Construction seems one of the most analogous activities in the modern world. But this notion is wrong
Digitalization can make the process of building of any size, purpose and material better, more sustainable and faster. Cobuilder is a company that helps architects, developers and urban planners to achieve this goal with a platform of integrated solutions that address the specific information management needs of construction industry actors by enabling collaboration and seamless data exchange internally and within any third-party software. We talked to Bistra Papazova, COO of Cobuilder, to learn more about this exciting company. She has over 20 years of experience in different management positions in the IT sector and is a member of the management board of BASSCOM, or Bulgarian Association of Software Companies.
Cobuilder has been on the market for 25 years. How do you maintain your sustainability in a fast-changing IT world?
To continue to be successful for decades you must offer a service that really solves a client's need and then you must keep it up to date. To be successful we are helping our clients to be successful. We started with creating a catalogue of construction materials in Norway, then extended it to a software for collection and automatic check of safety data on a construction project. As the industry evolves, we are adding certification services such as BREEAM and in the coming month – environmental data on construction products. Our service is essential to construction companies as they work with hundreds of subcontractors and collecting product data is practically almost impossible without a platform like the one Cobuilder offers. It is not just software but also content and processes that provide a practical solution to the industry problems.
Cobuilder is not only expanding its services but also its markets – starting from Norway we now have clients in the UK, Denmark, Sweden, France, and the Czech Republic. Our vision for the digitalization of the construction industry and the common European framework of construction standards have been the basis of our growth.
To be sustainable in the long run, Cobuilder relies on close cooperation with clients. We have industry advisors who work with us in defining the roadmap for our products to solve industry challenges. We have also been able to attract top talent who work daily on delivering those products. Finally, we have a deep understanding of the construction industry, its complex processes and its needs.
Your company has been in Bulgaria for nearly 10 years. How do you evaluate the country's IT environment and how does Cobuilder fit in?
The Bulgarian IT ecosystem is growing rapidly – at an average of 20% per year for the last 10 years. It is not just a numbers game, though. The variety and expertise have increased too. The IT industry in Bulgaria encompasses small and large companies, international and domestic, some that develop their own products and others that are service-oriented. IT talent in Bulgaria is well-educated and experienced. I recently met managers from a German IT company that has just opened an office in Bulgaria, and they said: "In Bulgaria the IT experts are very knowledgeable but they also have that spark in their eyes – they are really engaged with what they do." Being part of the EU, Bulgaria is a preferred IT destination for many European companies. The industry has evolved in offering high value-adding services including consultancy and management of complex IT projects. There is a growing number of successful Bulgarian startups that shows the maturity of the ecosystem.
Cobuilder's R&D Center is in Bulgaria where all technical decisions are made. We are able to attract top talent and they drive the Cobuilder platform development according to best industry practices, including cloud and artificial intelligence. Cobuilder is also giving back to the ecosystem through investing in education and being active in professional organizations that shape the future of the industry.
Which was the biggest accomplishment for Cobuilder for 2022?
In 2022 we launched the Define hub – the "engine" of the digitalization that holds a dictionary of standards-based machine-readable data. Basically, it allows an architect in Oslo to set a specification for the thermal transmittance of a window and a construction company in Sweden to procure a window from Poland that corresponds to that requirement. For that to happen every system must have the same "understanding" of the meaning of thermal transmittance. This meaning is embedded in European construction standards. We are happy to have signed contracts with Standards Norway and the British Standards Institute for the publication of these standards in this electronic form that is understandable by machines. We are also working with the Czech standardization agency for establishment of a national BIM (Building Information Management) strategy for the Czech industry. The goal is the documentation for all public works to be in electronic format not as documents but as data that can be automatically analyzed.
Which is more beneficial to the company's success – short – or long-term planning and why?
Both short – and long-term planning are important for the success of any business. You should have a vision – ours is to bring construction to its digital tomorrow. Without a vision and a strategy, running a company is like driving a car without any direction. But you cannot ignore the short-term challenges and opportunities – gas can be running low, a newly constructed highway can get you faster through a section, etc. You need to make choices on a daily basis – how much to invest in a product, which market to attack, what contracts to sign. Nowadays success is very dependent on the speed you can achieve – you can have a great product but if you are not fast enough someone else can take the market. The short-term plan is essential to get you through this week, this month, and eventually this year, but at the end of the day it should lead towards the long-term vision. Only in this way you can build a sustainable business.
What is Cobuilder’s strategy for development for the next few years?
We firmly believe that the construction industry needs to change, and at the base of this change is digitalization. The construction industry is one of the largest in the world with a huge impact on the environment and our quality of life. There are enormous opportunities for improving efficiency, sustainability, cost and time to deliver. How to collect information and calculate the carbon footprint of a building? How to find the most cost-effective product that complies with the technical requirements automatically during procurement? How to ensure that the as-built products comply to the as-designed fire rating? All these questions can be answered using software platforms such as the one Cobuilder offers where actors can collaborate and exchange data. The underlying "engine" is the data dictionary of Define.
The digital transformation of the construction industry is a significant change, and we see more and more governments, trade associations and leading industry actors committing to this change. If we want a fit-for-purpose sustainable and affordable built environment in our countries, we should move forward with digitalization as fast as we can.