By Wee Eng Yau, Country Manager, Trimble Solutions Malaysia
For many of us, the crisis we face today is of a very different, unprecedented kind, but it isn’t the first of scale that Malaysia has experienced. The financial crises of 1997 and 2008 – and the manner in which the country recovered strongly – were watershed moments in the nation’s history.
Today, many countries are employing a wide range of measures to keep people apart and limit the spread of a global pandemic, from social distancing to pressing the pause button on many aspects of everyday life. The construction industry has not been spared from the fallout from the coronavirus. While the current situation is different in many ways, there are things we learned from the 2008 financial collapse that we can use to help us better deal with what we are facing today.
The construction industry is not immune to what firms experience in real-time. A nation’s infrastructure capacity has always been looked to as a leading indicator for what’s in store for the market looking forward. When there is a crisis, we see infrastructure spending taking cuts first and then that cascades throughout the trades over an extended period of time. This is exactly what we saw happen as the 2008 financial crisis played out.
In Malaysia, we tend to see growth in the scale of architecture and engineering projects as indicators to the overall status of our economy. For example, in the case of a crisis, certain elements within a project that has lesser tangible impact, such as its design cost, will experience a budget cut before any other subsequent factor.
Technology is the way forward in a post-pandemic world
Despite a RM70 million financial aid from the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) to cultivate the use of technology and create local jobs, some businesses will still face difficulties to source out funding for its day to day operations. Despite the challenge, firms can still persevere as long as they avoid hitting zero revenue and that’s something to keep in mind; in any crisis the world will continue to turn, though at a much slower pace.
However, what we face now presents us with an added personal dimension. Many people know somebody that has been made severely ill by this disease. This is why in addition to traditional safety practices on the jobsite, businesses should learn how to maintain safe distances with the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) in situations where they normally might not. In some cases supply chains are also strained from the financial pressure so it’s necessary for firms to innovate and discover new ways to be more efficient and effective than before.
This crisis also accelerated the widespread digitalization of all aspects within the industry and everyday life – especially including the construction field. Executing future work as efficiently as possible with the deployment of new digital technologies allows the industry to regain its footing in this ‘new normal’ while limiting face-to-face interactions. Simply put, the time to prepare for recovery is now.
As we work toward recovery, there will be fewer projects to pursue. In the current economic landscape, it is important to put one’s best foot forward for each of these opportunities and focus on work that is lucrative. While the government has its focus on stimulating the economy via initiatives like PENJANA – which includes economic-buffing incentives for the property sector – an investment into technology during this period may well be a more balance sheet-friendly option, especially when anticipating a rise in the demand for communications and computing infrastructure.
One more important thing to keep in mind is these tools do not operate themselves. They require well-trained individuals to utilize them, and there is no better time than now to learn these technologies. There are many resources available (many of them free) to learn how to remotely manage a site or empower the workforce with new technologies. By thinking ahead, businesses gain an edge over stagnant competitors who lack the ability to recognize opportunities for innovation.
As the recovery begins to pick up speed, the companies that survive are faced with managing the growth of their business while accessing working capital and containing costs. The mix of projects being built is also likely to change. In order to meet these contemporary challenges head-on, striving for perfection in planning and execution of the work is the order of the day. Having constructible, coordinated information in the right hands – accompanied by new and adaptive technology – is essential in working towards the full recovery of this industry, and further – of the economy.