There’s a lot going on on a construction site. Foundations are cast, pipes laid, beams are sawn and adjusted, and windows installed – the most varied of trades are working there at the same time from the building shell through to the interior fittings. The site management is responsible for overseeing this work. It manages schedules, time recording, deliveries and communicates with the tradespeople. All of this is often connected with a lot of paperwork. So, how can this process be digitised? That’s what three young founders from Potsdam and Berlin asked themselves and then launched koppla – a new software for an old industry – on the market. The platform for skilled craftsmen facilitates the management of working operations between the office and the construction site and brings important data in real time directly onto the site manager’s desk.
koppla functions equally as a cross-company and cross-process platfom so that it can be used by a small company much in the same way as a large general contractor that is handling several large construction sites with dozens of subcontractors. While similar software solutions in the past had been mostly for in-house use and focused only on parts of the construction process, koppla makes it possible for there to be cooperation between the different departments throughout the entire construction process. The first step for this to happen sees the construction site being created in the software with all of the appropriate information, and then off you go: the site manager can assign tasks, store plans, times and drawings, and the deployed skilled craftsmen report back via the app on how the work is progresssing, and can send reference photos as well as flaws.
“The site manager has a digital construction site cockpit located in the office or container, and, ideally, this is always showing green. It shows the traffic light status of the different subcontractors working on the construction site. If they fall behind in their work and the subsequent workflow is therefore delayed, this status can be changed to yellow (delay) or even red (alarm). The site management can then take direct action,” says Jerome Lange, one of the three founders of koppla. Such an early warning system within the app not only accelerates communication, but can also lead to sustainable improvement in entire processes on the construction site. An example: it’s Friday evening and the drywaller is supposed to be hanging a ceiling. But when he gets there, he sees that the ceiling hasn’t been delivered. He writes his report and hands it in at the container. But nothing else is done about it before the weekend. When the painters and electricians come in on Monday, it’s only when they’ve arrived at the construction site that they see that the ceiling hasn’t been hung and that, consequently, they won’t be able to install the electrical wiring or paint the ceiling. If koopla had been used, the drywaller’s note would have landed directly with the other tradesmen so that they could have then rescheduled their planned work .
The fact that everything is done by hand and filed in paper form on large construction sites, that numerous delivery bills must be retraced and things can easily get lost in process – this was what brought the founders of koppla to come up with this idea in the first place. Co-founder Marco Trippler had himself worked in the skilled crafts sector and had been looking for a time and cost-effective way of supporting the daily routine by using digital communication technology. Although 66% of the skilled crafts companies in Germany are open in principle to digitisation, only about half of them use technologies such as cloud computing, tracking systems, virtual reality or smart software in their day-to-day operations – according to a recent study by Bitkom with the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts.
He teamed up with two old school friends, Lasse Steffen and Jerome Lange, who were still studying at the time, and they got started. It was not long before a tool, which had initially been planned as facilitating a fast exchange of images between tradespeople, became a communication platform 4.0 for the skilled crafts sector. After two months spent working on its development, they presented the product at trade fairs and had an immediate and positive feedback. “At the outset, we invested a lot of time in implementation and coding. But then we realised that the best way would be first to discuss the features directly with the tradespeople so that they could tell us exactly what they need and how,” says Jerome Lange. In order to optimise their software, they accompanied tradespeople on their jobs: from assignments for locksmith services through the painting business working on several apartments to the large-scale general contractor who is driving the simultaneous construction of 200 apartments forward. Support for the initiative came from the Hasso Plattner Institute, the University of Potsdam’s start-up service and the Federal Ministry of Economics in the form of the EXIST scholarship.
Only one and a half years have elapsed since the idea was born in spring 2019 and then followed by koppla’s official launch in April 2020. More than 30 companies from all over Germany are already on the platform – small family concerns concentrating on individual installations as well as large companies with 800-strong workforces with major construction sites. “The time saving argument wasn’t that relevant in a sector such as skilled crafts which has a healthy order-book and is not necessarily dependent on customer acquisition, whereas the promise that ‘you will have less stress’ was in fact more convincing,“ says Jerome Lange about his conversations with clients.
Time recording, document management, reference photos, staff planning, checklists: koppla provides the basic framework for communication and organisation, with features that are easy to use. In future, one will draw upon additional providers in order to make koppla also available for special applications. Next year should also then see it possible to place orders via the software. koppla is thus the only service in the whole of Germany that is covering the entire process. The young team of founders has been receiving inspiration and support during the start-up period from the MediaTech Hub Accelerator Programme as well as by exchanging experiences with other start-ups and gaining insight into various media technologies. After all, drone surveys or virtual reality have long since become part of day-to-day life on construction sites. The vision of koppla is to become the digital operating system for the skilled crafts sector.
By Christine Lentz
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About MTH Blog
The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.