Civil engineering is a low-tech sector, yet Raymond Brown has managed to leverage technology with outstanding business success. His investment in drone technology, for example, has allowed the business to create high-quality aerial footage that shows off its engineering work, and substantially enhances its bids for contracts.
Business Systems Director
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
We are a civil engineering contractor, as such the service offered to customers is quite low tech! That said, I have invested in drone technology, pilot training and associated insurances. We create high quality aerial footage that shows off our engineering work, and we make this available to our customers free of charge. Local authority clients in particular love the product; they use the footage on their own websites as a way of illustrating positive investments in regional infrastructure. We’re in line for a significant extension to a coastal defence project thanks to the high quality work we’ve completed on a small section of coastline; Our bid for the next section is enhanced thanks to an aerial video we produced which tells a neat story about material recycling and sustainable development
My role as Business Systems Director requires me to participate and lead a number of company initiatives. I’m accountable for the measurement and reporting of our Customer Satisfaction KPI. Up until recently we’ve fired a Survey Monkey link to our customers after contract completion and asked a short series of questions; We congratulated ourselves because we often score well and receive positive feedback. I have enhanced this procedure by employing IT project best practice. We now ensure that the customer’s key drivers for success are understood, documented and monitored through the course of the project. The customer wants their road/wind turbine/coast defence wall/car park built on time and to specification, but there are often other interfaces that influence job progress that the design spec omitted to mention (sound familiar??!). With minimal cost we’re able to stand out from our competitors by understanding and mitigating for these other factors before they cause an issue
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
A few examples…
I Project managed the practicalities of a very sensitive and confidential de-merger project that saw the Raymond Brown Group split into 4 independent businesses. Also facilitated a number of shareholder meetings that required a “neutral chair”. Project workstreams included split and provision of all shared services (HR, IT, Health and Safety, Facilities etc) to the four companies plus effective communication to staff. The demerger occurred in August 2016 and most employees commented that they hadn’t really noticed it happening – the best praise possible I think!
Reduced our carbon footprint and improved collaboration between our employees by implementing Skype for Business and installing conferencing equipment in HQ and regional offices. ROI was achieved within weeks as teams in Hampshire and Kent collaborated on a bid to work on a prestigious 7-year civil engineering framework on Gatwick Airport. We won a place (a significant coup for our business) the teams tell me they wouldn’t have produced such a quality bid and carried on with other business in their regions without the introduction of S4B.
I observed an increasing trend in the number of complaints about email spam and phishing attempts despite having an anti-spam system from GFI installed across the enterprise. My own team raised concerns about the poor GUI of our anti-virus solution (AVG). I initiated a project to source, procure and implement a new solution that would handle both spam and anti-virus, but also have a mobile device management facility. The Eset suite was chosen over Mimecast and Sophos. Email spam is significantly reduced, so employees don’t spend half an hour per week managing junk and business risk from Phishing is reduced. The Eset interface is intuitive, effective and makes the IT team’s life a lot easier too.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
Product innovation – I have mentioned our popular drone footage. Beyond that, we deliver civil engineering services rather than “things” but there’s still room for innovation. I have applied for UK Research & Development Tax Credits through my innovative work in the quarrying and technology arenas in the past. I’ve used this experience as a training example and am encouraging all of our site teams to record any bespoke or innovative undertaking that has required a design. I hope we can apply for £k’s of tax rebate later this year as a result. A pleasing but unintended consequence is an increase in engagement amongst the workforce. By recording their day to day engineering innovation and returning additional profit to the company they’re more proud of their achievements.
Business model innovation – Reduced business risk by designing and implementing an integrated subcontractor procure-to-pay business system and process. The previous process relied upon subcontractor (s/c) information in our databases being up to date prior to payment only. S/c’s could be engaged based upon previous work undertaken, but without suitable checks on up to date insurances or finances. Should an incident on a construction site occur, we, as principal contractor, would be liable. Now, work cannot be let without an automated check routine running; should there be an issue, the new system tells our employee what corrective action must be taken.
Technology innovation – My team and I have developed further improvements to our 4G site-connect systems. Our engineering teams are now seamlessly connected to the WAN without the need for clunky Terminal Services. Users enjoy the same secure user-experience wherever they go. They undertake basic training online, discuss progress with colleagues from site using video link, backup their PC offsite and access any document library on Raymond Brown Construction’s network. We secured a £6k R&D tax credit for our early work prototyping our site-connect systems. I recently met with the EE/BT team responsible for their Rapid Site 4G product; I concluded that our in-house solution is superior; it’s cheaper and faster to install, has more functionality and is 4G vendor agnostic.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
In August 2016 Raymond Brown Construction de-merged from the three other Group companies in the Raymond Brown Group. In the time since I’ve been directly involved with projects outside the normal remit of a “typical IT Director”. Here’s a couple of examples:
We have to lose the “Raymond Brown” name and our famous Stag logo, so our MD, communications manager and I are taking the opportunity to evaluate our marketing and branding strategies. As a geologist turned quarry manager turned IT director this type of thing is a little out of my comfort zone! I really enjoyed researching related subject matter and found huge inspiration in the works of Jim Sagar, Richard Branson and Simon Sinek. I’ve also been introduced to the guys at Fluxx via the CIO network and find their work really inspiring too. Simon Sinek’s “Lead with the Why” really resonated with me though. Soon, we’ll be openly telling our employees and our customers that:
- WHY – We believe in being a great place to work. We believe being a great place to work makes us better at what we do.
- HOW – We are better at what we do because we employ the best people for our business, people who believe what we believe.
- WHAT – We build great construction projects.
We’ve taken time to look at other key attributes of our business such as our core values and brand personality, we’ve involved the broader business with this and have garnered a lot of support for the “new way” as a result. We’re currently consulting on a new name for the business.
You’ve got to do what you say however, so the Great Place to Work initiative is well underway. As a direct consequence of this work we’ve redecorated offices, taken on more graduates and apprentices, brought in free fruit for our staff, given people leave to undertake a paid day of volunteering and given everyone their birthday off as an extra holiday day. I’m affecting real change in my organisation, we will be THE place to have a great career in Civil Engineering and being at the forefront of business change is hugely rewarding.
As a new CIO I took time to find my feet last year. I was honoured to be included in the CIO 100, our community is a great cooperative and everyone I’ve spoken to has been very supporting and helpful (I hope I can return the favour to a newbie one day!). When I’d gotten to grips with the role I launched Raymond Brown Construction’s first ever IT strategy, and I realigned the roles within my team towards delivering it. I formulated a simple statement, a primary objective:
“Assist our colleagues to be the best they can be”
To ensure that we’re always doing this, I focused on 6 key principles:
- Business Continuity
- Procedural Governance
Each principle has an associated SMART action plan and I’m pleased to say we’re successfully delivering them.
How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
This is a challenge for me, The “Digital” banner can be too simplistic or, worse jingoistic! To keep it simple, my tactic is to deliver brilliant business change; and define it as part of our digital transformation. Here’s how I’m aligning business strategy, emerging construction industry trends and changes in the IT vendor marketplace to this transformation
- Reliable connectivity to business applications wherever we work
- Training needs analysis at the heart of every project.
- One version of the truth. Business processes and business systems aligned to ensure we’re all working to the same set of figures, same engineering drawings and same client instructions. A MS Dynamics ERP project will help me to deliver this in 2017.
- Rethinking what’s “normal”. For example, ensuring we have online meeting/collaboration places that are easy to use and that an E-Learning platform is available when suitable.
- Redefining IT contracts under SaaS terms. Negotiating keenly with vendors who see it as an opportunity to increase their revenues. This means not attaching value to the features we don’t need and won’t use.
- Ensuring that we’re agile and can respond to new construction contract conditions that rely on a technology platform; BIM for example.
- Understanding and communicating digital security risks. Mitigating for them with good solutions and training users to be vigilant.
I undertake all of this with CEO and board approval. I sit on the board, so I give regular updates and I invite feedback. I’m known for explaining complex IT in civil engineering terms; For example switch “bandwidth” for “water pressure in a mains pipe” and they get it!
How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
A few recent examples of good and bad experiences:
The Microsoft price increase in January 2017 was well publicised, and it coincided with a requirement to provision a lot of new infrastructure for an upcoming business change project and my desire to start the migration to Office 365. My team and I worked with Softcat, they provided a lot of advice and helped to guide us through the labyrinth that is MS volume licensing! I found them amenable to negotiation and we struck a deal that I was happy with.
As a construction company we rely on good estimating software to bring together our priced tenders. Causeway Technologies have arguably the best-in-class solution, but their customer service is sometimes…lacking. This much was evident when they attempted to foist a SaaS agreement on me. I was told that their existing license and support provision was being discontinued (fair enough), that they would only offer the full suite of products, not individual modules (wait, what?) and that my annual support contract would rise from £6.5K to £19K (time to find a new solution?) They very kindly offered me a discount of £8K however! I refused to be held to ransom, our solution suits our business requirements, we have no need for the “bells and whistles” and therefore don’t place any value on them. We have now migrated to Causeway’s SaaS platform, but I still pay £6.5K per year.
Rising user numbers means we must take a more ITIL style approach to our support service, so I looked for an IT support and asset management solution. There are many on the market, but I was really impressed by a newcomer to the UK market – Samanage. They provide a cloud-based and really intuitive solution. My team like the product and the service they received when configuring it. I’m confident our users will find the API for raising minor support tickets really intuitive too.
My company’s Great Place to Work initiative involves improving communication with the workforce. We decided an Intranet would be a nice solution, so the Communications Manager and I went to the market. We chose Sorce. Their SQL backend web-enabled solution is easy to configure, browser agnostic and proving popular with users. Sorce’s design configuration and customization workshops were excellent, we were able to involve business “champions” from around the country and now have a much more engaged workforce
Priority number one for 2017 will be implementation of a Navision ERP. Our financial reporting, project accounting, payroll and procure to pay processes are antiquated, inefficient and in dire need of overhaul Now that our demerger is out of the way, we can commit to an ERP project. Our main vendor will be Eque2, an SME based in Manchester, I’m confident we’ve struck a good deal with them. I had some great feedback on their performance from Greg Morley, one of my CIO100 brethren.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Combine Construction and IT and you don’t get a lot of female applicants interested in your job postings! In addition, our HQ office location near Bournemouth isn’t very ethnically diverse. No matter, I’m passionate about promoting Women in STEM and have a few friends from uni who are STEM ambassadors. They’re always happy to review my job adverts to make sure we come across as an equal opportunities employer. I had a bad experience with a major recruiting firm recently. Their rep came to see me with 4 CVs, all white males. I explained that his shortlist was a bit “one-sided”, and that I was keen for him to promote my job opportunity to all of his candidates, not just those that fit with a stereotypical view of Construction IT. Happily, I’m interviewing a female applicant very soon, she has a stand out CV. I’m very disappointed that A FTSE100 recruitment company didn’t include her CV in the first tranche however. There’s still work to do.
I hope to offer a Bournemouth university student a summer placement this year too.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
We’re a small (70mill TO) construction company, we neither manufacture nor sell products, so the job of the IT team is to assist our colleagues to be the best they can be. RBC’s business strategy is revised annually, reviewed quarterly. Part of my CIO role is to facilitate and contribute to these strategic reviews. I produce a national and 4 divisional booklets each year that spell out to all staff what the short and long term business strategies are and what we’re aiming to achieve in the next 12 months (via 6 point action plans). Because I’m in the thick of all of this work, my IT department always know exactly where the business priorities lie. It’s a really nice business synergy and a corporate role that I would recommend to all of my CIO colleagues.
The small full-time team are based in our HQ, with an infrastructure and networking expert on hand 24/7 and in the office with us one day per week. In addition, in 2016 we trained members of the divisional admin teams in Wales and Kent in first line support tasks (to take some of the burden and give a couple of young school leavers some career progression opportunity).
We operate a number of construction focused SQL applications and the usual suite of Office and MS Project/Asta. We have our own small datacentre, with robust security plus power and A/C redundancies. This datacentre, in combination with a growing number of SaaS applications, could be called a private or hybrid-cloud model. Our Hyper-V cluster was commissioned in 2016 and has behaved itself so far. Now we’re in the process of clearing out all of the old redundant tin it has replaced! I see our migration to cloud based services as somewhat inevitable, but I’m working with our partner Softcat to make sure it’s on my own terms. So, I’ve used MPSA to keep my prices held for example. We’ll migrate to Office 365 over the next 3-4 years as we take on new starters or replace old laptops. As yet, I don’t see the cost advantage in moving to hosted exchange for our 300 or so mailboxes, but I’ll keep reviewing; it’s a lot of hassle, so its really got to be worth it!
My team also look after telephony. Our legacy PBXs are starting to creak, and VOIP is becoming more of a norm as achievable bandwidths rise. We’ll be conducting a thorough review of our mobile phone contract this year and reconsidering handset provisions.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
On top of those already described, we use a small firm called Infosysco to help us with Infrastructure provision. They helped us to move away from our Scale SAN and onto our RackServer Hyper-V cluster this year. We continue to develop our Union Square document management system, though their buy-out by Deltek in November is a bit of a worry. Our mobile data network is mostly EE with 3Three picking up the slack in rural areas, we setup dozens of 4G connections with them in 2016 and have consolidated them into an easier to manage contract now. Our fixed line broadband is provided by KCom, this year we provided a leased-fibre connection to a construction site for the first time in our history. Our mobile phone contracts are almost all with Vodafone.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
- Priority number one for 2017 will be implementation of a Navision ERP. Our financial reporting, project accounting, payroll and procure to pay processes are antiquated, inefficient and in dire need of overhaul. It’s a significant business change project and it must deliver significant operational efficiencies.
- Our RBC Great Place to Work initiative – making us THE place for a rewarding career in civil engineering contracting. I need to ensure that phones/tablets/laptops/office connections a)work well, b)are desirable
- Implement ISO27001 – key customers such as Network Rail and Gatwick Airport expect it.
- Improve our Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans. Focus on Cyber threats and building more redundancy
- More focus on our Subcontractors (across the business), ensuring that we’re a good partner to work with and maximising value on both sides of our relationships
- Renegotiate mobile phone contracts, probably move vendor. Current vendor has bad customer service and our legacy contract don’t offer good value for money or high enough data allowances. Business productivity is suffering as a result.
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
The weak pound is already having an effect. Microsoft and Dell have pushed through significant price increases already. In terms of the construction market, it’s a mixed bag. National infrastructure projects are popular again, and we benefit from those, but private and local authority spending has fallen away whilst customers wait to see where the cards drop. The fear is that this will lead to a race to the bottom, with margins squeezed up and down the supply chain.
My budget for 2017/18 will be conservative. My priorities are linked to driving business improvements through tightly scoped and achievable business change. There will be room for innovation, (it’s what gets myself and my team out of bed in the morning), but it will be borne out of necessity rather than a dedicated resource.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
Just under 1% of organisation turnover.
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
80:20 – Operational to New Developments
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- CIO peers
- Industry bodies
- Analyst houses
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Interviewing now, hope to appoint direct report in Mar 2017
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 FTE plus contractors
Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?
- enterprise applications
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
- ISO 27001 Accreditation
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- enterprise applications
- devices (mobile)
- devices (desktop)
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
IoT may have a bearing on the things we’re physically building, especially as BIM comes on line up and down the value chain. We anticipate more “build off site” options to become available as our suppliers invest in robotics.
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?