcome to harness that potential.

Hardy was commenting after the Straits Times ran a series of articles earlier this week on the theme of technology use in the construction market.

The coverage highlighted plans by authorities in Singapore to grow the number of people trained in construction technology, from 32,600 currently to 80,000 by 2025. It also detailed plans to increase adoption of the 'Design for Manufacturing and Assembly' concept. This is where elements of a build typically carried out on-site are instead finished in off-site factories before being pieced together in 'Lego-like' fashion with other elements on-site, offering potential efficiencies in terms of the cost of manpower and reducing completion times for projects.

The plans, set out in a new Construction Industry Transformation Map for Singapore, were welcomed by a number of observers, and the potential of the initiative in respect of the Singapore housing market was also identified by the newspaper.

According to the Straits Times, productivity and quality will be given greater weight as factors in decisions over the award of public contracts in Singapore. It said collaborative contract models will be explored by a working group as part of the shift in policy. One editorial in the paper questioned whether there is a future for construction companies that fail to adapt to the age of infratech.

Among the technologies identified as having potential to enable greater collaboration is building information modelling (BIM).

"It is brilliant to see these conversations in the national broadsheet; more so that the Singapore government is actively incentivising the construction industry to embrace technology," Hardy said.

"Bridging the technology and infrastructure skills gap via educational changes will certainly help but there are still hurdles to overcome, such as lack of collaborative arrangements between project participants; minimal knowledge sharing amongst the industry; and unfavourable contracting models that fail to reward innovation and collaboration across the supply chain. Greater collaboration between the different stakeholders within the industry is needed if infratech is going to propel forward," he said.

Technology law expert Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons MPillay said businesses embracing infratech must be aware of cyber risks.

"Like many industries, the infrastructure industry also faces the forces of technology transformation and disruption," Tan said. "The promise of technology which brings about greater productivity, better services and further cost efficiencies carries with it, with cybersecurity emerging as a key risk area."

"Although Singapore is ranked first in its cybersecurity strategy, the need to inculcate cybersecurity awareness in this new generation of infrastructure workers will be one of the hallmarks of the industry transformation," he said.

The convergence of physical infrastructure assets and digital technologies is becoming increasingly prevalent, as highlighted in a recent report on the evolution of infratech by Pinsent Masons.