How ISG went paperless on London fit-out

26 June 2017 | By Andy Hargrave

Andy Hargrave of ISG explains how a new process management app has transformed productivity on site at 5 Broadgate, London's largest fit-out of the last five years.

Andy Hargrave

Improving productivity is a constant challenge for every business and nation state alike. The UK has a poor record in the global league productivity tables and, as an industry, construction is perceived as a laggard – especially when potentially unfair comparisons are made with the automotive or manufacturing sectors.

So how can we go about addressing this productivity gap and ratchet up our overall output per hour? This of course is a question to be posed at industry level, but more pressingly it was also something we asked ourselves after ISG landed the largest fit-out project in London of the past five years, at 5 Broadgate.

Working across 700,000 sq ft (65,000 sq m) of space presented huge logistical challenges and we were determined that there had to be a smarter way of delivering this complex project.

We believed we might have the answer in Construct, a digital information and process management app that we were co-developing with Construct Technology.

Essentially the app was a response to how we could bring all the disparate resources that a project manager requires out on site into a single collaborative and mobile platform.

By reducing the amount of time our people spent on unproductive activities, such as walking back to the project office to retrieve documents – at 5 Broadgate the sheer scale of the project could mean a round trip of 20 minutes – we could see immediate gains in both productivity and efficiencies.

A 12-month pre-construction period at 5 Broadgate gave us the time to develop and further refine the app, taking lessons learned from our small trial project and exploring the key elements that would make the technology invaluable to our project team. Being a cloud-based app, it’s ideal for site conditions where it can be used offline and then sync to the cloud when there’s an available internet connection.

“By reducing the amount of time spent on unproductive activities such as walking back to the office to retrieve documents, we could see immediate efficiencies.”

A key hurdle to overcome was integration with our document management system, Conject. Without real-time access to this database to extract and mark up documents on site the value of the app would be severely curtailed.

Working collaboratively, Construct and Conject unlocked the pathway to enable seamless integration between the app and document management system via a mobile device, and this is arguably the app’s single most important development.

At this point we had the tool to effectively make our project a paperless environment, but something that was constantly cropping up was the volume of different forms in use on site. One early idea to standardise forms across the supply chain was quickly dismissed as a major and costly undertaking for our suppliers.

The solution was adding an intelligent form-builder to the app – exactly mirroring an infinite variety of traditional hard copy forms, which can be signed on site and returned instantly.

An added bonus of the flexibility of the system was quickly uncovered with method statement documentation. This can now be checked and amended out on site to ensure full compliance. Traditionally an operative would be turned away from site with an incorrect method statement, but this can now be interrogated and revised instantly to eliminate any delays, which can have a knock-on effect on the overall programme.

The app was initially deployed across just one of the 12 floors within 5 Broadgate as testing continued, however it quickly became apparent that the technology was proving hugely beneficial and we made the decision to roll it out across the entire building.

In retrospect this could be considered a bold move on such a major project, however all the data we were collecting on its usage demonstrated the full spectrum of productivity gains. Subsequent evaluation confirmed that an average of 1.5 hours of unproductive administrative time was saved per user per day through the app – this equated to saving £1 million of wasted time.

We’re constantly refining and improving the app with a focus on rolling this out more fully to our supply chain and across the business, potentially installing iPad stations across sites so users don’t have to carry their devices around all the time and the development of a new tracker to allow for fast input of daily logs and tasks.

From a customer perspective, there’s a very clear benefit of the increasing adoption of this type of technology – transparency. A dashboard now provides an instant snapshot of project progress. This real-time view fosters closer working and increased collaboration and trust between client and contractor – and this openness is surely a good thing for the industry.

Andy Hargrave is divisional director of construction services company ISG

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