Rebuilding to Emerge Stronger from the COVID-19 Crisis

31 Dec 2020


This pandemic has helped us understand more clearly our weaknesses and priorities. I am optimistic that we can work together with the industry, and use this time to build differentiating competencies that will make us stronger and better positioned to tap on Asia’s growth post-COVID.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have sparked an unprecedented crisis for the built environment industry, but there is always an upside in any crisis, said Mr Kelvin Wong, CEO of Building and Construction Authority, who took over the helm on 2 Nov 2020.

Here, he shares his vision for the industry and how BCA can play a leading role to help construction firms navigate COVID-19 and emerge stronger through innovation and digitalisation.

What are your key priorities for 2021?

The pandemic has had a far-reaching economic impact, changed how construction takes place, and highlighted weaknesses that need to be addressed. As the built environment industry finds its footing in this global pandemic, BCA’s key priority is to help built environment firms address these weaknesses and emerge even stronger.

Secondly, BCA itself is also not standing still. We want to transform the way we do things within BCA to be even more effective in serving our stakeholders. This will place us in a better position to deliver our mission and address challenges in the future.

What challenges has COVID-19 presented the built environment sector and how can built environment firms emerge stronger in the wake of the crisis?

The pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for change for the industry. It emphasised and surfaced weaknesses and vulnerabilities such as the over-dependency on unskilled foreign labour, and the lack of supply chain resilience.  

The pandemic also accentuated the need for the built environment sector to step up digitalisation and streamline projects with digital solutions. For example, some firms may not have proper digital records on how much inventory they have and where their workers are. Digital solutions can improve productivity and efficiencies with real-time remote visibility to ensure optimum inventory levels and that workers comply with safe distancing measures.

Before the crisis hit, the built environment industry was heavily involved in a large number of construction projects due to the recovery from a previous downturn. This pandemic has put a pause in terms of the number of projects out there in the market and has given some firms the opportunity and time to rethink priorities and accelerate digital transformation. 

This pandemic has helped us understand more clearly our weaknesses and priorities.  I am optimistic that we can work together with the industry, and use this time to build differentiating competencies that will make us stronger and better positioned to tap on Asia’s growth post-COVID.

What’s your vision for the built environment industry in the longer term?

We want to create a built environment that meets Singapore’s needs for the future, essentially a liveable and smart built environment.

Right now, the challenges that Singapore faces in the future are an ageing and declining workforce, infrastructure that is getting old, and the threat of climate change. On the upside, the upcoming disruptive technologies, and the urbanisation of Singapore and Asia present promising growth opportunities.

I am confident that the industry can face these challenges by taking steps to anticipate these upcoming changes, embrace greater innovation, and use technology to boost productivity and be highly automated.

img1-rebuilding-to-emerge-stronger-from-the-covid-19-crisisMr Kelvin Wong in discussion with a staff member at the BCA COVID-19 Command and Control Ops Centre in July 2020.

What do you think the built environment industry can do to speed up the adoption of newer technology like drones, robotics, green technology, Building Information Modelling (BIM), Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA)?

BCA has been encouraging the adoption of technologies like BIM and Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) for a few years now, and will continue to champion these technologies as well as new technologies, like robotics, drones, and green technology which will help firms build smarter, faster and better. There will be a more significant push to adopt new technologies with the Alliance for Action task force chaired by Minister Desmond Lee.

From my interactions with the industry thus far, I get the sense that many built environment companies understand the need to digitalise and adopt technology, but may not be entirely familiar with the solutions that are available for deployment. The resources required of them to test out some of this technology may also be quite significant. So we are looking at helping the industry be more aware of available solutions and how to best adopt these technologies.

On a personal note, what were the biggest influences in your life and why? In what ways have these helped you become who you are today?

There’s no single biggest influence, but certainly, a key theme is the notion of servant leadership. It has been inspiring to see how my parents and people in the public service make sacrifices and display a dedication to creating a better nation, to build a Singapore for the future.

While we are here to serve, create, and contribute, many of these leaders also care. It's not just about hitting the targets or achieving the numbers but also about the people—they are why we do what we do.

What do you enjoy doing most outside work?

I exercise, mainly running and physical workouts in the gym; I love travelling and enjoy finding good food at whichever destination I am at; and I make time to spend with my family, whether it is cooking for my daughter, or helping her with sciences and math. During Christmas, a highlight is to cook for my extended family, a tradition that we had to modify this year.


The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) champions the development and transformation of the built environment sector, in order to improve Singapore’s living environment. BCA oversees areas such as safety, quality, inclusiveness, sustainability and productivity, all of which, together with our stakeholders and partners, help to achieve our mission to transform the Built Environment sector and shape a liveable and smart built environment for Singapore.