Everything has to be one window otherwise information is lost

May Khizam, co-founder, SMARTInvest Real Estate by The Grid interviewed Harri Majala, CEO, GBuilder about the ‘digital twin’ platform that is taking homebuyers on a new digital customer journey. Based in Finland, GBuilder is BIM-based web and mobile platform with 3D/VR/AR models that simplifies the communication around buying an off-plan apartment or house for both the builder and buyer.

This platform has evolved out of a family business in construction with yourself at the helm as the next gen developing and integrating technology into an industry that has been slow to transform itself digitally.
Indeed, ‘why fix it if it’s not broken’ is a difficult mindset to challenge but we have done just that by combining digitalization, CAD, project management and visualization. We had the vision. Technology is now playing catch up.

So you have your own laboratory to test your ideas and then roll out to others?
Yes, we call it the ‘test laboratory’. We can test our solutions on our own company and then distribute them to other builders.

Can you tell us who your customers are and what problem you solve for them?
Our customers are builders and developers. Currently the industry norm is that a home buyer is sent reams of documents to sign by email. They then select materials and fixtures which are summarized in an excel spreadsheet and provided to the home buyer in hard copy.  As they make subsequent customizations, emails are sent back and forth with purchase orders attached.

The solution we provide is one window of communication between builders and developers, sub-contractors and the buyer. Everything goes through the same application.

Through this single window, paperwork can be signed and information such as blueprints, checklists, purchase orders, materials and fixtures and inspection reports can be shared and stored.

Once home buyers decide to buy the property off-plan, they log-in to the software to choose pre-selected materials. The materials are automatically calculated so they can manage budgets with costing reports. The guesswork is eliminated and the level of miscommunication between builder and home buyer is greatly diminished.

The entire value chain is communicating in real time from the builders, manufacturers, home buyers to the construction site and back.

The platform allows the buyer to customize like removing a wall or changing cabinets from one wall to another providing the builder offers that extent of customize. Once selected and confirmed, the platform updates the BIM, 2D, 3D, AR and MR accordingly in real time.

The home buyer views a model of their actual home with all its feature so they see the actual view of the out of the living room like a forest or of the sea from the balcony, for instance.

It is an immersive experience.

It establishes an emotional connection between the home buyer and their future home particularly if we think that only 10% of the decision making process behind buying a new home is based on rational thinking such as budget, family size, dimensions and proximity to schools. The rest is largely emotional. When we say, ‘I don’t like the energy’, we cannot rationalize it but it is a huge part of our decision making.

So this is where we come in. The magic moment is when the home buyer views the model of their new home through VR goggles or a 3-D model on their laptops and says, ‘so which one is our home?’ It is no longer just a number in an off-plan catalog.

BIM object libraries are quite common these days. How are you able to utilize them?
Yes, they are quite common in every country that we operate. The information of materials or fixtures is always provided by the vendors or manufacturers so we are sure all the documentation is up-to-date. Digitalisation allows us to receive and relay that information in real time.

If you combine that with the BIM or what I like to call, ‘the digital twin’, and link the actual property with the size and measurements, it brings about the possibility of building digital distribution channels.

This is a win-win for the vendors and manufacturers. They get a digital platform, which they update and through which their revisions are relayed with accuracy to the right recipients. The builders can select the materials and have confidence that the details are accurate and the materials are compliant with building standards. Finally, the buyer has information that is always up-to-date. If they crack a tile after moving in, they can always check it against the original list of materials for the exact colour and reference number for replacement.

How is the ‘adoption rate’ for the platform? Do some home buyers still want to see physical samples of material that they can hold in their hand?
Fortunately, e-commerce has familiarized us with how to shop online and there is a high degree of customer trust but yes, some still want an ‘anchor’ and physical samples give the home buyer that security. Builders can adjust their approach in this case and offer access to the platform and an offline solution like a visit to the showroom to satisfy those customers.

How much does the platform double up as a marketing tool?
We support the marketing efforts and improve sales of our clients because of the home buyer is attracted by the fact that they can visualize and customize their home through the platform’s design studio using 3-D models and VR from their living rooms as though they were actually in the home already. There is also the potential for the builder to increase sales by up-selling through the platform as the home buyer can add fixtures or select a better model refrigerator, for instance.

We can also enable access to a bigger inventory of a hardware store for fixtures and materials if the builder requests it. They would just have to price the inventory right.

Do you white label so that the platform looks like it belongs to the client?
We are an extension of the client’s service offering and support their brand recognition so builders can add their own logo and brand guidelines.

How can BIM be utilized in different visualizations and technologies?
BIM, the digital twin, is a very good platform because you can actually spin different things out of it. You have all the details you need for 3-D printing, 2D, 3D, VR, AR etc. You just need to the find the right software or hardware solution to utilize it the best way.

The simplest way for our example would be the 3D model you rotate on your laptop, PC or Apple computer. You just click on the cabinets for instance and it gives you the colour options with selections updated in real time. Those selections are confirmed and sent forward to the construction site.

What is next?

This is only the first step. We are now waiting for the hardware to enhance ‘fields of vision’. With holographic hardware, there are limitations of vision. You cannot see as much as you can in VR, for instance. You have to turn your head to see blind spots but i’s coming along. All the big companies are investing heavily in hologram technology.

By the end of 2019, we anticipated that the home buyer will walk into a space and their home will appear around them in real size. They enter from the front door with a click, go inside and make decisions as to its design. They click on the floor and get all the design options, materials and fixtures and continue on to each room in the same way. They walk out of the back door and sign it off. Voila! That’s their home.

We already have the technology. We have the software and the holograms. We have the digital twin. We are just waiting for the hardware to improve and currently have a working concept with Microsoft HoloLens.

Is this going beyond VR/AR and entering ‘mixed reality’?
Yes, with VR, you are isolated from the reality and AR is where something is just added to your current reality. Mixed reality is where the home buyer is mixing reality of the concrete with their own customization in real size visualization when visiting the site. That’s where we are headed with holographic technology.

Do you work exclusively with residential projects or are you branching out to office space?
There are certainly opportunities in office space and retrofitting apartments where we can model all parts of the building for retrofit, and that is currently approximately 20% of our business.