Construction is a complex and highly competitive sector buffeted by external pressures that can threaten profit margins, overheads, and cashflow.
Those challenges have been amplified as economic uncertainty delays contracts; the possible end of free movement shrinks labour forces; and concerns around materials and funding aren’t yet fully understood. So, it is little wonder businesses in the supply chain are turning to technology to control those things they can.
Has digital found a place in bricks and mortar as firms reinforce foundations during turbulent times?
Research from Cardiff University’s Digital Maturity Survey for Wales 2018, indicates last year saw a seismic shift in the number of smaller construction businesses using some form of online technology to solve problems. Some for tighter supply chain management and quicker accreditation to meet regulations. Others to streamline processes using online project management and contract management systems. And a large number looked to stabilise cashflow with better accounting packages, or to win new contracts and attract new employees using digital marketing.
Can an industry associated with tradition learn from those who adopt modern technology?
Many of the benefits can be evidenced by companies that have taken advantage of the free training Superfast Business Wales provides. They include Intrado, which grew by 300% over three years and took on 6 new staff. Celtest, which unlocked 2,000 hours a year through efficiency savings. And, Hazelwood, which increased productivity by 20% and future-proofed its business against the changing demands of the industry. So, what can we learn from those companies who adopt modern technology despite being in an industry associated with more traditional methods?
“Online accounting manages cashflow and reduces admin and BIM allows us to plan projects effectively and win-over clients and the supply chain. We were able to grow by 300% and take on 6 new staff…” Darren Sparkes, Intrado Consulting Engineers
Like many others, the civil and structural engineering firm from Cardiff had an ambitious strategy for growth that relied on projects running quickly and smoothly. So, it decided to transform the way the company operates and embraced digital in 2015. It introduced Building Management software to offer clients digital visualisation models, real time project management updates, and better supply chain management. And, also adopted an online accountancy package to manage cash flow, reduce admin, and to plan projects effectively. Read the full story. “We’re not saying digital is the only reason we’ve made such great gains, but it has simplified our internal processes and given us an edge in a competitive industry,” says Sparks.
“Our online invoicing and electronic reporting save us 2000 hours a year, which gives us time to manage the greater number of enquires coming through our updated website or cheaper VoIP phone system …” Iwan Morgan, Celtest
Celtest saw similar results. The company produces thousands of reports for construction firms, civil engineers, and quarrying and aggregate companies to test for compliance with the required standards for materials. These include soil, concrete, asphalt and aggregate.
A year ago, the firm decided to literally shred the paper and move to digital wholesale. It took on a digital marketing strategy and upgraded its website to attract new customers. And moved to cloud technology so its technicians could relay information to the office in real time, allowing reports to be completed in 24hrs instead of three or four days. Additionally, an online accounting package made sure that invoices kept the cashflow topped up, and a VoIP phone system saved further money. Read the full story. “The move to digital meant working patterns changed for a lot of staff and that took a while to get used to. But now everyone is fully onboard, and the investment has already paid for itself,” says Morgan.
“We moved to larger premises because we used a bespoke contract management system with mobile app to increase productivity by 20% and won new significant contracts with the help of an updated website…” Sharon Smith, Hazelwood.
Not every company uses digital in the same way. And Hazelwood Carpentry, which employs 29 people and works for some of the biggest building contractors across Wales and the South West of England, decided to go bespoke. “The decision has allowed us to manage projects more efficiently by giving the team full transparency of costs and schedules across all live jobs in real time. On-site supervisors can log in remotely via an app on their phone and monitor what is being done in the office, so we minimise duplication. It’s replaced around 15 different spreadsheets that were being completed by people in various parts of the business on pieces of paper, so it’s huge,” says Smith. Read the full story.
63% of smaller construction companies in Wales have taken the first steps on their digital journey
So, despite a digital mindset being in its nascent years for some in the construction industry others are reaping the benefits. And the good news is that 63% of smaller Welsh businesses in this sector have taken the first steps on their digital journey. Has the current uncertainty in this complex and highly competitive sector stirred a feeling that it makes sense to control the things businesses can? And is the sector ready to follow Intrado, Celtest, and Hazelwood in their approach to solving the challenges by turning them into opportunity gains through digital fitness? The findings in Cardiff University’s research, and on the ground feedback from Superfast Business Wales, suggests confidence is growing and help is out there for businesses who want to adapt.
Gain confidence and adapt with help from SFBW
Any small businesses in the construction supply chain who want help in navigating modern technology can get in touch with Superfast Business Wales to access free workshops, 1-2-1 advice and a wide range of guides, other success stories for inspiration and the recently published Software Essentials.