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HomeIT IndustryConstruction software docks onto WhatsApp… and brings mo…

Construction software docks onto WhatsApp… and brings mo…


The construction industry has a productivity problem. It lags behind quite a bit compared to other industries. The reason: digitization is progressing slowly. The startup Valoon has a solution for easily digitizing work on the construction site without any effort. Because almost everyone uses WhatsApp, the team developed a tool that runs in the background of this and other messengers. Users do not need any new software, but simply use the familiar functions of WhatsApp for communication and documentation.

The idea for Valoon came from the SDaC research project with the aim of implementing AI in the construction industry.

Ariane Lindemann in conversation with Diego Cisterna.

Why is the degree of digitization in the construction industry so low?

This is not so much due to the unwillingness of companies. At management level and among architects and engineers, interest in digitization is actually very high. On the employee level, on the other hand, it is very difficult to implement new software. They are busy with their work on the construction site and do not want to use additional software and always carry a laptop or tablet with them. If you want to implement software on-site at the construction site, you usually encounter a big acceptance problem – no matter how good the software is.

So how do you get people on site to use a digital tool?

During our visits to construction sites as part of our SDaC* research project, we saw that there is a tool that is digital and is actually used by most on site – and that is WhatsApp. The employees communicate with the site manager about this. Whether it’s about requesting material, documenting construction progress or defects, photographing an invoice, etc. WhatsApp is very well suited because it enables documentation of all activities. But there is one major disadvantage: the construction manager has to assign and organize everything manually at the end of the day. That’s why we developed a chatbot with Valoon that can also be used as an AI model in the background in the future.

The chatbot runs in the background on WhatsApp?

Exactly. We use the “WhatsApp Business API” to connect WhatsApp users to our software. Our application can automatically structure and organize all information going through WhatsApp so the site manager doesn’t get thousands of chats to manage.

Can you already hear the construction industry cheering?

Yes, actually. Because we are tackling exactly the point that is largely inhibiting digitization by avoiding the need for employees to install software, because they can use WhatsApp or other messengers directly. So there is no need for on-site change management, because almost everyone uses it and can handle it, be it sending videos, photos or links and writing text and voice messages.

“There is no need for on-site change management because everyone already knows how WhatsApp works.”

Since this is a pure web application, the construction company or the site manager only needs an account on our website, they do not have to download or install any software.

What can you do on the website?

There you can see all the information about a project. We work with tickets here. Problems or construction defects as well as construction progress can be documented with photos, among other things, via this ticket system. The site manager sees the message sent via WhatsApp in a structured format. He sees the addressee of the message, the project and all file attachments, such as photos or videos, as well as the entire chat – and can then react accordingly.

Can documents such as delivery notes, invoices or lists of materials also be imported into a CRM system?

We are in the process of implementing various processes. At the moment we have developed a prototype that so far only creates this ticket system. But we plan to automate more processes. This also includes the assignment of delivery notes or the documentation of the construction progress, which then automatically flows into the billing. We are currently piloting this use case with two companies in Germany. At the same time, we are starting with a company in my home country, Chile, because I also have a large network of construction companies there. Since WhatsApp is the most used messenger in the world, the potential to offer Valoon beyond Europe is very large.

What else is possible in the future?

In this ticket system you can develop many possibilities. Another use case would be to document attendance. Employees could send their location, confirming that they are there and when they will leave the site.

Safety instructions that employees have to do regularly are also conceivable. These training courses are currently still very manual. One idea would be for the site manager to invite the employees into a physical room and show them a video of the training content via WhatsApp. At the end, the content is checked in a questionnaire in the chat.

What does the name Valoon mean?

Valoon is a combination of “value” and “speech balloon”, i.e. speech bubble. The sign that we know from messengers. Valoon creates value through chat communication.

What are your next steps?

We have two priorities at the moment: One is to get the financing. Here we applied for the EXIST start-up grant. At the moment we are still in the bootstrap phase and do the work in the evenings and on weekends. We are in talks with investors and we have won a lot of prizes with which we were able to finance the prototype.

The second is to validate the product on site and improve it based on user feedback. Before we started, we conducted about 30 interviews with companies to get feedback. Of these, 17 were interested in piloting with us. We’re going to start with that one at a time. The acceptance has been very well received at the management level. But the most important thing, as I said, is that the employees also like the idea. That’s why we have to pilot as much as possible and adapt employee feedback to the product.

Valoon was created as part of the KIT research project SDaC – Smart Design and Constructionwhich was initiated three and a half years ago and is now being phased out.

The research project consists of a large consortium from the construction industry and tech companies. At KIT we want to combine these two worlds together with the CyberForum. That’s why we developed SDaC, a platform that uses AI to enable organizations in the construction industry to easily access information and use it intelligently. As the winner of the innovation competition “Artificial intelligence as a driver for economically relevant ecosystems”, SDaC was funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics (BMWi) for three and a half years. The idea for Valoon came from this research project.

What will become of SDaC?

The grant is now ending. However, we will continue to work on the project in the form of a competence center. An important goal that we have developed in the CyberLab Accelerator. An academy for AI in construction is planned. We will also provide demos on the website and create a catalog for experts and software. That’s all in preparation.

With a large SDaC congress on September 22, 2023, we will provide valuable insights directly from practice, impulses from science and the presentation of AI demonstrators for the construction industry. The event is aimed at everyone who is interested in digitization in construction.

SDaC Congress:

Diego Cisterna

Is a research associate at the Institute for Technology and Management in Construction (TMB) of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). At KIT, he mediates between the construction industry and technology companies.

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