Digitizing the construction industry will expedite growth exponentially, A change of mindset is needed
By Eduardt Ruhling. New Southern Energy, Nairobi
The Kenya Vision 2030 project that was initiated to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income nation has been a powerful catalyst for development in the East African country. Launched in 2008 by President Mwai Kibaki, the key objective underlying this visionary project was to provide a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment.
Thanks to this far-sighted initiative, Kenya has seen tremendous growth in infrastructure that will stand the nation in good stead for decades to come. While trade and industry were previously purely reliant on road transport, the SGR railway line is now available to passengers and cargo, connecting Mombasa to Nairobi and now extending its way towards Naivasha.
Other milestone developments include the Thika Superhighway which has reduced transport costs and improved accessibility, connecting Kenya with Ethiopia and Tanzania in the north and south; the oil jetty in Kisumu being commissioned; the launch of the Madaraka Express; modernization of the Isiolo Airport and the inception of the eCitizen portal, which now provides 197 civil services online. The GDP has increased, and the country now uses an estimated 85% renewables within its energy consumption, a remarkable figure.
There is no doubt that great strides have been made, and that a continuation of this trajectory will stand Kenya in good stead to become a force to be reckoned with on the continent and globally. However, for this progress to continue, the approach taken to development needs to modernize parallel to world standards.
Kenya’s construction industry is still largely paper based. The outdated approach that is used to communicate with investors, with suppliers, and between team members on development and engineering projects is a hinderance to progress. This impediment makes the construction industry extremely administratively heavy, and slow. Additionally, it compounds the skills shortage in the country and is off-putting for younger generation job seekers.
Technological developments in the past decade have flourished to the point that there is an abundance of software and digital tools available to accelerate and streamline engineering, procurement, and construction processes worldwide. From cost estimating, to measuring takeoffs, to accounting, to project tracking, to material management, to client reporting, there are umpteen technology accelerators accessible to simplify and streamline all stages of the project management life cycle. Kenya is in a prime position to take advantage of these.
There is an entire generation of dynamic Kenyan school leavers and graduates that are looking to embark on an upwardly mobile career path in the new Kenyan economy. However, the outdated way in which the construction industry currently operates is often seen as unappealing. Imagine the boost the economy would enjoy if even 10% of qualified graduates chose to pursue careers in engineering or construction. Because we need to teach people skills in terms of construction, it is in the country’s interest to teach them the digital approach.
Digitizing the construction industry will not only serve to attract the young talent it so desperately needs. It will also modernize the industry in a way that will expedite development by creating efficiencies. Furthermore, it will enable quicker turnaround times, less wastage, more accountability and make projects far easier to track. Simpler, more accurate real time reporting to investors will result in investments being seen as less risky and subsequently, more appealing.
Construction sites have been known to be potentially dangerous places to work, another impediment to talent retention. Using digital tools to ensure health and safety measures are in place will reduce the risk of injuries significantly.
Innovation should not only be externally prompted. It is essential that the construction industry starts embracing innovation within itself, so that innovation can continue. For this to happen, a change of mindset is required. The focus needs to shift from “what do we need to build?”, to “how can we build it better, smarter, simpler and more optimally?”
It is time for the leadership in the construction industry to leave the proverbial comfort zone and adopt more progressive habits. A new mindset that is geared towards working more efficiently will benefit the entire country and enable Kenya to take its rightful place as an African powerhouse in the decade ahead.