Thinking beyond construction
Digital transformation isn’t just about upgrading hardware and installing new software tools. It’s about bringing out innovation in each and every business process. As technology evolves, businesses must keep pace to adapt to the changing world. And though digital transformation is an ongoing process, it still requires a first step. By working together, BT has helped Willmott Dixon set a course for the transformation of its business, and now the company is well on the way to achieving its ambitious targets.
For over a century, Willmott Dixon has been the trusted name behind countless major construction projects. These include the refurbishment of Alexandra Palace, the transformation of the former Commonwealth Institute into the new home for the Design Museum, and the construction of a specialist facility to house the Met Office’s supercomputer.
But it’s not these high-profile successes that have cemented Willmott Dixon’s reputation. The real reason is because of its values. Willmott Dixon distinguishes itself from other construction firms through its commitment to sustainability and its desire to not simply construct buildings, but create places that communities love.
And this is why they came to BT to drive the company’s digital transformation.
By taking advantage of new technologies and rethinking its business for the 21st century, Willmott Dixon is on track for meeting the goal of its ‘Now Or Never’ campaign, to achieve net-zero carbon by 2030.
Building a cloud-first business
The first step was seizing the opportunity of tools like Microsoft Office 365 and Azure cloud computing. The rollout of these apps means that critical documents are now available wherever they’re needed. Builders, architects and managers can work on the same plans whether they’re at the office, at home, or on a construction site.
The transformation, however, runs deeper. A new suite of cloud tools like Microsoft Teams, OneNote and Whiteboard have unlocked entirely new ways of collaborative working .
“Though we have spent more time recently working physically apart, we’re working together more closely than ever before,” says Oliver Lester, operations manager at Willmott Dixon.
And the benefits of this new way of working cascades across the business. As a result of 90% of business systems now working in the cloud, the company has cut its travel budget by 45%, as well as removed thousands of cars from the road.
“The era of 9 til 5 in the office is over”, says Willmott Dixon CIO Alan Ramsay, “With these new cloud tools, it was a win-win: we made staff happier, we worked towards our sustainability goals, and we made our business stronger and more resilient too. ”
Taking advantage of emerging technology
The partnership between BT and Willmott Dixon has also led to the roll out of some truly cutting-edge technology. Most striking of all is the introduction of virtual and augmented reality (AR and VR).
Using a Microsoft HoloLens headset, the team can project an image of what a completed building is going to look like into the space where it will actually sit. The wearer then sees a digital image of the building projected on top of the real space in front of them.
According to BT’s The Future In 2020 survey[LR1] , which was carried out by polling firm YouGov, 23% of business leaders hadn’t even heard of VR and AR, and 67% of leaders currently believe that there is no place for them in their business. So Willmott Dixon’s embrace of the technology is proof of just how seriously the company is taking digital transformation.
“Construction projects are a complicated business that require close cooperation between local authorities, contractors and other stakeholders,” explains Gareth Davies, Willmott Dixon’s Head of Technology Services. “Showing them a building in situ on HoloLens really brings the blueprints to life, so that everyone can understand what we’re working towards.”
Staying connected on site
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Willmott Dixon is one of connectivity. Unlike offices in city centres where fast broadband and wi-fi connections are to be expected, construction sites tend to lack connectivity. And this is a big disadvantage when the most valuable tool you have onsite is information.
“We want everyone to have access to accurate, real-time information, whether they’re a bricklayer working on site, or our CEO in the boardroom at our head office in Letchworth,” says Davies.
Blueprints are no longer drawings on paper. Now, complex 3D models outline to the nearest millimetre where every brick, pipe and cable should go. Building Information Model –BIM – files are the industry standard and are treated by builders as the single source of truth on a project. They’re shared between stakeholders across the process, from managers, and architects to engineers with their boots on the ground. So if design changes are made, everyone can see the updated plans before any cement is poured where it’s no longer needed.
BIM files are routinely hundreds of megabytes, or even gigabytes large—which can be problematic on-site. Viewing plans or working remotely with other parts of the business would require a trip to the site office or a journey away from the site itself.
The 5G Revolution
This is why Willmott Dixon partnered with BT to deploy 5G[LR2] and wi-fi connectivity to over 50 of its sites, taking advantage of MPLS technology to seamlessly integrate tablets and laptops in the hands of project managers on the ground. On sites like the Gascoigne East development in London, everyone remains connected, even when deep underground or on top of tall scaffolding.
The advantages of having high-speed, gigabit connectivity on-site are also helping the company meet its ‘Now or Never’ sustainability targets - as well as making processes more efficient.
“Construction is at its heart a logistical puzzle,” explains Lester, “we need all the correct pieces to be in place at the correct time to avoid costly delays and wasted materials. Now our sites are connected, we can be more confident that we are all working from the same plan and can make adjustments more easily when the need arises.”
The transformation continues
Now the first phase of Willmott Dixon’s digital transformation is complete, the hard work continues. Digital transformation doesn’t have an end point, it’s about embedding a culture of innovation in the business. And this is why Willmott Dixon and BT are working closely together at BT’s Adastral Park research hub, investigating new ways that VR, AR and the connective power of 5G can be used in other parts of the business.
One promising area is in collaborative design, enabling architects and engineers to work together in a real-time 3D environment. Another is project management, speeding up the sign-off of design changes with clients and other stakeholders by using these new visual tools.
“Construction sites are notoriously difficult places to communicate, but now everyone from our board to the teams on the ground are equipped with the tools they need to succeed,” says Davies, “I hope that we can offer inspiration for other businesses cross-industry of what can be achieved through innovation and partnership” .