Willmott Dixon is a privately-owned contracting and interior fit-out group. Our purpose is to deliver brilliant buildings, transform lives, strengthen communities and enhance the environment so our world is fit for future generations. As we do this our construction sites and offices must also be ready for the digitally-led world with excellent connectivity as standard.
Connectivity is a challenge for construction businesses, why? Because our team is not based in a single office and the nature of our business is dynamic and our construction environments are ever changing. Most of our people are working on construction sites across the country where they need to be able to access data and information on the go and in a timely manner.
The challenge we faced was that the mobile signal on a construction site, sometimes in remote locations, is not as strong as it needs to be and getting a network line installed can be a real challenge where there isn’t even a building to connect to. We do, however, still need reliable, high-performing, cutting-edge digital systems and tools that meet the demands of today’s digital-led environment. For us this has meant transitioning from IT infrastructure based on expensive, inefficient on-premises data centres which gave rise to issues like servers running out of space and network bottle-necks.
On our construction projects, everyone needs access to digital models that can be hundreds of gigabytes in size, so in the past poor connectivity limited the scope for future innovation. The main focus of a site team is delivering brilliant buildings, not having to contend with connectivity issues. It also put our IT team under pressure too. Instead of focusing on long-term strategic projects, people often had to travel around the country to physically fix equipment and solve problems. This was not sustainable! The common challenges that come with legacy infrastructure and the unique environment of a construction site, present a familiar problem faced by our whole industry.
Successful companies continually plan, innovate and invest in their future, and we are no different. We needed strategic investment to support Willmott Dixon’s growth, so in 2019 we worked on a plan to digitally transform our business.
The first step was to work out what specific systems and processes we wanted to improve. So we started talking with our business leaders along with our enterprise architects and got together with BT to identify improvements we could make, and how we would measure their success.
For example, one clear area was improving our connectivity. This required initial investment, so we made the case that in the long run it would save money given the hidden costs arising from teams across the business employing workarounds – not to mention the long-term efficiencies it would drive.
This investment enabled us to upgrade over 40 of our sites, making sure that all our sites had the best possible solution. We deployed MPLS connections as well as new 5G network points, as it is the only technology capable of reliably handling such large files with speed. We could see the impact immediately, as teams could access the digital models and other files they needed, with no need to worry about whether they had the bandwidth available.
We’re already starting to see the benefits of digital transformation, and of our partnership with BT.
However, improved connectivity meant much more to us than this. There was also a clear case that the investment would lead to productivity gains.
For example, with reliable connectivity, we’ve been able to move much of our business on to Microsoft’s Azure cloud services and away from our on-site servers. There was a key decision not to replace like-with-like. If we need more server capacity, we can have it in seconds with just a few taps of the keyboard.
Everyone in the business can already see the improvements. Teams are working more effectively, the IT team has been freed to work on long term projects, and complaints about IT related issues have been dramatically reduced.
We can even see the changes directly on our building sites. Teams on our digitally enabled sites are more efficient and accurate, with digital plans updated in real time – our teams have reported that they are saving 10-15% of their time with faster connectivity. Our health and safety team are also delighted as there is reduced risk with fewer people moving around on sites as they can access the information they need remotely using wifi and 5G.
Our team is also now taking advantage of emerging new technologies, such as Microsoft’s mixed-reality HoloLens headset. HoloLens has the potential to let us meet with customers virtually, saving time and money on travel. But even better is that instead of simply showing them drawings of what we’re building, we can walk through an immersive 3D model together, long before the building has been built.
This advancement makes it easy to check that everything meets our customers’ needs, and saves our people time as the customer has a greater understanding of what is being built at a much earlier stage. It’s another example of a digital tool that has improved the way we work.
What’s clear is that we’re already starting to see the benefits of digital transformation, and of our partnership with BT. And now, we’re starting to think about the technologies that could further transform our business in the future.
With the foundations in place, we’re now well on our way with the complete digital transformation of our entire business. And we’re already seeing the results - we’ve calculated that our collaboration with BT has already saved 26,000 days of staff time and £4m in expenses by reducing travel. And our team is happier too - now 96% of our staff say they are satisfied with the collaboration tools they have, compared to just 76% before.
As we look towards the future, we’re planning to move fully towards the cloud. Where we’ll be able to work even more flexibly with our hybrid workforce. We’ll have more visibility on how teams are working, and better data with which to help simplify how our people work. For example, we can see what tools are being used to work together and collaborate, and we can tailor our training and support to how people are actually working.
Our collaboration with BT has already saved 26,000 days of staff time and £4m in expenses by reducing travel.
Our next step is to explore the full range of emerging technologies. We’re particularly excited about connected IoT sensors and artificial intelligence, and how we can use them to monitor our sites and empower our team with real-time data insights to improve their work.
Every organisation can change like we have when you have a technology partner who can understand your needs – and who will work closely with you to see your business from your perspective. That’s why we like working with BT. In just a couple of years, we’ve transformed our business. Our infrastructure now meets the needs of the people who use it every day. But perhaps more important than the productivity gains we’ve already seen is what it means for the future. We’re now ready for whatever technological opportunities lie ahead.