Know What You’ve Built: An Interview with Timo Makkonen of Congrid
Construction contains thousands of big and small tasks. How can a client and contractor know if they have all been completed as intended? Congrid offers an answer to that question.
Congrid is a Finnish construction software developer. The company provides software for punch lists, quality and safety audits, and design document distribution. It operates in Finland, Sweden, and the U.K.
The company’s founding team members, collectively, offer a combination of expertise in construction management, software development, and marketing and sales. “I come from the electronics industry. I came into this business through my old schoolmates,” says Timo Makkonen, Congrid’s CEO. “My specialty is business development and leadership.”
A Need Looking for a Solution
In 2012, Matti Huusko, one of Congrid’s co-founders, did his thesis work on the use of digital tools for construction site quality management. He planned a new process and detailed a software program to carry it out.
Huusko did an international search to find a software tool to fulfill his needs but was left empty-handed. He suggested to his then-employer, a construction company, that it develop the necessary software. However, the idea did not catch on, as the construction firm did not see itself as a tech company.
At the presentation of his thesis work, Huusko met another site manager who talked about the same issue. Together, they turned to Timo Makkonen for help on how to start developing software. Makkonen knew coders who were eager to join in, and the pieces for starting up a construction software company were in place.
Finding Out Where to Start
The founders of Congrid had a clear vision of the product they wanted to design for comprehensive site quality management. In 2013, they started to “sell with PowerPoints,” as Makkonen puts it. That proved to be a good strategy because it provided Congrid with insight on where to start.
Instead of covering the whole quality management process at once, customers first wanted to document errors and observations. They also expressed a need for including safety features to the app.
“We thought that there were already good tools in place for recording safety issues and doing safety measuring,” Makkonen explains. “Nevertheless, safety audits became a fulfilling part of our solution.”
Integration and Openness Are the Keys to Success
Capterra, an online software directory, currently lists 1150 construction-related products, 320 of which are in the construction management category. Congrid has about 10 direct international competitors in its field. In spite of that, it has been able to gain a 60 percent market share in Finland.
Congrid provides a single user interface for safety and quality audits. However, the company does not want to build a closed garden. Makkonen believes that both all-encompassing solutions and software that integrates well with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems will succeed.
“Already, in 2016, we had started to offer integration with ERPs. Customers can create the project and basic information for Congrid in their enterprise systems,” says Makkonen.
Congrid’s founders believe in open ecosystems. That’s why they are involved in Finnish initiatives like Platform of Trust and FIRA Open Data Platform. They also want to promote the philosophy of openness in the U.K., where they entered the market recently.
After establishing a strong foothold in Finland, Congrid wanted to start probing international markets. The company’s Scandinavian customers offered a channel to the Swedish market. According to Makkonen, going to Sweden was a natural choice, as the construction culture and quality-related practices are quite similar in the neighboring countries.
Market research in Denmark, however, suggested that Congrid would face tough competition in a construction sector that would not be as familiar as that of Sweden. The company decided to head out to the U.K., even though they knew that it too was a very competitive market.
“Our system supports both an extensive and a lighter quality management approach,” says Makkonen. “Quality management practices vary by company. Our solution adapts well to different company needs. We’ve also noticed that Grenfell and other serious incidents have brought forward the need for a change in the mindset. Project parties need to know more precisely what was built and by whom.”
Benefits, But Not Without Commitment
Congrid’s motto is “know what you’ve built.” The team members say they want to provide the builder with sound sleep. You can’t reach this level of confidence simply by buying a new software. Makkonen notes that clients also need to build a quality-driven culture and process.
“Consultative selling is in our spotlight in this and the coming year. The other thing is to ensure the quality of the customer’s data that our system gathers,” Makkonen explains. “If customers want to learn from past projects, their data must be valid.”
Congrid supports lean construction: saving time and money during and after the construction process by doing things right the first time and minimizing process waste. Congrid’s customers have already reported time savings of 50 percent on inspections and quality and safety audits.
Serving the Project Office and the Worksite
Congrid’s solution consists of two cloud-based apps: one for the desktop and the other for mobile devices. The desktop app is for task planning and project-level control; the mobile app serves at the work front, telling workers and inspectors what to verify during each task. Users can take photos and add notes to them. The system also retrieves the relevant design documentation for the job to be done or inspected.
“Construction workers get specific instructions about what to do from Congrid. They also self-verify that they’ve done the job as specified. This personal responsibility will hopefully increase their commitment to doing and documenting the job properly,” says Makkonen.
Congrid has two pricing tiers: a project license and a user-specific license. The latter is meant for quality auditors who work on several projects at the same time. The project license does not limit the number of users.
Congrid’s founders have been able to resist the temptation to bloat their software with new features. Instead, they want to make better use of the data the app provides. Makkonen explains: “Data visualization and machine learning will help builders better understand cause and effect in construction projects. We are already taking steps in that direction.”
To learn more about Congrid, go to congrid.com.