Let’s talk about: essential opportunities in digital transformation
Surbana Jurong Group is a global urban, infrastructure, and managed services consulting firm. Headquartered in Singapore with offices around the world, Surbana Jurong focuses on delivering sustainable solutions across the entire project lifecycle. Here, Group CEO Wong Heang Fine shares how digital transformation can drive better outcomes and what challenges still lie ahead across the project lifecycle.
How different is your business today compared to five years ago?
Surbana Jurong has grown tremendously over the last few years, from a mainly Singaporean outfit with 3,200 staff, to a company of 16,000 spanning 40 countries. We’ve also deepened our expertise by acquiring specialty design and engineering firms, which has helped us serve our clients in areas like climate engineering, biomimicry, carbon capture, and smart city solutions.
What role does digital transformation play within your corporate strategy?
Digital transformation is a key pillar of Surbana Jurong’s corporate strategy, and deeply intertwined with our purpose. We’ve always believed in making strategic investments around technology, but COVID-19 accelerated things.
Throughout lockdowns and travel restrictions, we continued to enhance our BIM (building information modeling), AI, and digital twin offerings, while creating more value in our solutions as technical experts. The Group has also invested in several enterprise-wide technology solutions to empower our employees and help our clients, which take time to integrate but will pay off long-term. We’re embracing automation and digitization to facilitate cross-team collaboration, help our clients, and grow our business.
Why is it useful to examine costs from a whole project lifecycle, and how can digitization help?
Most asset owners tend to focus on capital expenditure instead of the whole lifecycle cost. In reality, operations and maintenance costs typically account for 65% of the overall lifecycle cost, while capital cost is only 35%. That means if you own a building, for example, a lot of your costs will happen after construction already takes place.
The digitization of design processes and management of built environment projects are giving stakeholders greater control over costs. When we built our own global headquarters, for example, BIM systems and simulations allowed us to lower the campus’s carbon footprint by identifying areas where we could reduce energy usage, or even potential hot spots that might arise such as roof spaces that required ventilation. This resulted in us being able to reduce overall energy by a massive 44%.
In what ways have you seen digital transformation help reduce costs in the construction sector?
Smart tools can help asset owners achieve operational efficiencies and cut costs. Project management at construction sites has turned digital, relying on BIM, drones, web-based cameras, and unmanned autonomous vehicles—all of which will improve further with 5G.
The last part of the project lifecycle, the facilities management stage, has been a key focus in the industry recently, with new digital solutions offering a great opportunity to digitize and reduce costs.
How is digital changing your relationships with customers and your employees?
Our business is anchored on people. We create value for our customers by anticipating challenges and finding innovative solutions. Digitization and automation are tools that help consultants like us collect and analyze data, simulate scenarios, and make meaningful recommendations. But the best solutions happen when our people come together and bring their perspectives and insights. Everything else is just tools in the toolbox.
Do you think the construction sector is able to respond quickly enough to fast-evolving markets and customer needs? How?
The construction industry faces mounting challenges from the pandemic and the effects on supply chains and labor. These add to a larger issue of bidding for jobs on very thin margins to counter fierce competition. Technology offers solutions, but it’s difficult to persuade contractors to invest in technology when cash flow is a more of an immediate issue.
The public sector, private sector, and communities must work together to help the industry transform, even if that’s through fiscal and monetary policies. What we need is a robust ecosystem that will help all players appreciate the value of sustainable development and the technology that enables it.