Construction tech startup Novade on paperless crusade with one-stop solutions platform


WHEN he led Autodesk's Asia sales team, Denis Branthonne wanted to sell the engineering and architecture software that his company was famous for.

It turned out that his clients at construction sites also had other concerns.

"In the last few years of my tenure, a lot of clients were telling me, 'We understand the software and see its benefits, but we really need systems to help us manage operations on-site'," said Mr Branthonne, 48, who worked at Autodesk between 2002 and 2013.

That feedback gave him the motivation to leave Autodesk and co-found Novade Solutions with Eugene Low, an industry contact who runs construction software reseller CS Global.

Novade specialises in software solutions that replace the volumes of paperwork used in construction and property development projects.

Industry outsiders might be surprised to find out just how paper-intensive civil engineering projects can be. During quality inspections, for instance, workers roam the construction site carrying stacks of paper and checking off lists. Upon spotting defects, they use messaging apps like WhatsApp to notify sub-contractors.

The loose papers and fragmented communication sometimes lead to oversights or replications in procedures and processes.

Simply providing digital forms is not a new concept, and there are players such as US-based Device Magic already occupying that space.

But Novade differentiates itself by providing a one-stop solution, with analytics capabilities and communication tools, Mr Branthonne explained.

"In the market, we've seen a lot of single apps - one just for defect checks, another just for safety. Our value proposition is you don't need many different apps, you just need this one. Many companies in Asia are starting the digitisation process, so it's convincing for us to be in this space," he said.

To provide solutions that make sense for its clients, Novade's platform also supports 3D blueprints, helps to generate progress reports and schedule maintenance inspections, and facilitates safety checks.

Quality check forms are updated in real-time for all workers on a project, and relevant parties can be notified about defects.

In addition, Novade can monitor individual data points, such as equipment usage and the time and attendance of each worker, and prepare payroll reports.

Novade's app can also work offline, and on both Android and iOS platforms.

That one-stop shop approach has helped Novade to grow a multinational presence in its five-year existence.

Novade now operates in 16 countries across Asia and Europe, with its headquarters in Singapore and offices in Paris and Beijing.

It counts 200 enterprise clients who pay a subscription fee with the range of functions and pricing tailored to the client's needs. Novade also offers subscription packages for individual projects.

Local clients include SGX-listed Tiong Seng Holdings and Boustead Projects. It also works with international players like Samsung C&T, Obayashi and Bouygues Construction. Developers like Thailand's Magnolia Quality Development Corp also use Novade to do quality checks on large residential projects.

In December, the startup secured an undisclosed sum of Series A funding from venture capital firm Wavemaker Partners and SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of Enterprise Singapore, to acquire more clients in China, Japan and Europe.

"Singapore is a great place to start, but it's a small market. It's very important for us to scale overseas; we need to get a critical mass," Mr Branthonne said.

Wavemaker managing director Paul Santos said in a Dec 20 statement that his firm was "very impressed by the Novade client portfolio and the ability for the platform to be deployed across the globe".

Mr Branthonne said he knows how important it is to stay a step ahead. When asked if software incumbents like Autodesk could easily develop a similar solution that overtakes Novade, Mr Branthonne replied with a chuckle: "Yes, I've lived with this for five years and it has not happened yet.

"We were fast in developing our solution and we have a fresh view on how to do things."

Novade Solutions at a glance

  • Co-founder, CEO: Denis Branthonne. Former vice-president for emerging markets and Asia-Pacific at Autodesk
  • Business: Mobile application that digitises paper-based processes on construction sites
  • HQ: Singapore
  • Backers: Wavemaker Partners, SEEDS Capital (Series A)