FP Hurley and Sons Ltd
A building services contractor that offers a wide range of services from full design and build, to consultant designed installation.
- Digitisation processes can create time efficiencies, but the sharing of information can cancel out these time efficiencies as more and more data is shared.
- Investment in digital technologies can be an on-going process, therefore assessing and anticipating the likely impact on the business is necessary to ensure the right investment.
- There will often be different levels of digitisation throughout the supply chain meaning a mixture of interaction methods are required.
Overview of the business
F P Hurley and Sons Ltd is a medium sized business with 143 FTEs. It has multiple offices and is headquartered in Bridgend. The business works on a number of large-scale projects within four main sectors of the construction industry: education; health; government; and industrial/commercial. The technical expertise that the business offers includes value engineering, high quality installation, and a sustainability focus with their recent Admiral Insurance Office Development achieving Excellent in BREEAM sustainability assessment.
Superfast broadband adoption
The business previously had a particularly low speed of connection, and took action to address this including contacting their MP. F P Hurley and Sons Ltd. have now invested in two tied lines at a cost of £630 per month. This has been considered integral to the work that they do, including the transfer of large data files such as 3D models.
The changes in their working practices have been notable since the proliferation of broadband and their access to superfast broadband. Generally, the construction sector is undergoing increasing digitisation as a result of the ability to share large quantities of data.
FP Hurley and Sons Ltd information flow diagram
Highlighting the internal and external communication flows of the business.
IT skills capacity
The IT skills vary widely within the company on the basis of the technical ability required to fulfil functions within business operations. The employees who work within the design department have advanced skills in Excel and 3D drawing. These account for around a third of all the employees. Another third have medium IT skills, using Excel and Word competently; and the remaining third utilise email.
In-house 3D design
Significantly, where many other construction companies utilise a third party to undertake the 3D design element, Hurley opted to undertake the work in-house. Whilst it inevitably has been a ‘learning curve’, it means that the business is able to offer a service that many of its competitors cannot. This is likely to have a more significant competitive impact as the technology matures within the industry.
Increasingly with the use of 3D modelling it is necessary to have significant IT infrastructure to operationalise the drawings. The costs of a one year subscription per user is £3,060, with an additional £1,000 per person to access the BIM360 as an add-on. BIM360 allows the sharing of 3D models with other team members and simultaneous work.
The use of BIM is mandated for Government funded projects. Furthermore, sufficiently powerful hardware costs around £2,000 per person for the computer, plus two screens to read the quantity of data.
The servers are updated every few years at a cost of around £20,000 each time in order to provide sufficient storage and processing power. Some data is stored in the Cloud but the 3D design requires a Cloud storage licence at a cost of £960 per licence per annum, making this an expensive way to store data.
On-site IT literacy requirements
Furthermore, those that work ‘on site’ must have the IT literacy to read the drawings and need equipment to do so. Equipment in the field tends to come in the form of a tablet computer and broadband connection. Typically, site WiFi is provided by the site contracting company and guest login details provided to contractors.
Use of digital technologies
The construction industry has traditionally had a lot of information flow between different businesses, from the architects to the design teams, to those that are installing. Digital technology has facilitated this, in particular allowing for faster drawing and editing of designs.
However, due to the ease with which information can be shared, practices have evolved where all information is shared with minimal filtering. This means that where efficiency savings have been made in editing, faxing, and posting documentation, it has been lost to reading all the extra information that is conveyed, particularly when liability can be passed along with the information.
The benefit to this information sharing is that potential problems are often picked up earlier in the process and the final installation is faster. This is particularly facilitated by 3D design, where it is possible to clearly visualise the room and foresee where one design element, such as electricals, may clash with others, such as piping.
The 3D design package accepts the measurements in ‘real size’ and is therefore not subject to scaling. It is also possible to take pre-prepared ‘catalogue’ data that is associated with products, such as radiators and input them directly. Whilst this data must be given to Governmental building owners, there are issues around the capacity of those that own and/or manage the buildings to read the information.
The business enables home working as an option for employees and in line with facilitating this Office licences have been phased out in favour of Office 365, which allows up to five licences per log-in for personal devices.
F P Hurley and Sons Ltd also utilise an email management system that stores emails, making them easily accessible and able to be returned to quickly at a later date.
The caution that is required once the digitisation process is started is ensuring that it is integrated into the business and attention is given to future planning of required equipment, licences and other affiliated costs.
Implementing superfast broadband has enabled the business to work more dynamically, particularly in being able to work through the designing process in real time and in working with other companies.
The time that a design takes remains similar since the implementation of superfast broadband, but the end product is more suitable. The digitisation of the design has allowed the design team to be more agile in the way that they work, particularly keeping in mind that when providing quotes for customers, these potential customers are also consulting with other businesses. The ability to quickly provide high quality proposals that can be changed with minimal effort is crucial in minimising the costs to the business of this process.
The business has invested in video conferencing equipment in order to manage their projects across the country without needing to travel to attend full day meetings, particularly where their contribution is perhaps around 10-15 minutes. This technology is also hoped to help break in to the London market, by allowing time and financial efficiencies that come from expensive commuter trains to London.
A potential area of future use is that of VR equipment, which would link to the 3D modelling packages and allow customers to have a full walk-through before work was undertaken. It is felt that this might achieve the best design as those that will ultimately use the space, such as teachers, would be able to flag any features that would not work particularly well.
It is important to note that F P Hurley Ltd.’s digitisation, that has been undertaken as a medium-sized construction business, is unusual. Whilst they were subject to digitisation requests by a company further up the supply chain in order to provide the 3D modelling service, this digitisation has not spread to other medium sized businesses or further down the supply chain.
This makes it essential for the business to preserve a mix of digital and non-digital ways of working. However, their increasing digitisation is a source of competitive advantage within the industry.