30-person consultancy reports shift in client demands

Webb Yates with Andy Yates and Rob Delahunty

Webb Yates Engineers is an award-winning 30-strong structural & civil design practice with offices in central London, Birmingham, Bristol and Dubai.

Andy Yates, Director of Webb Yates Engineers and Rob Delahunty, Associate Director discuss how clients have changed recently, how Webb Yates have adapted to this and how the changes have contributed to their growth.

"Everything’s in one place now. All the consulting information and all the financial data is combined together. It’s great to have everything organised now. It helps us to stay on top of things. Projects, clients, time, financials."

Stone staircase designed by Webb Yates Engineers

How have clients recently changed?

1. Expecting more for less

Client budgets are under pressure, perhaps permanently now. They have to prove clear value to their own organisation.

  • Technical innovation is often needed to deliver new solutions that are more affordable than conventional ones. For example we designed a bridge for the London Borough of Hackney. The existing bridge had deteriorated and had to be closed to vehicles.

They intended to build a new bridge costing £3.5million. Instead we designed an elegant, lightweight solution costing £1.4 million.

  • It’s not just public sector clients that demand this sort of thinking, it’s clients in every sector.
  • The need for leanness also extends to our own information / project management processes.

2. Increased technical demands

In structural design there is a constant stream of new materials becoming available – you need to be the master of them. Nothing stands still.

  • You also need to constantly strive for greater efficiencies of materials, rather than automatically accept the standard ways.
  • New technologies enable new aesthetics and more challenging architecture to be designed.
  • Tighter budgets and timescales require engineers to work on multiple projects simultaneously, often with overlapping programmes.
  • This puts pressure on work processes and supporting technology.

3. Greater openness to wider collaboration

Clients increasingly want their service providers to see the bigger picture and come up with solutions to wider issues.

  • So design engineers need to know their audience’s concerns, not simply present standard engineering responses.

4. Programme is king

Shorter programmes and quicker response times require efficient communication and the use of the right technology.

  • Service providers therefore need to constantly look for greater efficiencies in everything they do.
Client work by Webb Yates

Client work by Webb Yates

Introducing Webb Yates Engineers

“We’ve grown from 7 to 30 people in just under 5 years. Our clients are typically building contractors, property developers and private clients.

“We manage a large number of projects at any one time. We have approximately 300 jobs and quotes on the system, with about 200 live.

“And they represent a very wide variety of project sizes. Length of projects can range from a single day to two or three years.”

Client work by Webb Yates

Client work by Webb Yates

How do we differ from our competitors?

• We are more creative and innovative in our engineering designs than others, as a point of difference.

• We make a point of looking to improve the overall project for the client, rather than blindly following the mechanics of the brief.

We come up with solutions that meet what the client is trying to achieve yet might be far more economical for them, or more efficient, simple or beautiful. Or all of those.

• We do design-led engineering here. We employ a collaborative approach and encourage staff to challenge the design of other designers in the interests of the project. Our design teams have become less compartmentalised. The Webb Yates philosophy is that high quality projects can be delivered through efficient collaborative working.

• We deliver what is called Clever Engineering. Good solutions have a certain elegance, as in nature.

• We are continually investing in technologies to improve the efficiency of the business and the designs produced.

Client work by Webb Yates

Client work by Webb Yates

Our previous system

“We had a previous system which had been designed for architects and engineers but it had severe limitations:"

  • The reporting was poor
  • Some data had to be entered twice
  • Some aspects still had to be done on spreadsheets
  • Invoicing was handled separately
  • It didn’t link to our Sage accounting
  • The supplier hadn’t updated it for a number of years
  • At month end it took an excessive amount of time to manage
  • It wasn’t customisable

“We accepted its weaknesses in the early days when we were small in size. But there are 30 of us now, so we knew we needed something much better. We looked at several systems. Our requirements included:

  • It needed to be far more comprehensive, and linked together.
  • In our business, our resources are time. So the new system had to work that way from the ground up.
  • We wanted an on-premises solution. We didn’t want our data stored on some remote servers. Data security is very important to us and our clients. We have major airports as clients, for example, so security, professionalism and trust are paramount.
Client work by Webb Yates

Client work by Webb Yates

Our decision

“We chose Synergist because it met the requirements.

  • Its entire processes and functioning is clearly designed for our sort of business. It works the way we work.
  • Small and large projects have different needs, and Synergist allows for that.
  • Synergist has the scalability we need for growth.
  • The alternative for us would have been to choose a standard software package. But to conform to that we would have had to change our processes to fit someone else’s fixed way of doing things. That’s exactly what we didn’t want.
Client work by Webb Yates

Client work by Webb Yates

Impact after implementation

1. “Everything’s in one place now. All the consulting information and all the financial data is combined together. It’s great to have everything organised now. It helps us to stay on top of things. Projects, clients, time, financials.

2. “When a client challenges an invoice we now don’t have to wade through a thousand emails to find the one that has a bearing on it. Everything’s in one place.

3. “It has given us the opportunity to rethink some of our processes, which has been valuable. We have a very varied scope of what we do here, but Synergist is a big system with the flexibility to offer us fresh ways of handling them. And it lets us create custom fields, which is great.

4. “One particular benefit is that we can create fee proposals on one screen. That wasn’t possible in our previous system. It’s another example of pulling everything together.

5. “We like the mobile app. Our engineers are often on the road, so it’s easy to do timesheets and enter expenses while travelling on the train, for example.

6. “Acceptance by the team has been good. We were a bit worried at first, but it worked out well. We set up data views for each of the engineer teams so they can quickly focus on just the projects they need. It’s flexible like that.

7. “Some things are phenomenally quicker now. Example: when we create quotes for one airport client we need to give them target costs which previously entailed fairly elaborate spreadsheet work. The spreadsheets were problematical because everyone created theirs in different ways. Now it’s handled by the system.

8. “Another benefit: being able to quickly see the fee value of future work and the timescales involved. This greatly helps planning.

9. “It’s very useful to be able to immediately see things like:

  • Which timesheets are missing. It means you know where the gaps are right away.
  • Last week’s timesheets and last month’s time and expenses logged to projects.
  • Invoice analysis. Running that report just before the month end is really useful.

“It would have been very hard to extract all this sort of data in our previous system.

10. "Having the system automatically email reports to us is another big win.”

Client work by Webb Yates

Client work by Webb Yates

The future

Things are very positive for us at the moment. We are growing quite rapidly. Synergist’s scalability is a reassurance.

“The data we are now capturing is allowing us to be more strategic in bidding for projects. This helps us keep a balance in our workload and forward plan to drive the business forward.

“We’d like to add that the help desk support from Synergist has been very good. When necessary you can give them access to your screen remotely so they can see the same data you’re working on and talk it through right away.

“On-site training, by Anna Root of Magnifeye / The Agency Works, was also good. She worked hard to understand our processes, which was appreciated.”

Client work of intricate ceiling by Webb Yates

Time to see it

Whatever your business looks like – 10 to 500 people, design to digital to consultancy –
Synergist can be shaped to the way you work.

See it for yourself.

Synergist consultants, Agency Works, will be in touch to arrange your bespoke demo. Their experience working with hundreds of businesses means they can help you work out what's right for you.