Raymond Brown Construction Business Systems Director Peter Wiliamson has moved from a project manager role to the head of IT and a board director in four years, helping establish a new culture of working at the construction organisation and leading its digital transformation.
Name and job title
Peter Williamson, Business Systems Director
How are you influencing the products, experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
We are a civil engineering business, our customers range from public bodies like the MoD, infrastructure frameworks across Britain's highways, railways, coastal defences, waterways and even airports. We carry out work for a wide range of private clients too, we've helped to erect over 300 wind turbines for example, and recently we built an award winning swinging pedestrian bridge in Greenwich. Our customers chose us based upon evidence supplied via very large and complex pre-tender and tender cost and quality questionnaires; completion of a few hundred of these per year for a wide variety of engineering opportunities relies upon an easy to use, meta-data rich document management system (DMS). We have successfully implemented a DMS and supporting business procedures that capture data, documents and photographs relevant to our tendering and project work. We have successfully interfaced this to Causeway Estimating and AutoCad product suites too. By reducing the time taken to supply information to clients and by increasing its quality and relevance we've been able to showcase our talents to customers and increase the volume of work that we're able to achieve. When we're underway with a project our customers expect four key points: 1. Good Customer Service: Maintaining good relationships between our team, the customer's team and other stakeholders within the project isn't always easy when the client demands high speed internet access on a wind-farm project half-way up a windy Welsh hill! Other communication challenges persist and must be tackled, but recently introducing Skype for Business aligned with a flexible mobile comms procurement strategy has made us a truly collaborative company to work with. 2/3. Predictability of cost & time; no one likes surprises and no one likes paying their bills, but introducing programme management tools such as Asta Power Project has helped everyone to keep on track with progress. We've provided our site teams with the ability to capture progress on site using mobile devices, drones and collaborative document work tools; imbedding these technologies means that our customers see us as a professional honest business with their best interests our highest priority. 4. Good standards of health, safety and environment management; I wouldn't have joined Raymond Brown four years ago had I not been happy with their record, but the key to continuous improvement and reduction of risk is good culture and the ability to spot and respond to potentially unsafe acts. Removing the clipboard and introducing mobile applications such as IAuditor via tablets has significantly increased the effectiveness of our HSEQ teams; they are now able to spend more time on compliance and cultural management and far less time on administrative work.
4. How as CIO have you affected cultural change and / or behaviour in your organisation and to what extent?
When I joined Raymond Brown 4 years ago it's safe to say that technology was just another word for a high-cost overhead. Historically there had been little appetite for technology enabled business improvement, but my appointment came about due to a growing perception that we could work smarter and achieve more with less. In those 4 years I've risen from a project manager working on small application implementations, through to head of IT and most recently a board director. This evolution in my career is closely aligned to Raymond Brown's own cultural revolution. By investing in robust private and hybrid-cloud technologies we've increased the reliability of our service provision. Investing in good quality equipment and market-leading software has encouraged adoption of new technology and has helped me to imbed new processes and procedures throughout every department in the business. We're quickly working towards becoming a lean outfit, capable of delivering excellent service to our customers whilst keeping the administrative overhead as low as possible. Enabling business change through technology has become infectious within Raymond Brown. Admin teams strive to find smarter ways to work and stretch my teams' business analysis skills, operational teams have come to expect connectivity wherever they go and as soon as they get there! Fortunately, I have an excellent team who all had an opportunity to contribute to our company's IT strategy and constantly surprise me with their inventiveness and willingness to go the extra mile.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s company performance
2015/16 has been a year of quite dramatic change at The Raymond Brown Group; a Demerger has taken place which has seperated the 4 Group co.s into their own individual and autonomous businesses. As a new director without Group Sharholding I was charged with leading the Programme of change that has smoothly and successfully delivered the demerger. From a technology perspective, I had many strategic goals for 2016, the biggest of which was improving connectivity out on our construction sites. We have small medium and large sites running from Paddington Train Station to windfarms in Aberdeen and shipyards in Cornwall. The management team on site is minimal, so previous collaboration between commercial and operational teams relied on patchy phone calls, mind-numbinly slow 3G connections and frequent visits to site by management via planes, trains and automabiles. By utilising 4G connections and satellite services, aligned with smart VPN routing, and by working with our application providers we have produced an out of the box solution for our construction sites wherever they are. Spend on travel is down, resolution time on site queries has reduced dramatically and our entire workforce feels much more connected as a company. With that foundation in place, in 2016 we can work on driving through efficiencies in procurement processes and can implement an intranet that will promote collaboration amongst our workforce even more.
Describe how you have used organisational and third party information to provide insight that has benefited your organisation, its customers and products or services
CIO daily emails, Construction Computing magazine and online resources such as TED offer interesting articles all the time. I attended a CIO seminar in Oxfordshire in 2015 and it was very well time spent. I also established a technology forum for the Institute of Quarrying (of which I am a professional member), this forum was established at my request and with the blessing of the chairman and president of the institute. It provides a forum through which people working in the quarrying industry throughout the World can share technology insights and ask for help with problems. 2015 was significant for my company as it was the first time we started to experience cyber-fraud attempts on a large scale. I found articles in CIO, Lloyds Bank's resources and articles picked up on LinkedIn gave me some really good advice, advice which I package up into frequent bulletins and training sessions for all key staff in my company.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
A significant part of my role is the facilitation of our national and regional strategies throughout the business. We focus on what is high prioirity and what is achievable and review progress quarterly. The IT team I manage is a mix of full-time support and speciailist contractors, with programme management and complex business analysis falling to me. With my seat on the board of the company I'm able to ensure that the IT team are always providing the best service to the company and that their prioirities are alligned to the strategic goals of the company as a whole.
Describe your role in the development of digital strategy in your organisation
I'm leading the digital transformation at Raymond Brown. Each sub-business has strategic targets that involve smarter collection and use of data, data that makes us a better company to work with and for and data that allows us to understand and measureour environmental and health & Saftey performance far better than was ever achievable.
Describe how you use and promote technology to redesign the processes, services and organisational structures of your organisation to enable it to become more efficient and customer-focused
I now feel that Raymond Brown is a company that feels confident in trying to find technological solutions to provide process efficiencies throughout the business. In 2015 we focused on getting everyone connected and ensuring they are secure. In 2016, we maintain or vigilence, but shall impliment finance and procurement systems that will transform how we buy, subcontract and pay for goods and sevices. In addition, our management reporting will be just as granualr as we insist upon now, but without endless time-consuming spreadsheets and out-moded manual working practices.
How do you engage regularly with your organisation (e.g. via a blog/seminars/newsletter etc.) about your team and the role of technology in the organisation and what impact is this having?
We use Mailchimp to distribute a monthly E:Bulletin of company news; I always ensure that there's at least one technology themed or IT team story each month. When important changes occur or a particulalry nasty virus/cyber-threat starts to appear on our network then we use email distribution groups. We use Survey Monkey often to gauge opinion on a variety of services e.g. mobile phones. In the near-future we'll implement a web-based intranet that we can also use to share information.
How do you use social networks to engage in conversations across the industry about the opportunities and challenges technology is creating?
We don't yet, but our upcoming web-based intranet will have the look and feel of a social network.
How do you bring the organisation together to explore and discuss technology and its challenges and to develop stronger alignment of the technology function with the full business?
My recent appointment to the management board puts technology on the top agenda, this is filtering down to our divisional businesses as people realise there's budget and resource to deliver projects and initiatives that improve processes or allow us to achieve new things. As the BIM initiative comes into force in the UK this will become ever more important for civil-contracting businesses such as ours.
Describe how you keep up to date with developments in technology and IT management e.g horizon scanning, technology strategy workshops, involvement in industry events and bodies
CIO bulletins and seminars are great, though I wish there were more outside of London! I've established a technology working-group within the Institute of Quarrying to help those of us who are members (30,000+ across the World) and whom work in a technology role to discuss common challenges and share best practice. I find social Networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter very useful sources of info too.
Provide an example of how you have developed the diversity and improved the culture of your team
The RB IT team has expanded quite a but in recent years. Each time a new recruit has been required I have tried to ensure that we have been as inclusive as possible in our short-lists. Unfortunatley; having had 200+ CVs across my desk in the past three years I have had only one from a woman. Most recently I feared that the combination of construction and IT meant that female applicants were being put off, so I approached several of my friends in prominant STEM positions and asked them to review my job-adverts. They all welcomed and applauded my approach and were able help me to tweak the wording slightly, but sadly, most recently, it was to no avail, still no female applicants. I shall persevere however!
A key cultural change I've had to work on within my team recently is that of responsibiliity with respect to health and safety. With a commitment (desribed in previous questions) to getting everyone connected to the WAN wherever they are, my support team have to attend busy consruction sites, so their H&S performance and attitudes have to be top-notch. I've used Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) to ensure they are correctly papered too.
Tell us how you have developed your own management, leadership and personal skills, perhaps through mentoring, training or external activities
I was lucky enought to join a graduate training scheme when I graduated in 2002; I joined a multi-national Quarrying company called Hanson and they put me through a structured "apprenticeship" of operational management. This involved close mentoring, classroom activities, several professional exams with the institute of Quarrying and the chance to work in a variety of operational sites across the UK. Following that I joined their IT team and travelled extensively both throughout the UK and internationally. Having met and managed and been mentored by such a wide range of people from differnet cultures and professional backgrounds I feel I have a wealth of management experience to draw upon that is far in advance of most people in my peer group. I'm fortunate to have married a person who has not complained when we've moved house (five times in 12 years!), so having a happy and healthy homelife helps enormously. In more recent years I have undertaken and achieved the PRINCE 2 and Managing Successfull Programmes practioner certificates and I have completed some Business Requirements Engineering modules with ISEB. In 2016 I intend to complete the GAP negotiation course. For me, there is no greater professional achievement than helping a colleague or team memeber to set and achieve personal goals. I regulalry review performance and training requirements with my team and I always ask them to be working on something that provides professional development beyond that which they are currently tasked with (for whichI make adequate work time).
Are you investigating, tracking or experimenting with: Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence; Data Analytics; NoSQL; wearable technology; Enterprise Apps; Internet of Things; Automation and Robotics; 3D Printing; the Sharing Economy; Anything else?
We are investigating the use of Drone technology to survey our construction sites in order to track progress and give accurate levels of measurement on key aspects of the build.
How do you decide where to apply the best technological approach – e.g. from consuming services from the cloud or on-premise products through to spinning up in-house development teams for bespoke work?
We employ a range of specialist contractors whom we work closely with to ensure we are riding on the success wave of other similar companies. I don't like to be the first to try something, I prefer to use reliable tried-and-trusted technologies. Where we have a need for something that can't be procured however, we use our own in-house expertise and enginuity to develop new systems. In recent months that has involved building bespoke interfaces between financial and front-end applications to provide real-time credit-limits and a 4G routing sevice that helps our teams in the field to remain connected to our central WAN services.
Do you give yourself and your team time each month to assess or learn about technology vendors outside of the established providers?
Absolutely! It's so important that my team have the time and opportunity to explore new technologies, either through attnding trade-events or reading periodicals. A large amount of their job satisfation is derived from their freedom to explore new technologies and work out ways in which they can help to improve their business through implementation.
Describe your sourcing strategy and your strategic suppliers
Construction is quite a narrow field for technology, we used well established vendors wherever posible to ensure that the inputs we make to consruction designs and the outputs derived are of a comon standard that enables collaboration across the supply chain.
What strategic technology deals have been struck and with whom? What uniquely do they bring?
I have committed our internet service provision to Eclipse, a Tier 1 provider; they have never let us down and provide excellent service at a good price. I have a local infrastrcture and networking partner (infosysco) with whom I can rely 24/7 to ensure we're always ready for business and I have engaged a local telecoms engineering business (SBC) to provide cabling and telecoms services throughout our business (incluiding managing our mobile phone contracts); we are SBC's biggest client so they ensure our service is always good.
How do you rate the following as sources of innovative technology suppliers:
Analyst Houses - Occasionally use
Consultants - Often use
CIO Peers - Occasionally use
Industry Body - Occasionally use
Media - Often use
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
How is cyber-security led and discussed by senior management?
Due to recent attempts at Cyber fraud that used director's names to add authenticity I am fortunate to have the backing of all the Excecutive Board in ensuring that Cyber Security is treated seriously and that we have the correct tools and resources in place to help us stay secure but functional. Security threat notices distributed by email are discussed at regional management meetings. Staff who's online behaviour using work devices creates a threat or who lack vigilance online are spoken to and, if neccessary, disciplined according to our company procedures and IT policy.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What is the annual IT budget?
How much of your IT budget is capital and how much revenue?
£150K Capital per annum, £500k revenue
What percentage of your budget is spent on:
IT operational spend ("keeping the lights on") - 85%
New developments (innovation) - 15%
What number of users does your department supply services to?
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
5 direct, several contractors
Are you increasing your headcount to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
What is the split between in-house/outsourced staff?