#SMETowkay: Forging Ahead with Technology

When Koh Zhi Li joined his family’s earthworks business, Koh Kock Leong Enterprise, two years ago as a project manager, he was surprised at the high overhead expenses that the company incurred daily. He knew that in the earth excavation business, efficient resource allocation — from manpower to the specific deployment of excavators and trucks — is key to being able to deliver projects on time. Earth excavation usually happens before other engineering projects, such as the construction of a MRT station. “The longer we take to complete a job, the more it costs us,” explains Koh.

Labour costs was also especially challenging when managing over 300 workmen spread across various projects. “There are more than 50 work sites at a time; I can’t go down to every work site to check on their progress,” he says. “Everything was hindsight tracking in the past, but it is now important to be able to track (their progress) live.”

To better manage overheads, Koh suggested the company leverage on technology that kept a close eye on critical financial numbers such as labour costs and inventory. This came in the form of a workforce tracking system from digital solutions provider, Hubble. With Hubble’s solution, the company can instantly get an overview of projects’ accumulated labour hours and costs. The software also alerts supervisors if an ongoing project was close to exceeding its budget so that supervisors can then take the necessary steps to speed up the progress at the worksite.

“We needed to know how much we are spending to know whether we can afford to mobilise more manpower, excavators and trucks to expedite the process,” he explains. “But how would we be able to make that instant decision if we don’t have instant tracking?”

The benefits extend to their workers as well — they no longer have to manually fill up timecards. Instead, they now punch in and out of work with smartphones.

Having witnessed the digital transformation initiated by his nephew, managing director, Koh Tiam Teck, is pleased with the progress and outcomes. Starting out as a traditional earthworks company over 40 years ago, he acknowledged that if the company was not improving, it was “regressing and is destined to fail”. While the company has many older employees, Tiam Teck says he has never doubted their ability to cope with these new technologies.

Leading by example is important too. “I persuade (my employees) by learning to use these technologies myself. So there’s really no reason why they shouldn’t. I made it clear to my employees that they needed to upgrade their skills if they wanted to continue working for me,” he adds.

Thinking of going digital? The SMEs Go Digital programme by the Info-communications Media Development (IMDA) matches companies to the appropriate tech solutions and offers financial subsidies too. Get started at https://www.imda.gov.sg/smesgodigital

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