Digitizing construction supply chain
KvalhoTalks with Paul Curschellas | hief Information Officer of buildup
Welcome to KVALHO TALKSa series of interviews and discussions with experts, innovators, entrepreneurs who are actively contributing to the improvement and transformation of the AEC & real estate industries.
This time we speak with Paul Curschellas, co-Founder and Chief Information Officer of buildup – an independent search engine of construction products and BIMLibrary. Paul shares with us the details of his 5-year journey with his #ConTech startup into the digital construction.

Enjoy KvalhoTalks with Paul Curschellas and learn how he and his team assists companies in the Construction Sector with the digital transformation.

What is buildup and what made you decide to start the company?
buildUp is an independent search engine for construction products with a BIM library for each product. The idea was born from real issues faced by a construction company during delivery of a large building project. At that time, I was working at ETH and one day that company has asked us to help them to solve the challenge of poor and too late information exchange between the construction company and the design and planning team in the early project stage – when building materials and systems are chosen.
They knew that early collaboration is crucial for improving overall project performance.
As a result, we developed an online platform allowing them to do that and that's how buildup was born.

How much time was needed to develop a platform which we see now?

We started in 2013 and it took us almost 3 years to launch the platform online. Currently we have over 200 Swiss building material manufacturers as our clients, featuring over 300 000 products on our platform, ranging from building materials and components, technical installations up to devices and machines. Due to our high level of process automation and newly developed infrastructure, we can now scale very fast. With these tools we can serve more than 50 new manufacturers per month and still provide them with the required level of support on their digitalization journey.
What is the business model of buildup?
The buildup online platform is free of charge for the end user which is the person who specifies the materials for the particular project (architect, planner). Companies which feature their products on our platform pay an annual fee. This fee includes 2-4 days of support from us to bring them up to speed with optimising their data.

What stops them from optimising the data themselves?

Initially our clients were convinced that they have a well-structured, valuable product information data, which can be used directly on our platform and then used in a project. It turned out not to be the case. So first we had to develop standardized methods and processes to gather valuable product data of the building material or building component and bring this information into our platform.

Who benefits most from using your platform in their daily work?

Our platform can be used by all players from the construction industry including architects, engineers, planners, manufacturers, suppliers of building products, contractors and the building owners. Globally, construction investment is currently estimated at approximately $ 9 trillion. Of this amount, around € 1.435 trillion is generated in Europe- around € 403 billion in the DACH region (€ 309 billion in Germany / € 58 billion in Switzerland and € 36 billion in Austria) . About one third of this is attributable to material costs and products. It's a big part of the entire project value. That's why building owners and building operators increasingly request open access to the product information. It is important for architects, building planners and contractors that products from all manufacturers are gathered in one place and bring transparency to the project. Via our buildup search engine they can find the right products from range of manufacturers faster, by typing all specifications and performance criteria. Such specific search is not possible via regular search engines.

Could you please explain why?

Nowadays almost every manufacturer has a website but that doesn't mean that their specific products which they provide are easily found via search engine. Often these products are only described by text on the website or via pdf technical sheet which can be downloaded. We help manufacturers to structure and provide detailed digital data for their product (as a BIM library), making their products ''findable'' on the internet via our platform. Our ''search machine for construction'' allows a very specific and in-depth search of products in the entire internet: for example not only via material type (e.g. wooden windows) but also via parameters like: required acoustic performance of the window, required energy efficiency parameters, security level etc.
To summarise, via technology we help manufacturers and suppliers with 3 things: to increase visibility (so planners and designers can find them and their products easly) , to support their customers better (via providing structured digital data of the products – easier use for BIM) and in some cases to support the online selling process (we have direct connection to shops if the manufacturer decides to disclose the price).They knew that early collaboration is crucial for improving overall project performance.
What are the next steps for your business and how do you plan to grow it?
Construction is a local business, but the technology is international. We help the construction industry with the digitalization, therefore we look into expansion into the international markets. This year we entered Germany and Austria and in the upcoming 2 years we will be active in France and the UK. International expansion takes time because we want to make sure we support the industry with the right content suitable for the specific geographic region and local building regulations.

buildup's mission is to support the digitalisation process in the construction industry. Could you elaborate on this statement?

There are approximately 200,000 building components in the buildings. To be able to properly manage and operate the building -which is the idea of smart buildings- the correct and structured data of each of these components is required. So how can we provide this information? ''It is very important that the industry is going step by step to digitalize information of building components and materials in a uniform, structured way. We support companies in this critical step and at the end we provide their digital product to end clients via our platform.''
We are seen as the digitalisation partner by the companies in the construction industry. And we really lead these companies by taking smalls steps to be agile and adapt to changes dictated by the transforming construction industry.
How the construction industry can best work towards digitalisation?
At the moment approximately 60% of the building products manufactures do not have well-structured product data, to be able to serve well their customers or end users of the building. So, when we talk about digitalization, we need address this issue first. We all have to keep in mind that the digital data allows better interaction with the market we serve.

Which stakeholders within the construction supply chain require most support with the digital transformation?

I see that they are many educational and practical courses provided for the building planners, designers and building managers helping them to get on the digitalisation journey. Not much is offered to the manufacturers or suppliers. In the last 3 years our buildup team has been providing regular workshops for this particular group of companies and there are usually 30-50 companies who attend it. There is a clear need for that. We try to bring more transparency to the digitalisation process, explaining all of the trends and direction in which the industry is going so these companies can make more informative decisions and develop the right strategy to position themselves on the market.

How will the construction industry look like in 2030?

It's well known that to deliver efficient and quality building we need to close the collaboration gap between planning and construction phase. I hope by 2030 we will apply working structures allowing deep collaboration in this process. Now all trades of the supply chain work more less individually and everyone is waiting for its turn to provide information and inputs to the project they work on. This is why often very good ideas come too late into the design and tender stage with no time or budget to reverse decisions. This will change in the future and we at buildup work towards this goal every day.

INTERVIEW BY JOANNA DEMKOW-BARTLOMÉ