Site Passport CEO Rob Fox on construction and blockchain

3 Dec 2019

Rob Fox. Image: Site Passport

Rob Fox of Irish SaaS platform Site Passport spoke to about the increasing space for innovation in the construction industry.

Rob Fox is CEO of Site Passport, which is a SaaS-based digital marketing and compliance platform that aims to solve the issues around transparency and trust in the construction sector.

He is also the founder of the Irish Construction Blockchain Consortium, and spent 20 years working as a civil engineer in Ireland and Australia.

We recently spoke to him about how the construction industry is recovering from the recession, the impact that technology is making on building sites, and how blockchain can be used by builders.

‘People don’t always understand blockchain, but when you provide a good business use case, people get it’

While building is booming in some parts of the world, Ireland’s construction economy is still feeling the effects of the recession. According to Fox, this has made Irish building companies more receptive to technology.

With a skills shortage and increasingly difficult regulations to meet, it’s almost essential for construction companies to keep up with the latest technology to keep their sites running smoothly.

“People want a solution that works now and they’re happy to pay for it. They want to do more work, with less resources,” he said.

Fox also noted that productivity is improving now with fewer workers worrying about paperwork, or sitting in the back of a van on their laptops. In turn, the workers are more satisfied with the work they can do. “People don’t go into construction for the paperwork,” he said.

The entrepreneur sees plenty of room for innovation when it comes to cutting out paperwork in construction. The unintended benefit that comes with digitising processes that typically require paperwork, is that it helps companies collect data and analytics on how each site is run.

Blockchain in construction

Another area that could create a great deal of space for innovation in construction is the introduction of blockchain technology. Dublin-based Site Passport has plans to enter the UK market very soon, before eventually expanding further afield, and Fox noticed a niche while doing his market research.

“The UK is very advanced in their thinking, processes and systems. While going over there and looking for a gap in the market for Site Passport, we have done some R&D in the area of blockchain in construction,” he said.

“I know blockchain has become a bit of a buzz word, but we’ve been working on this for four years now. We founded Construction Blockchain Ireland just over a year ago, because we firmly believe that blockchain is a really powerful technology that could solve really big problems in construction.”

There are a variety of areas in the construction industry where blockchain could be used, he added, such as legal, finance, policy and compliance. According to the UK’s Construction Blockchain Consortium, the construction industry is characterised by fragmentation in processes, services and firms.

The organisation said: “One of its persistent problems is the disconnect between design and construction. This disconnect is mainly due to the lack of open and trustworthy information across the supply chain. Blockchain technology has the potential to adverse these effects through the use of open and transparent transactions.

“Apart from minimising the interfaces between design and construction, blockchain technology can contribute to improving both in isolation.”

‘When you provide a good business use case, people get it’

It’s not just design and construction that could benefit from the introduction of blockchain, but also the legal aspects of construction work, relating to policy and compliance, as well as finance, energy and sustainability.

“From the biggest to the smallest contractors, when I explain to them what blockchain can do for the industry, they get it straight away,” Fox said. “People don’t always understand blockchain, but when you provide a good business use case, people get it.

“This is a very exciting space for us. We have done some research with UCD and we’re going to be doing a bit more next year,” he added.

“We want to be a leader in construction technology. We want Ireland to be a leader in construction technology, as opposed to having to follow everywhere else.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic