UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | In the construction industry, where manual processes and traditional methods have long been the norm, the adoption of technology has been met with resistance.
Despite the potential benefits that technology can offer, such as increased efficiency, improved cost management, and enhanced productivity, the construction industry has been slow to embrace digital solutions.
However, there are signs of progress as some pioneers in the field are successfully introducing tech solutions and gradually changing the industry landscape.
Linus Wahome, an IT expert and the Founder of Manpro Systems LTD, noticed a recurring issue within the construction industry.
Many contractors were struggling with low profitability and financial constraints despite their busy operations.
Wahome identified a link between these challenges and information management problems. Most construction projects were managed manually, making it difficult for contractors to detect potential losses, delays, and variances in real time. By the time they realised they were making losses, it was often too late to recover.
“The industry is very reactive on decision making because projects are managed manually. I think with technology, contractors can easily detect potential losses, delays and variances and therefore act in time to save money,” says Wahome.
To address this issue, Wahome developed Manpro, a construction management system designed specifically for the African market.
Manpro became renowned for its ability to control costs by providing real-time tracking and reconciliation of construction expenses, material usage, and labour productivity.
The system alerts contractors to any potential deviations from estimates, enabling proactive decision-making to prevent cost overruns.
Despite the clear benefits of technology in construction, the industry has been hesitant to embrace it. Wahome experienced this resistance firsthand when introducing Manpro to construction stakeholders.
“This being my first tech product for the construction industry and having deployed tech solutions in other industries such as the finance sector where technology is easily adopted, I expected a warm reception from construction stakeholders where the business case for the technology is very apparent, but I was wrong,” says Wahome, noting that perhaps the construction industry, being one of the oldest industries in the world, has deeply ingrained practices that are not easily disrupted.
Additionally, decision-making processes often involve multiple stakeholders, making it challenging to get everyone on board. The most common excuse presented by contractors is the perceived additional cost of implementing technology.
However, they fail to realise that the absence of the right technology can lead to even greater losses and inefficiencies. Theft of materials, ghost workers, and idle labour is difficult to address without proper digital tracking systems.
Despite the challenges, there have been notable advancements in the adoption of technology within the construction industry.
“The winners in this industry will be those who use technology to become more efficient in cost management and resource utilisation because then they can be competitive in their pricing,” argues Wahome.
Vaola Amumpaire, the founder of Wena, an online construction and home improvement platform, experienced success by leveraging technology to address common industry pain points.
Wena provides users with a seamless experience for shopping, designing, material estimates, and connecting with peers and professionals in real-time.
The platform aims to eliminate intermediaries and reduce fraud, which was prevalent in construction projects involving Ugandans living abroad.
Amumpaire’s venture into selling construction materials online faced initial scepticism but eventually gained acceptance due to the convenience and competitive prices offered.
“One of the extreme stories was about a man who killed his wife after coming home and finding that she squandered the money sent for construction while working in Somalia. I started thinking of way I could eliminate third parties which would solve all these problems,” Amumpaire recalls.
“I got my first order from a friend in 2019 and he bought a tape measure. Unfortunately the tape measure I posted in the photo was much more expensive than what I had quoted. But because I had already blundered, I had to offer a discount for me to make that sale which means I made a loss. It took time for me to be able to buy items at their prices and deliver them at a profit. I also learnt an important lesson that the pictures had to be exactly of what was on sale,” she says.
However, some manufacturers still struggle to understand the concept of online transactions. Wena currently boasts over 600 vendors and has served more than 5,000 customers.
The platform meticulously verifies professionals and companies to prevent fraud, ensuring that customers are connected with reputable service providers.
“We get data from them and proof of what they do to avoid fraudsters. When there is some proof missing, the profile cannot be activated,” she explains about the vetting process to be listed on the platform.
“We can only hope that people will get an appreciation of the digital space and policies are put in place to secure digital businesses,” she says.
Alex Kamanga, Founder and CEO of Fundis Inc., identified inefficiencies in the informal construction sector, which comprises a significant portion of the industry’s labour force.
Kamanga noticed the unpredictability and lack of verification in hiring casual labourers, known as fundis, for construction projects.
Kamanga says, “I noticed that most were hired on site and the contractors or project managers did not have time to verify their expertise since they don’t show up with their CVs. Should they hire inexperienced workers, they will only realise this hours later, after wasting time and construction materials.”
“A technician can be contracted to work in Kileleshwa, when he lives in, say, Membley. This means they have missed lots of jobs simply because there is no platform that alerts them of projects near them,” observes Kamanga.
In response, he developed Fundis Inc., a platform that aims to formalise the sector by identifying, training, and certifying artisans.
The platform connects contractors, homeowners, and service providers with skilled technicians, enabling informed hiring decisions.
“Fundis are hired and fired casually, which makes their professions, be it plumbing, painting, masonry, roofing or woodwork, unpredictable,” says Kamanga.
However, Kamanga faced resistance from the construction industry when attempting to introduce his app.
The industry viewed tech solutions with suspicion, suspecting ulterior motives such as data mining for tax reporting purposes.
Additionally, the construction industry is known for its closed nature and numerous barriers to entry. Despite these challenges, Fundis Inc. found success among commercial real estate firms and large contractors.
“It still baffles me that we have failed to efficiently digitise the land selling and buying industry. There is a lot technology has to offer. For instance, geo-tagging can help triangulate and locate parcels of land remotely.
Approvals for buildings can also be digitised easily. Buying property and building should not be as scary as it is now in,” he says.
The construction industry has historically lagged in technology investment. Lack of training and inadequate staff to support technological advancements have contributed to the resistance observed today.
However, the younger generation of fundis has shown a remarkable openness to tech solutions. Kamanga and his team have focused on engaging individuals between 18 and 35 years old while also empowering young women and providing digital literacy skills to older individuals who possess valuable knowledge and experience.
Looking ahead, Kamanga emphasises the need for the construction industry to be more open to technology. Digital solutions can greatly enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and streamline processes.
Kamanga highlights the untapped potential in digitising land transactions, leveraging geo-tagging for remote parcel locations, and digitising building approvals.
Embracing technology can alleviate many of the challenges currently faced by the construction industry and pave the way for future growth and innovation.
READ MORE LIKE THIS: