Opening speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the Opening Ceremony of the International Built Environment Week 2023

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Distinguished guests
Friends and partners from the Built Environment sector

Good morning, and a warm welcome to the International Built Environment Week (IBEW) 2023.

Our sector is in the midst of major transformation and change.

  • We are witnessing the application of new technologies that can help us shift away from labour intensive processes.
  • Architects can make use of Building Information Models (BIM) to aid and expedite the design process.
  • Quantity surveyors can use the same digital models to estimate material needs seamlessly.
  • With Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) technologies, builders can prefabricate components and even entire rooms from these digital plans.
  • And facilities managers can tap on new Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors, and use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to design smart and adaptive building systems, which enhance productivity and resource savings.

The transformation possibilities in the Built Environment sector are immense. But each link in our Built Environment (BE) value chain cannot achieve deep transformation alone.

  • For example, our facilities managers would face constraints in adopting sensors and robotics to manage our buildings, if these were not designed from the start.

Built Environment Industry Transformation Map

This whole-of-sector transformation is what we had in mind when we worked closely with industry, researchers to put together the Built Environment Industry Transformation Map, which was launched at IBEW last year.

  • We worked with our industry partners to set out an ambitious goal of transforming the entire building lifecycle, by harnessing emerging technologies and innovations to drive collaboration across various project parties.
  • Ultimately, our goal is to grow a BE sector that can build what we envision for our future Singapore, and seize opportunities around the world.

On this note, let me commend our frontrunner firms who have recognised the value of transformation, and changed the way they operate their businesses. These include the 13 winners of the BCA Awards, which we had presented earlier.

  • One example is the project team behind the new National Cancer Centre developed by MOHH, with Arup, AECOM, CIAP Architect, G-Energy Global and Shimizu.
  • Mr David Yeow, the project architect from CIAP Architects, played a pivotal role in guiding the team to integrate BIM throughout the project lifecycle.
  • With the support of all members in the value chain, the team implemented early contractor involvement, and incorporated construction and maintenance considerations upfront at the planning stage when in the past, we dealt with these things much further downstream.
  • It also used BIM and Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) to better identify risks, and pre-emptively adopt mitigation measures during the construction phase.
  • I hope the efforts by these BE professionals inspire all of us here today to broaden our horizons, and cause us to pause and reflect on how we can bring new innovations and ideas into our processes.

Strategic Shifts for Transformation and Collaboration

The theme of today’s conference is “Lateral Thinking in a Vertical World”. Lateral thinking is about rethinking assumptions and conventions, such that you find newer and better ways of solving problems we face.

  • For instance, rather than resolve conflicts when they occur, could we not align incentives upfront for project parties, and prevent conflicts from occurring in the very first place? Because conflict damages relationships and takes up a lot of resources and time to resolve.
  • Rather than only thinking about lowering the cost of materials, can we consider quicker, alternative methods of building?
  • And finally, rather than taking a firm-specific view towards transformation, can all project stakeholders work towards transformation in tandem?

We are working on many initiatives and schemes to drive the transformation of the BE sector here in Singapore, and these are underpinned by three important strategic shifts:

  • Moving from traditional contracting to collaborative contracting;
  • Moving from on-site construction to off-site construction; and
  • Moving from firm-level transformation to alliance-level transformation.
  • Let me elaborate on each of these shifts in turn.

First, from traditional contracting to collaborative contracting.

  • The traditional contracting approach can be more adversarial and places more risks on the contractor. For example, conflicts can arise when deviations occur, and parties disagree on how to share the cost of unanticipated events.
  • Against the current backdrop of ongoing geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainties, in fact, we also went through a tough pandemic period, contract terms need to evolve to address the impact of such events.
  • More importantly, this does not encourage innovation and transformation.
  • Service providers may avoid new technologies and processes if they involve additional costs. Project parties also have little incentive to innovate if they are unable to share the benefits, such as cost savings.

Collaborative contracting allows us to set the right environment from the start.

  • This involves setting common goals across the entire project team to align their priorities, and re-design the contracts accordingly.

The Government has taken the lead to develop an option module for collaborative contracting clauses in our standard conditions of contract.

  • This module outlines the principles of collaborative contracting, encouraging early warning of issues and a more systematic process to resolve disputes.
  • More than ten public sector projects have already been identified to pilot these clauses in the coming years.
  • And our private sector developers are also supporting this effort. CapitaLand, GuocoLand and SingLand are looking at adopting their own customised collaborative contracting option modules for their upcoming projects.

At the same time, we will continue to explore how to drive deeper collaboration for more complex projects.

  • This includes kickstarting the adoption of the NEC4 contract form, which is already used overseas.
  • Unlike traditional contracts that stipulate lump sum payments, the NEC4 contract form provides the option for a target cost approach. This provides flexibility for project parties to share cost savings or overruns when they occur.
  • This sharing of both pains and gains will incentivise project parties to work together to not only resolve issues, but explore innovation and new methods.
  • I am pleased that our public sector developers including JTC, HDB and LTA will be piloting the NEC4 contracting form in their upcoming projects.
  • But more than NEC4, more than a contract form, it is more important that parties adopt this mindset shift of collaborative contracting.

Second, from on-site construction to off-site construction.

  • Traditionally, the industry has been dependent on manual labour for works on-site – for example, cast-in-situ.
  • This has led to our heavy reliance on foreign manpower to meet Singapore’s building needs, which is not sustainable in the longer term.
  • Workers are also exposed to more safety risks on-site, given the presence of heavy machinery, lots of movement on-site and unfinished building components.

This is why we will continue to push ahead with our efforts to move more construction work off-site into a safer, more controlled factory-like environment.

We have enhanced our workforce policies to encourage this shift.

  • From 1 January 2024, the Man-Year Entitlement (MYE) levy framework will be replaced by a new framework that differentiates levies primarily between on-site versus off-site workers, with lower levies for the latter.
  • I am glad to announce that these lower levies for off-site workers will now apply to a wider range of off-site DfMA facilities, as long as they adopt a higher level of automation in their processes. This will facilitate the shift towards off-site prefabrication wherever possible, and encourages our facilities to adopt new automation technologies.
  • My colleagues at BCA will be publishing a circular on the details later today so please look out for it.

Beyond driving off-site productivity, our public agencies and private developers are also reviewing on-site processes.

  • HDB and its partners are exploring a range of robotic and automation innovations. These include robots for painting, polishing and skimming, and automated materials transport at construction worksites, as well as 3D concrete printing. In fact, I was at HDB’s Building Research Institute just a few days ago to see these innovations at play.
  • JTC has worked closely with BCA to deploy Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) scanning and 360-degree photo capture technologies, to produce a highly accurate virtual 3D environment of its buildings. This allows JTC’s project teams to track the progress of construction worksites, and facilitates BCA’s regulatory inspections as well.
  • Lendlease is developing a digital platform to coordinate the design of DfMA building components and systems across its projects. The platform will allow developers, consultants, and suppliers to work on the designs together through new digital technologies.
  • We look forward to hearing more of such exciting innovations.

Third, from firm-level transformation to alliance-level transformation, or value chain transformation.

  • There are many interdependencies across the long construction value chain, and it can be difficult for firms to embark on transformation on their own, as I have highlighted earlier, such is the nature of construction.

This is why we have introduced the Growth and Transformation Scheme (GTS), which will support entire alliances of developers, builders, consultants, and other stakeholders in pursuing best-in-class transformation outcomes.

  • The idea is to cultivate a longer-term view across multiple projects, and develop the trust, relationships and capabilities required to sustain transformation efforts.

Some of our developers are working with their partners to pilot this value chain approach. One such alliance is led by CDL.

  • CDL will work with its partners such as ADDP Architects and Woh Hup to drive the adoption of new sustainable technologies in their projects.
  • This includes integrating sustainability data tracking modules and smart building management systems through a common digital backbone. This will allow building owners to better track the building’s energy performance and achieve better sustainability outcomes.
  • Doing so puts CDL on-track to achieve net zero emissions for the maintenance and operations of its buildings by 2030.
  • In addition, CDL and its partners will leverage a Common Data Environment (CDE) to issue BIM models as part of tender documents. This will allow all project stakeholders to access the same BIM model as the single “source of truth” throughout the project cycle, and facilitate better collaboration.
  • Please approach my BCA colleagues to find out more about alliance-level transformation and the GTS.

Shifting Perceptions of the BE Sector

Now I have outlined some of the strategic shifts that we will need to make to transform our sector.

But we will also need to embark on another critical shift – which is to develop and upskill our people and our workforce.

  • This is perhaps the most important shift as we need people to power the transformation.
  • Let me share a few areas we have been working on in this regard.

First, redesigning existing jobs.

  • Transformation will enhance the job quality of BE professionals.
  • For example, there are emerging roles in digital delivery management and smart facilities management, many of which did not exist a decade ago.
  • In order to make use of these new technologies, we will not just need top management to embrace these changes, but we will need to redesign some of the existing jobs and help workers adapt to the changes. So change management is an important process.

There are schemes to support firms, and I am glad to see that some firms have benefitted from them.

  • For example, P&T Consultants, an architectural and engineering firm, has made use of Workforce Singapore (WSG)’s Support for Job Redesign under the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG-JR) to conduct job redesign for its project assistants and draughtspersons.
  • In their existing roles, these professionals had been trained all along in modelling 2D building diagrams.
  • The company then reskilled five of their staff through the Career Conversion Programme (CCP) for BIM professionals, and equipped them with new digital skillsets.
  • Doing so has allowed the company to streamline job processes and achieve up to 20% time savings. It has also enabled its employees to take on multi-faceted roles. 

Going forward, BCA and WSG will bring together a group of BE firms to redesign some common BE roles.

  • Take the role of a project engineer for example. Project engineers can use remote co-ordination and digital tracking of worksite activities to improve work efficiency and automate basic processes, so that they can focus on higher-level functions such as project planning and data analysis.
  • The consortium will analyse business needs, develop job redesign prototypes, and test out the redesigned jobs. This knowledge will then be shared with the wider industry to assist them with job redesign in their own firms. 

Second, building greater awareness about the BE sector, which is very important to help us develop the pipeline of people joining the sector.

  • The sector is changing, but if you speak to members of the public, many still think a BE job mainly involves laborious, back-breaking work.
  • So it is important to make clear to more Singaporeans that the sector is moving ahead.

In addition, we need to go back to the basics. In other words, focus on the meaning of a job in this sector.

  • When I speak to younger Singaporeans, I often hear that they want to contribute and make a difference not just in Singapore, but in the world.
  • Careers in the Built Environment are meaningful. The critical role that the sector plays in designing, building, and maintaining a sustainable, inclusive, and liveable Singapore is not lost on any of us here.

So we will do better in communicating this to our young Singaporeans. Let them understand what the BE sector entails today, and that a job in the BE career is meaningful.

  • BCA will be embarking on the next phase of its BuildSG campaign later this year, with a focus on showcasing how BE jobs can make a difference. This is why BCA has titled its campaign as “Building Singapore”.
  • I invite our firms to volunteer yourselves, volunteer your colleagues, to join us in this effort, and help us make a strong case for a future-ready Built Environment sector.


To conclude, our efforts to transform technologies, processes and people will not only allow us to confront the challenges that lie ahead, but seize the opportunities that come about with change.

I am confident that today’s talks will inspire all of us to think outside of the box, consider new possibilities, and move our businesses forward.

  • You can also visit the co-located tradeshow over the next three days to discover the latest innovations for the BE sector.

With this, I wish everyone a rewarding IBEW 2023. Thank you.

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