Rapid Development Offers Greater Transparency in Construction
Innoki delivers a unified construction management system with Mendix to automate employee work and improve customer transparency.
The construction industry has seen significant disruption in recent years. Labor and material shortages, coupled with climate impact, have made it more critical than ever for organizations to have a clear and accurate view into their project resources and timelines.
However, having a holistic understanding of construction processes is a challenge due to decades of disparate systems keeping project information siloed, and also the prevalence of Excel- or paper-based processes.
Australia-based startup, Innoki, has set out to remediate this by delivering a cloud-based digital platform that empowers construction companies to bring their core processes into a single view, improving employee efficiency and, ultimately, customer retention.
Modernizing Manual Work
Innoki Co-Founder and CTO, David Tout, grew up impressed by early iterations of computer-aided design (CAD) programs with rudimentary 3D modeling and visualization developed in the late 80s and early 90s. Upon entering the construction world several decades later, he figured that the industry “must be piloting spaceships by now.”
However, that wasn’t quite the case, and in fact, Tout was surprised at the level of manual work. “It appeared as though the technology had not fundamentally moved in a long time,” said Tout. “I wondered ‘Where are all the simulations? Where is the Virtual and Augmented Reality?’ – It was actually there, but it was not democratized, unfortunately isolated to select individuals and groups. Day-to-day work was done through Excel, Aconex, emails, printer paper, and even post-it notes on windows.”
Tout met his co-founder and construction systems expert, Shiva Ghazal, during their tenure at one of Australia’s largest construction companies. Recognizing they had an idea to address a critical market need, Tout and Ghazal founded Innoki in 2022, and employed the Mendix low-code development platform to efficiently deliver their core software offering.
In instances where a construction company will have a contract to deliver 20 or 30 new structures, the goal should be to deliver them in roughly the same way in order to achieve economies of scale. However, it’s not uncommon for the construction company’s many project managers to take a completely unique approach to their portion of such a large project.
“Project managers will often build their own one-off spreadsheets – they want to manage things like time, cost, or quality – and they’ll come up with their own unique formula and manage a project that way, and it’s slightly different for every other project manager at the same company,” said Tout.
“Our idea was to deliver on two things – one is offering an API-level integration with any of the major tools these individuals need and can’t replace, such as Autodesk, and the other is delivering an interface that is consistent and can replace those Excel spreadsheets all together,” Tout summarized.
Overcoming Startup Hurdles with Low-Code
Tout and Ghazal had a firm grasp on their value proposition to this market problem, and quickly realized that time was of the essence to get a solution ready and begin pressure-testing their business model.
The Innoki team spent 18 months on this early version of the solution. Tout estimated the resourcing required to finish the project, and, upon sharing these figures with investors, was shut down. At this point, Tout, Ghazal, and their team began brainstorming any feasible options to salvage their work and IP – one being low-code development.
“I definitely came into it fairly prejudiced,” said Tout. “I had experience with low-code before, and it was not positive – but that was maybe 10 years ago, and things have clearly come a long way.”
Innoki evaluated Mendix, OutSystems, visual CMS tools such as Builder.io, and even the possibility of switching from Angular to React. After an in-depth evaluation of criteria such as the quality of the community, ability to hire, and platform cost, the Innoki team ultimately selected Mendix.
When asked what led their team to explore low-code, the answer was not so pretty – “desperation,” was Tout’s reply. While the beginning may not have been so poetic, the subsequent development results were. The team rebuilt their flagship and eponymous Innoki platform in just five months with Mendix.
Transparent and Unified Construction Processes
The Innoki platform offers a common data environment for construction teams to carry out their everyday work and aggregates that data into actionable process optimization learnings. Innoki’s primary user is a project’s managing contractor, with their clients and suppliers as indirect or secondary users.
The managing contractor utilizes key functionality such as:
- Digitized and automated workflows for construction project managers to track job progress.
- Unified interfaces that combine model data with context or documentation from other business areas.
- Reporting and analytics to see the usage and uptake of Innoki-managed processes and third-party software.
By automating project management processes and tasks in Innoki, construction managers reduce the risk of losing or using outdated information that otherwise may have been shared via spreadsheet or email. Additionally, there is greater accountability at every step of a project and an opportunity to see if steps are missed and, if so, why.
Innoki acts as a “single pane of glass” into several construction systems of record, and can be integrated with systems such as Autodesk Construction Cloud , BIM360 Field, Cheops, PayApps, and more.
“For an enterprise, getting consistent in the way that they are using third-party technology is really important. For instance, a lot of construction companies will set up iPads on-site during projects, but they will configure them differently. By rolling up that information into Innoki, they can actually see the holistic adoption,” said Ghazal.
“If usage is at zero, then a step in the process is being missed, and a project manager can dig into whether something isn’t actually working or if the employees need more assistance or training.”
This unified view also empowers employees to speak the same language throughout a project, removing barriers at a system or practice level. “Construction is a very physical practice. There is a lot of high-tech software operated by architects who know how to drive a model and have really high-powered computers. But a model without context around it isn’t helpful for other team members necessarily,” Ghazal said.
“We’re not trying to replace those systems,” said Tout. “Those systems can stay with the experts that manage them, but for just a quick summary that a manager needs, they can look in Innoki to compare bill of material data with financial or safety data to get a big-picture understanding of something they couldn’t see before. They can make connections that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise when there are three separate processes running at the same time.”
“This is business-critical – and possibly even life or death – information. When you can see trends around the length of a project and if it’s running behind, and the statistical impact that has on safety because people might start to rush or take shortcuts, making those connections becomes critical,” he added.
Extending Resources to Execute at Scale
The Innoki team’s requirements as a new, lean organisation mesh seamlessly with key facets of the Mendix platform, including:
- Accelerating time to market through abstraction and out-of-the-box development.
- Reducing dependency on costly consultancies by democratizing development to business contributors.
- Increasing flexibility to respond to new customer needs and integrate easily with key systems.
Before adopting Mendix, the Innoki development team consisted of four to five developers, three businesspeople, and a UI designer. Today, the group comprises three developers and one business technologist.
Part of the team’s ability to deliver at this speed is leveraging the Mendix ecosystem of components, connectors, and functionality. “The Mendix Marketplace has definitely been an accelerator for us,” said Tout. “We have a team member, Tom, who is a citizen developer. He is early in his career and the Marketplace is a way for him to take the ideas he has and work from a really strong starting point without backing himself into too many corners.”
Tout and the development team encountered scenarios where they assumed they would need to build out an entire feature from scratch, but instead could use the Marketplace component that already contained about 80% of what the team needed.
“If you’re not incredibly prescriptive in those phases, you don’t get what you want, and then the whole experience of experimenting and prototyping just isn’t possible and becomes a very expensive exercise.”
Realizing that a significant platform feature can be pulled into a project, extended, tested, and – if needed – scrapped, all within a relatively short timeframe, has opened new doors for the Innoki team.
“Enabling the youngest members of our team, the Toms of the world, to just start building stuff – even if it’s not production quality or isn’t being fine-tuned by someone with 20 years of development experience – it starts to prove a point as to what’s possible,” said Tout.
Improving Customer Outcomes
It’s not just Innoki’s customer users who are embracing the new platform, but their customers’ clients as well, who are gaining a newfound sense of trust and confidence in their managing contractors.
“It’s a value add for our customers, the managing contractors, because they can go beyond just managing the project. They can offer greater transparency to their clients,” said Tout.
“If you’re building hundreds of projects, that is a lot of money, and maybe it’s a government project. The client is going to want some level of oversight to see if the managing contractor is actually doing the job well – and Innoki saves them that extra step of extracting what’s in their systems into reporting that is client-ready.”
While early in their journey, Innoki has already seen the value of getting their platform to market quickly and having the flexibility to respond to customer needs as they grow. The biggest vote of confidence is when customers ask to adapt even more core construction processes into the platform. “We hear things like ‘When is that going to be on Innoki? Can you get rid of that other solution? I don’t want to log into more than one screen, so let’s just put it in Innoki.’,” said Tout.
“In these instances, we can quickly see if something even has legs in Mendix. When we can put something together in half a day and then spend another half a day talking about it, that is so much more valuable than a traditional approach of fully gathering the specs, doing a UI mock, discussing, writing requirements, and then building over a period of weeks.”