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Celtest

Established in 1980, Celtest has earned itself a reputation as one of the United Kingdom’s leading materials testing companies.

Learning points

  • Investments in cloud technologies offer businesses the opportunity to produce cost savings and time efficiencies.
  • Investments in software and hardware are essential to keep pace with the competition and wider market demands.
  • The broadband speed requirements of a business are likely to evolve over time, and businesses will need to adapt to these changes.
Logo for Celtest

Overview of the business

Materials and aggregates testing are the two core functions of the business, working largely (though not exclusively) with the quarry industries. The Bangor, North Wales, based business employs 134 staff, working over two sites. Up to 30 of these employees work as technicians on projects nationally and internationally. International projects have been undertaken in America, the Caribbean, Middle East and Africa. The business prides itself on retaining an excellent reputation with its national and international partners, leading to repeat business and longstanding working relationships.

Front cover picture of information flows

Celtest information flow diagram

22 October 2018

Highlighting the internal and external communication flows of the business.

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Superfast broadband adoption

Celtest benefits from a leased line attaining speeds of 30 Mbps for both upload and download. Approximately £5190 is spent per annum and per site on broadband connection. The installation was costly and time consuming, with estimates of several thousand pounds in installation costs and up to three months disruption during installation. However, the business is satisfied that this investment has been repaid many times over. Moreover, the business received an unspecified grant from the broadband provider to help moderate these upfront costs.

IT skills capacity

IT skills capacity is vastly important to the business, evidenced in the investment in a highly skilled IT team, ongoing training and hardware and software resources. The IT team is formed of two full-time employees who have created and continue to maintain the company’s bespoke databases, as well as providing onsite support and training for employees.

Use of digital technologies

Digital technologies form a core aspect of the business model, particularly in relation to the production and delivery of its product. In recent years there have been large investments in hardware and software for the business. It is estimated that these total up to tens of thousands of pounds. Celtest has built a sample receipts system, whereby the mineral tests are received and processed, and then translating into reports for its clients. Previously, this was done individually across the two premises. Instead, an innovative integrated system has been created, which runs through a relational database management system (Microsoft SQL). The business uses separate databases for each business function, totalling five across the business portfolio.

Working alongside these databases are electronic tablets used by technicians on project sites to gather and record mineral tests. The tablets send the data directly to the cloud, which can be retrieved remotely or at the company’s premises. As a result, any drops in connectivity do not impede the technicians working onsite.

By using online databases and cloud-based tablets the business removes the need for hard copies. The data is sent directly to the online databases that can be accessed across premises and across construction sites. However, the business is hoping to extend these technologies further, looking into automated onsite quality control:

At the moment, there’s technicians that go onsite and test material, taking temperatures, checking compaction and densities of the asphalt that’s laid. There’s an industry app for putting an iPad on a paver that lays asphalt material and that will take all that data without the need for a technician to be on site.

Manager, Celtest

In addition, digital technology remains important for communication with clients. Email is accessed through Microsoft 365, removing the need for an exchange server and utilising a cloud-based alternative. For the delivery of reports to clients it remains commonplace to use email, with attached PDF files. However, the demands for cloud-based alternatives are on the rise. When requested the business will use cloud based exchange, through Dropbox, or communicate via the client’s SharePoint platforms.

The business has invested in the broadband enabled Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which replaces its previous multiple ISDN lines. Other forms of communication include video conferencing, which is occasionally requested and delivered through the telecommunications application software, Skype.

Again, the business is looking to future-proof its business model and maximise benefits long-term. In doing so, the business aims to replace its existing reliance on both internal servers and cloud-based storage with an entirely cloud-based approach, as well as utilise more video conferencing opportunities.

At present, the business estimates that the large files can take up to 20 minutes to download, but with a move toward ultrafast bandwidth these times could be vastly reduced. The business is therefore looking at ways it can maximise broadband enabled technologies to meet future business expansion.

Business performance

Innovation and streamlining of the business processes emerges as a key area benefited by the introduction of superfast broadband. Celtest was able to transform its pre-existing mechanisms for storing and retrieving mineral tests into an integrated system. Linked to this, new methods for collecting the data and transporting results through bespoke tablets has been incorporated, responding to the need for technicians to transmit data from locations nationally and internationally.

The creation of these innovative solutions provides cost and time savings for the company. For example, when hard copies were used to share data it could take between two days to a week to communicate the information. Now reports can be generated immediately, significantly cutting down turnaround times:

So that cuts down turnaround time by days because the reports can be uploaded straight to the tablet and sent immediately to the office. In the past, if someone has been on site and they’re out all week, the worksheets wouldn’t get to the office until that technician came back. In some cases, we can turnaround reports in 24 hours now.

Manager, Celtest

These time savings are coupled with the database advancements, whereby the data can be stored and retrieved directly, allowing reports to be processed automatically. By removing the administrative tasks the business estimates that hundreds of hours are saved annually:

It cuts the admin time down. We have approximately 30 site technicians and we have 7 electronic tablets that will be on site. We ensure that all site technicians have an electronic tablet. Previously, a member of the admin team would have been spending all day writing their reports and that can be done quicker now.

Manager, Celtest

When calculating the time savings generated from these digital solutions, the company estimated that at least two minutes is saved per test report. In 2017, 65,000 test reports were produced by the company, with a reduced process time of two minutes for each report. Based on these figures, it is estimated that at least 42 hours is saved per week by replacing the manual method with a digital and automated alternative.

Time savings are also created by the automation of invoices, with 30% of the 9,300 invoices in 2017 being processed by the automated system, saving a further 1.5 hours per week.

Further savings are made by the utilisation of VoIP, instead of requiring multiple ISDNs, now the business only requires one at each site:

We’ve cut down from eight ISDNs to one on this site and then from four to one in Celtest. The saving is several thousand pounds a year.

Manager, Celtest

Celtest estimates that these savings total up to £6000 per annum. In addition to the reductions in outlay, the business notes the improved quality of the calls and the efficiency benefits derived from integrating the VoIP and the desktop to the same network. The time and cost savings bring with them the added boost of improved competitiveness, since the business is able to turnaround reports in 24 hours- providing an edge against its competitors.

Celtest has seen an incremental shift in working patterns. Using the electronic and cloud-based approaches to data storage, and delivery, cuts out the need for technicians to travel to the premises to deliver worksheets. Additionally, employees are afforded the opportunity, when required, to work remotely, allowing for greater flexibility and mediation of potential losses. Together these changes allows the organisation of the business to be more sustainable and efficient.

As noted above, Celtest is looking to extend these benefits and plan for the future. This involves considering automated technology, higher storage and retrieval ability, and a renewed investment in the safety and protection of data stored on the cloud.