Established in 2010, Hazelwood Carpentry subcontracts specialised carpentry and joinery services for the commercial construction sector.
- Greater digitalisation became a necessity as the business grew in order to keep pace with competition and demand.
- Utilisation of broadband enabled digital technologies is becoming an industry requirement for part of the construction procurement and delivery processes.
- Investment in automation of business functions can be returned through greater efficiency and reduced staff costs.
Overview of the business
Based in Pontypridd, South Wales, the business initially centred its services on the manufacture and installation of fire doors. More recently, the service offerings have extended to include furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E), as well as reception desks and counters. To date, key clients have included student accommodation providers, supermarket chains (Aldi), film and television studios (Pinewood Studios), as well as public sector contracts (Ministry of Defence).
The South Wales based business employees 32 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff and subcontracts a further 60 self-employed carpenters. Over the last three years the business has undergone a significant expansion. Increased turnover from approximately £3 million a year to £9.5 million has enabled incremental growth to staff levels and capacity. Moreover, the business moved to a new purpose built building on the Treforest Industrial Estate approximately 18-months ago.
Superfast broadband adoption
Being located on an industrial estate enables the business to access fast and reliable superfast broadband to the cabinet. Previously, the business had been quoted £4,000 per annum for connection to the premises. Instead, they are able to utilise download speeds of 74 Mbps and upload speeds of 12 Mbps for standard connection costs. Two servers are also used, one for the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Costing System, and the other as a shared network that can be accessed as and when required by employees.
IT skills capacity
A central part of the expansion has focused around investment in superfast broadband enabled technologies, totalling around £25,000. These are supported by a continuous internal training programme and a move toward co-learning whereby workers with greater digital competencies support those less confident with the emerging technologies. In line with this approach, the business is careful to plan adoption according to the employee’s IT skillset and confidence, recognising one size doesn’t fit all.
As well as internal support, employees have benefited from attendance at digital technology workshops from Superfast Business Wales. Additionally, Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has provided fully funded training, and the business has participated in Four Construction that specialises in local area training.
Hazelwood Carpentry information flow diagram
Highlighting the internal and external communication flows of the business.
Use of digital technologies
Construct software platform
Hazelwood invested in a bespoke software platform, Construct. The system integrates many of the core business functions, including pricing, ordering and delivery; accounting; and customer relationship management. The pricing quotations and accounts can be accessed during and after the lifecycle of project, enabling greater transparency and easier storage of data. The system can be used remotely, for example, employees are able to use mobile phones to produce quotes and make orders while onsite.
Its implementation required high upfront costs followed by approximately £2,000 per year including the development add-ons. Emphasis is placed on the need to continuously make improvements to the packages selected, tailoring the services selected based on availability and demand. At present the system is backed up onto a server, however, there are plans to move the storage to the Cloud in the future.
Additionally, a Bolster system has been adopted, allowing for online auditing. The files are largely uploaded onsite and synced to the Cloud when broadband connectivity is attained, where they can be accessed in the main office passed onto clients and used by external auditors. Hazelwood spends approximately £1,250 per annum on the subscription. At present, these developments are considered sufficient. However, the potential of gradually moving toward Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools will be evaluated as the business continues to grow.
These developments are enabling IT-based reporting onsite, as opposed to returning to the main office and manually entering the information onto the system. There are also plans to invest further in digital technologies, including providing more sites with tablets and the increasing use of videoconferencing.
Meeting regulatory demands
Some of the advancements stem from a need to respond to regulatory demands placed on the construction industry. In particular, fire door installation is highly regulated, with photographic evidence being required at four to five points during the installation. Under the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations there is a need to refer back to this evidence in the future to document correct installation. Due to these requirements, there is a heightened need for transparency and the storage of large quantities of data. The developments in part respond to these essential safety industrial requirements.
Similarly, the digital platforms support the transparency necessary for sustainability reporting. There are requirements placed on the amount of wood product that is recycled. Again, using the Bolster system these can be automated instantly, generating a single file in ten seconds.
Service to customers
Greater transparency also benefits the perceived value of the service to customers. Potential and existing customers can trace quotations and provide comparisons with competitors. The improvements to transparency also brings with it quality and delivery improvements. Photographs can be produced and shared at ease, evidencing the quality at each of the four sign-off points.
A further performance benefit is greater efficiency, bringing together previously disjointed processes and providing more integrated and streamlined functionality. In sustainability reporting there are benefits from greater synchronicity.
These changes lead to significant time and cost savings, reducing time taken from two to three hours to an automated and instantaneous process. In total, it is estimated that the equivalent to two full-time administrative posts of 40 hours per week is saved by using Construct and Bolster to automate processes.
However, these changes also have the effect of stimulating demand elsewhere in the business. While the additional demand would have required the appointment of an additional quantity surveyor, on a salary of £60,000 - £70,000 per year, the ease of the process enables the current staff to manage the increase demand.
In addition to time savings, it is easier to keep track of budgets since information is processed and updated in real time.
Quotations from suppliers
Similarly, the technology responds to the real-time demands of the industry, whereby prices are volatile and variations are frequent. Using Construct, Hazelwood can automatically send out for three to four quotations, which is then populated into a spreadsheet and sent to clients. As well as providing transparency and clarity for customers, it also encourages the suppliers to be more competitive since there is a quick and easy way to compare prices.
Staff work-life balance
The increased use of broadband enabled digital technologies also supports staff’s ability to undertake remote and flexible working. As a family-friendly business these benefits are considered particularly important.
The ability to work remotely also adds to the cost savings and greater efficiency. The construction sites are located across the UK. Previously, the 13 site supervisors would travel two to three hours from Oxford, Salisbury, and Birmingham to the main office in South Wales to log information and drop-off paperwork.