To boldly go digital with Stewart Milne Homes

Seeking to change a successful business model for untested new ways of working posed risks for Stewart Milne Homes. Would the rewards be worth it?

Making your business completely digital is no small transformation, especially in construction. For one thing, it is not just a technology upgrade. It involves a wholesale shift in working practices and a change of culture at every level of the business – and it has to extend into your supply chain too.

But when Stewart Dalgarno, Director of Product Development at Stewart Milne Homes, learned that CITB funding was available to support innovation pilots, he knew that his project to explore a complete digital transformation was achievable.

Getting your people on board

“This ambitious project has a strong people component, which meant it was well suited to CITB’s funding requirements,” Stewart says. “Making the business fully digital is as much about winning hearts and minds to new ways of working as the technology itself.

“People have to get out of antiquated systems, let go of the traditional silo mentality and work collaboratively.

“We want to be smarter about how we deliver and integrate the business. If we are going to double in size, we need to embrace the future and transform attitudes and behaviours at the same time.”

Understanding the business case for BIM 

With CITB funding, Stewart was able to complete the first phase in what he hopes will be a five-year transformation towards fully adopting building information modelling (BIM) throughout the business.

BIM involves 3D modelling integrated with structured information, the use of virtual or augmented reality, and other new technologies that increase understanding, efficiency and collaboration across the organisation.

With £178k worth of CITB Flexible funding, this initial pilot stage explored the business case for BIM, looking in detail at 12 areas, including auditing the supply chain, process mapping, skills gap analysis, training plans, cultural change plans, and BIM modelling.

As part of the pilot, the company built its first BIM product library for offsite timber frame construction, and in the process won the Pioneer of the Year Award at the 2017 Structural Timber Awards.

Crucially, the pilot also detailed the potential returns on investment across five categories of business operations: planning, design, sales, construction and customer care. The study estimated that going digital could save the company £3,500 per unit, amounting to around £3.5 million a year.

“But it’s not all about the bottom line,” Stewart says. “There’s brand value, customer experience, safety and productivity – all of which can be enhanced through this.”

Snapshot

Company:  Stewart Milne Homes
Sector:  housebulding
Size of company:  small to medium enterprise (SME)
Location:  Scotland

Challenge:  Developing the business case for BIM

Funding: £177,999
Impact: The hypothetical business case for BIM was demonstrated and is ready to be tested on site

“When others see that what we’re doing is positive and directly benefits our people and business they will follow. This will be good for the whole industry.” 

Stewart Delagarno, Director of Producut Development, Stewart Milne Homes

Not going it alone

“That bag of gold is promising, but there’s still a lot of scepticism,” Stewart says. “Managing change on this scale is quite a difficult thing.”

“Everyone will be heading in this direction eventually, but no one wants to be the first to move because of the risks of being isolated and vulnerable.”

“Businesses are nervous that a blind leap to greatness might turn out to be a jump off a cliff.“We can’t do this alone. We’ve been working on this with our competitors, Mactaggart and Mickel, as two is better than one. We even shared our supply chain details with each other to get a better understanding of what we’ll need to do to mobilise change.

“We also interviewed widely within the company, because you can’t take people with you if you treat them in an adversarial way. Collaboration is at the heart of this. “Not one of them said this wasn’t the way to go, even before we explained it would involve upskilling and enhancing job roles, rather than diminishing them.”

Putting theory into practice

“Having completed a successful pilot, we now want to go forward with the trial phase, to test, measure and validate the benefits with a physical site trial.

“We’re an entrepreneurial, independent and dynamic company that likes to keep a competitive edge and looks to innovation as a long-term strategy for success. So we’re well suited to be early movers. But we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without CITB funding.

“When others see that what we’re doing is positive and directly benefits our people and business they will follow. This will be good for the whole industry.”