Maybe one or two key lessons that you’ve learned on your journey today, that’s it. So I think that don’t be afraid to jump into something new, right? So it might be easier said than done, and it all depends on people’s applicable risks, and it’s something that might be a little bit personal, but genuinely trying to remove this fear of failure. Hello everyone and thanks for tuning into another episode of the Bricks and Bytes podcast, your go-to for all things construction and property technology. On today’s show we have Prakash Sangani, co-founder and CEO of Navatech Group and co-founder of Safety AI, a startup concentrating on the use of artificial intelligence to improve safety and productivity in our industry. In this episode, we discuss digital transformation in construction, generative AI, construction tech in the UAE, quality of life there, and many more. If you’re enjoying our podcast, please check us out on Spotify or Apple or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And if you enjoyed, please leave us a review.
This helps us to get more amazing guests to give you guys the best and most informative content on technology in the build world. And shout out to our sponsor, Beta. If you want to connect with some of the biggest players in the construction tech world, including tier one building contractors, some of the biggest construction tech companies, investors, and advisors, check them out by visiting www. and this is www.the-beta.com. You are listening to Bricks and Bytes podcast, where we take you on a journey in construction, technology, and business. All right, let’s get this episode started. Prakash from London and now to the UAE. Tell us how did it all happen? I think I’ve told this story quite a lot. I have a different podcast than that. So people might be bored listening to it. If anybody ever listens to my podcast, but we definitely will. I started, I started in the UK, um, working for a large contractor, I’m part of a VE. They kind of sponsored me through my university. Um, had a job as soon as I graduated and really fortunate to have been like part of this graduate program. part of these star performer type of things, and then they push you through the ranks. And then I got an opportunity to go to India with Balfour Beatty. They were setting up a division there, and then wanted to give exposure to that to graduates and some of the young people within the company. And I stuck my hand up, saying, look, this will be quite interesting. Obviously, I’ve got an Indian heritage.
I never really worked or thought about working back in India. It was always this place that we would go every summer to meet our grandparents and meet family and stuff like that. And you had this perception of it being like poor and at the time, like this perception of like substandard quality. And I went there with this same, and I’m quite embarrassed to say, had the same perception that, well, the people are gonna be like, you know, not smart and all like not of the same standard as we have. And I went there and I was really surprised at the caliber of the people that were working. So I went and worked in Delhi. And I am really embarrassed to say, to admit that I was shocked and surprised at the caliber of people working there, right? They were just as good, if not better than the people that I’d encountered working in the UK. And just shows you some of the kind of biases that you grow on. Even though I come from an Indian background, I come from an Indian heritage, I still had this, I don’t know, this notion that it was subpar. But anyway, I did a couple of months in India and then the person that was running the region at the moat at that time wanted to keep me in the region and he goes, look, I want to keep you in the region. You can choose whether you want to work in Doha, Delhi or Dubai. And basically there’s a job waiting for you. I thought, this sounds amazing. And a couple of years before that I’d come on holiday to Dubai and thought this place is amazing, right? It’s like Hollywood of construction. Biggest, the widest, the deepest, the longest. Great to work here one day, right? And so anyway, had this opportunity.
It got given this opportunity to come. Didn’t really think about it too much. So in hindsight, me and my wife were a little bit naive. we never really thought like what we’re going to do apart from work, like what we’re going to do. None of our friends are there. We’ve got no family. As in, I thought we thought, okay, let’s just go and give it a go. And like a lot of people do, they come with this mindset that we’ll go and try it for a year or two and then come back. And we kind of had that. So let’s give it a go for two years. And it’s been 10 years and I’m still here. And to be honest, I’m not really looking back as in there’s nothing at the moment that wants me, that’s telling me that I want to go back. to the UK or go anywhere else from here. I think everyone who says that Dubai is this bubble and you end up like kind of in this, in this false sense of like, this is what the world is like and it’s absolutely wrong, you know, from the, from the lifestyle, from the tax-free living to like things like we get the, we get our petrol delivered to our house. So it’s like Bangkok. What I’ve heard from friends for many years is that you get a lot of convenience from, from living over there, but it costs a lot as well. So. Even if you’re making way more money than, for example, in the UK and it’s tax-free, then you just become so convenient with this environment that you just spend so much money because everything is so easy. Yeah. And it’s true. It is a really expensive place to live, right? So yeah, everyone says, oh, you’ve got tax-free living and that. And you get, I guess in the UK, you get this perception of Dubai from some of the media, right, about this bling lifestyle and that, and it’s not, there’s lots and lots. of ordinary people, right? Like I would consider myself fairly ordinary who do that. And yes, you get these conveniences, but like you said, they come at a price.
So whatever kind of shortfall you have in having to pay taxes is actually made up in lots of other ways. There are things that like there’s fees and things like that you end up paying for that kind of eating to that disposable income. Yeah. OK, we’ll touch on the differences between living in the UK and Dubai a little bit later, but maybe. And let’s touch on the construction and construction tech. What’s the difference between the construction tech in the UK and construction tech in the UAE? I guess from a direct perspective, I’ve been out of the UK in market for 10 years. So it’s not something that I would profess to be an expert about, but through the construction tech ecosystem, right? So I’m part of this thing called the C-Tech Club. It’s run by this person called John Priestland. He’s doing a fantastic job at kind of curating construction tech startups and and kind of being this bridge between the old world and the new world. So old world being these giant organizations and then the new world being the construction tech startups. And from that perspective, if you just look at the raw numbers, there’s a lot more construction technology startups in the UK than there are here in the Middle East, right? And it’s something that we’re actively trying to address. And, and I think Part of that is the size of the market, the maturity of the market from an investment perspective, from an educational base, if you like. There’s a lot, there’s obviously a lot more universities in the UK who have had a long history of research and development and kind of nurturing technology startups to come out of them, whether they’re from construction or not.
There’s this ecosystem, right? There’s this process. And that’s something that’s still in its infancy, I think in the UAE and in the region more broadly. So the biggest differences I find is pure numbers. There’s a lot more construction technology startups in the UK, Europe, and obviously US than there are in the Middle East. And that’s something that I’m personally determined to change. I founded my construction technology startup here in the UAE on purpose. Yeah. Did you, do you see, did you like, was there any, any kind of uh, incarnation as to whether like people in the UAE are more open to tech adoption than perhaps in the UK. Are you able to speak on that? Yeah, I think, again, I’m, I’m obviously a little bit biased because I see it here and I’m, and I’m in the, like, I’m in the ecosystem, but I think generally the population is a lot younger in the region. So UAE and I, and I cross UAE and KSA as part of this region and that younger population.
just tends to be more tech savvy, right? They’re just native. They’re kind of born into a technological world. And I think that is now starting to kind of come into the workforce. So as these people start coming into the workforce, they’re bringing this tech knowledge, this digital literacy with them. And from that perspective, just simply because of the demographics, I think that we’re seeing tech adoption in the region really accelerate. how that compares to the UK. I’m just anecdotally, I feel like it’s really accelerating faster than it is in the UK. All right. So in terms of construction tech, do you see like software part of the tech is developing or it’s more like on the tangible stuff like robotics or any much machinery, which part of this construction tech is kind of working there or booming? I think software, it’s a much lower barrier to entry, lower internal initial investment that’s required to get up and running. And we already have ridiculously long sales cycles, right, within construction. Even when it comes to software, you couple that with these things like, like robotics or IoT sensors and things like that. But I think the one part of hardware that’s progressing is the hardware that’s associated with the software that we’re working with, right? So things like BIM meant that you needed to have higher spec laptops, higher spec graphics cards and machines to be able to run models.
Now you’re seeing this with kind of AR and VR, metaverse kind of deployments, digital twins. And so that I think is starting to happen. So the software usage and the use cases is having an influence on some of the hardware. And then if we talk about digital twins, the fact that a lot of them, the data is being fed into them or is going to be fed into them using IoT devices. That I think is starting to spur a huge amount of kind of interest and adoption within that, within the kind of the deep tech and the hard, hard way tech. And Prakash, given your sort of varied background, I guess, in different cultures, different parts of the world and in different types of companies as well. So, I know obviously you, you are owner of a startup, you also do some management consulting as well. Any, maybe one or two key lessons that you’ve learned? on your journey today, that’s it with you. So I think, I think like, don’t, don’t be afraid to, uh, jump into something new. Right. So, and, and this might be easier said than done. And, and, and it all depends on people’s appetite for risks. And it’s something that might be a little bit personal, but genuinely trying to remove this fear of failure, I think it’s something that coming from a construction background, it kind of gets ingrained into you, right? Cause it’s quite a dangerous thing, right? So if something goes wrong in construction, it can do a lot of damage. and potentially be fatal. Right. And so it’s the fear of failure is it kind of becomes ingrained and becomes part of the psyche of what you do.
And it’s really difficult to remove. And that’s not to say that you should be a, you should be gung ho in everything that you do and take risks everywhere. But I think trying to not be afraid that if, if something does go wrong, you can learn from it. And obviously depending on the severity of what could go wrong, right. So I’m not talking about something going wrong on when you’re trying to put up a crane. But what I’m saying is if you’re trying a new piece of software or trying a new piece of technology, if something goes wrong, then you can learn something from it. Right. So we learned something from the fact that this didn’t deploy properly or people didn’t use it as well as we thought they were going to use it. And I think so that, that trying to get over some of that fear of failure, I think that’s, that’s one big lesson that I’ve learned. The other thing is just patience. Right. I think that as an industry. we are always trying to rush things. We’re trying to finish jobs as quick as possible. And then in the same thing, we’re trying to change the industry really, really quickly. And I think sometimes it’s just things are gonna take as long as they’re gonna take. And I was reading an article recently in The Economist, which talked about like people change minds less quickly than entire societies do, right? And it talks about the fact that actual change happens when the demographics of people coming through change. So if we’re trying to digitally transform, yes, there’s only so much we can do, but actually it’s going to take a cultural shift and that cultural shift is going to happen to some of the things I alluded to before, where as digitally native people come into the industry, those changes will naturally happen, right? And look, there’s only so much influence we can have in trying to digitally transform the industry, the rest of it’s got to be carried by people, right? Yes, because we go with masses, right? If everyone going a certain direction. And most of the people will follow, right? And that’s the moment where the change happens rather than some people just trying to do some stuff. Okay. So onto digital transformation.
So having worked for large organizations like IACOM in the past and now having my own startup, I see a stark difference in how these organizations perceive innovation compared to smaller startups. In large organizations, a lot of it is just lip service. They have innovation departments to showcase their efforts and appear innovative, but very little substantial innovation actually takes place. These organizations are primarily focused on delivering profits and pleasing shareholders, which doesn’t align well with investing in long-term projects that may not yield immediate returns. However, I have also witnessed pockets of innovation within large organizations that have been impressive. On the other hand, startups are inherently innovative by nature. The spark that leads to starting a startup is often an innovative idea itself. Additionally, startups are usually associated with technology and attract individuals who are inherently innovative. The cultural difference between large organizations and startups is important, and we are now seeing large organizations create corporate venture capital or innovation teams to collaborate with startups. This collaboration between different cultures and organization sizes is crucial for successful innovation in the industry.
On the topic of digital transformation, there are various interpretations and definitions. In my view, digital transformation is about creating, storing, and analyzing digital data. It involves becoming more data-savvy and utilizing data to make better decisions, reduce risk, and drive improvement. While the specific meaning may vary for different organizations, understanding and leveraging data lies at the core of digital transformation.
In terms of selling solutions to companies, the construction industry has notoriously long sales cycles. The challenge lies in the fact that technology procurement in construction follows the same processes as procuring physical assets like contractors or equipment. This approach doesn’t align well with procuring technology, and organizations need to realize that technology should be treated differently. We need to have conversations with procurement and legal teams to redefine the procurement process and adapt it to the unique nature of technology solutions. This change will take time and effort, but it’s necessary to reduce the lengthy procurement cycles we currently face.
Generative AI, which uses artificial intelligence to create digitally viewable content, is an emerging technology in construction. It has various applications, such as helping write emails, claims letters, or managing interactions with documentation. It is also being explored for design processes, where it can assist in scoping requirements and generating design elements. While generative AI is still in its early stages in construction, we are only scratching the surface of its potential. It has the potential to democratize technology and make it more accessible, unlike some perceptions surrounding other technologies like BIM.
BIM has been a driving force for digital transformation in the industry for years. However, the adoption of BIM has been slower in some sectors and projects, especially in smaller or medium-sized projects. Generative AI has the potential to be adopted faster due to its accessibility and user-friendly interfaces. As generative AI and BIM converge, we may witness an opening up of BIM to a broader audience, making it more widely used.
While it’s challenging to make precise predictions, one wild prediction for AI in construction is that generative AI will become pervasive and touch every aspect of our industry and beyond. I envision generative AI being used to facilitate quicker and smarter design production, enabling professionals to focus on their creativity while leveraging the capabilities of AI. However, it’s important to note that these predictions can age poorly, and the future may bring surprises and unforeseen developments.