The digital difference
SELECT Member firm John Noble Electrical reveals how it’s taking advantage of technology and embracing new ways of working to move its operations online and streamline the business
The world is changing and SELECT Member firm John Noble Electrical is changing with it. According to Director Alasdair Noble it’s on a journey that has seen most of the company’s back office functions go digital.
He said: “The nature of our industry has been evolving over time with the introduction of LED lighting and EV chargers, as well as regulations around connected smoke alarms/heat detectors and so on.
“There was some initial adjustment, but after a few months we all realised that this new approach was much better than before”
“Our main transition to digital came eight or nine years ago when we decided to reduce paperwork by going over to a job software system that allowed our guys to carry out tasks using smartphones. There was some initial adjustment, but after a few months we all realised that this new approach was much better than before.”
Since then the company has outgrown that original server-based software. “It meant having hardware on site that had to be maintained,” added Alasdair. “If the server had an issue the job system crashed. It was starting to get clunky and dated.”
Attending a Toolbox Talk at The Walled Garden last May, he met a representative from SELECT Associate Member simPRO, whose system appeared to offer a way forward. Alasdair said: “We’d replaced Sage with Xero software, which is a cloud-based system. Previously, I was a little wary about the cloud because you never really felt like you ever owned anything. I knew the data was there, but I was worried about its safety and security.”
Despite these reservations, Alasdair now believes cloud-based systems are the way to go for businesses like his and they have recently added a cloud-based HR system.
He said: “This helps with issues like GDPR compliance and file storage space. It also allows our guys to use their phones to add holiday requests as well as see their shifts, on-call dates and so on.
“Adopting all these digital tools has opened our eyes and when we saw what simPRO could do we were excited.”
The system’s simplicity and ease of access are big advantages for Alasdair. He can be anywhere in the country, log on to a computer, see all of the firm’s jobs and organise his team accordingly.
It complements other digital tools like SELECTcerts which the company uses for all its certification. “SELECTcerts is brilliant,” he said. “Rather than trying to scribble information down our guys can use the tablet to access the necessary certification. That includes previous certificates.
“Traditionally, we’d send someone out to a job and they’d bring back the necessary information. Someone in the office would then type up the certificate or write it all out in hand. It could take up to a week to issue the documentation to the customer. With SELECTcerts, the guys can phone me up from the site, ask me to check what they’ve done and send the customer a digital certificate before they leave.”
“SimPRO allows us to factor in dynamic risk assessments, which means our electricians can assess the probable risks on a job before they even go to it”
Other procedures have been made simpler too. Alasdair continued: “We’ve been able to eliminate paperwork associated with the monitoring of our vans. Obviously, our guys need to carry out regular checks on tyres, oil, brakes and other items. Previously, that involved completing a tick sheet with about 20-30 boxes. Now, as soon as they log on to the system, they’ll be asked, ‘Is your van safe to drive?’. After checking, they only need to tick one box before getting on with their day.
“SimPRO allows us to factor in dynamic risk assessments, which means our electricians can assess the probable risks on a job before they even go to it. And it offers other tools we’ve still to explore. They include a customer login where clients can create jobs, meaning they don’t have to go through the process of calling us to arrange them.”
Tablets and tools
Just as software can become dated, so can mobile phones. Through time, the original work phones Alasdair had issued to his team had become less efficient and were not being used as regularly as before. As a result, they have been replaced with G5 Samsung Galaxy tablets to take advantage of the latest high-speed network. “The larger screens make it much easier to access the online tools,” Alasdair said.
While simPRO is a straightforward system that leads you through its functions, the company has taken full advantage of training that’s part of the implementation. “Some members of the team have gone through the training process and they’ll pass the knowledge they’ve gained on to others,” he said.
In terms of budget, the firm’s first software involved an initial lump sum to buy it, plus installation costs. With simPRO and other modern apps you pay a monthly subscription and can cancel whenever you like. Alasdair said: “There are costs that are difficult to calculate, such as training and downtime while you’re transitioning between systems. But to be honest, the budgetary implications are probably less than when you’re having to buy the software outright.
“It all seems to work so much better. The time you save by using things like SELECTcerts makes you money rather than costs you money.”
Even though it’s a relatively small operation with just eight electricians, the company generates a great deal of admin through risk assessments, method statements, compliance and audits for schemes like SafeContractor, ISO9000 quality assurance and so on. Alasdair said: “We save on paperwork and time by using digital systems, and we can allocate that time elsewhere.
“Even a one-man band would benefit greatly from things like SELECTcerts and simPRO. If I were to give advice to another business thinking of doing something similar I’d say: ‘Don’t be afraid of change and don’t discount yourself’.”
“We save on paperwork and time by using digital systems, and we can allocate that time elsewhere”
He believes it’s easy for firms to fall into the mindset of ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. However, he said: “Digitalisation makes your life so much easier. It affords you time to look at other aspects of your business.
Change is always difficult to implement, but our team members can see that this technology helps them do their job more effectively as much as it helps our business.”
Following the introduction of simPRO, Alasdair said he and his colleagues will look to better utilise some of the systems it has in place. “Sometimes it seems we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible,” he noted.
“It’s very important to grasp that everything we’re doing doesn’t just benefit us as a company. Ultimately, it gives our customers a better experience.”
Ron helps firm on its digital journey
When you’re on a trip that takes you into unfamiliar territory it’s good to have a reliable and wise guide. For John Noble Electrical that adviser has been Ron Skirving of Delta Digital. Alasdair explained: “Ron has been brilliant. Since he’s not an electrical contractor he has a totally different way of looking at things. He’s opened our eyes to new ideas and ways to improve our services.
“Many consultants come in and simply look at ways of increasing hits for your website and increasing the number of calls you receive. However, we want to help our existing customers make the most of other services they may not be using. Ron understands that.”
For his part, Ron brings a great range of experience, a background in technology and a track record of helping businesses of all types and sizes. He said: “When I first approached Alasdair and John, the company’s digital profile was confusing for customers.
“They had two websites, one of which wasn’t mobile friendly and the other was not providing any enquiries nor was it a true reflection of the business. We built a new website from scratch on a new hosting platform and removed the need for BT and Yell in one go. This reduced costs and increased enquiries.
“No matter the size of the business, when it comes to delivering digital change the approach can make use of a model known as SOSTAC that considers factors such as: ‘Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? What is our plan? Did we get there?’”
Ron appreciates the opportunities that exist within a firm’s customer base. He said: “In this industry, the ‘Pareto Principle’ suggests that 80% of a firm’s business comes from 20% of its customers.
“It was interesting to discover that many of John Noble’s customers were not fully aware of what the company could actually do for them. There’s scope now to introduce initiatives like a regular mailshot to customers, making full use of the data that they already have and are moving from one system to another.
“Crucially, I think there’s a real enthusiasm in the team and a willingness to change. Technology can be a dry subject at times. I like to keep things upbeat with real life stories that help describe the benefits of going digital.
“Within any change process, if you have the people on board there’s a greater chance of success.”