Building a better business through tech: The Nobles Construction story

Nobles Construction is a leading provider of construction services in North West England and the largest privately-owned contractor in Liverpool. The business delivers projects of up to £7 million for a broad portfolio of clients and specialises in delivering innovative new build and refurbishment solutions for the education, healthcare, commercial, industrial, leisure and retail sectors. With on-site visits and offline working a crucial part of their business, Nobles Construction needed a solution as solid as their workforce, and just as reliable.

Connectivity to stay competitive

Not every good business survives a recession, but every business that survives a recession is a better business. Nobles Construction has weathered a sizeable slowdown in the building sector through 2008; today it is buoyant, with a staff of 50, a varied client base and a multimillion pound turnover, with sites all across the UK.

“It’s still very competitive but the economy is far less harsh than it was five years ago,” says John Watson, one of the firm’s directors. “There is certainly a spring in our step.”

The business, he says, has emerged stronger from tough times, more connected and more streamlined: “During the tough times you take a hard look at your overhead costs, particularly your services costs – and that includes your communications.”

Costs, he admits, are only part of the story. For Nobles, the priorities are efficiency and service: “Almost all the work we compete for is through tender, and there is a far greater focus on quality in the construction industry, not just price. We need to have access to a huge amount of up-to-date information – health and safety, waste management and environmental, and we need to be able to share this information with our guys working on sites.

“Our business is done on construction sites and our revenues are generated from being on site. Remote working is fundamental.

As the business grew in the late 90s, so too did the proliferation of devices and systems. Making sense of this complexity would be at the heart of Noble’s communications review.

“We saw an opportunity to upgrade the mobile hardware – making sure employees had the right handsets, but also look at the central systems. We were working off fairly simple but durable mobiles, and had problems with the PBX. We had no receptionist, the phones would go unanswered in the office, and there was no way to transfer calls to colleagues on site. There were gaps everywhere.”

Unified communications, mobile workers

Nobles, says John, likes to see itself as a modern, professional business, progressive not just in the construction industry but business in general. “We don’t operate in a bubble, we work with a huge variety of inspiring clients and we see how others operate. Our aspiration is to be a quality business using the most modern systems so we are ready to tackle any challenges that come our way.”

Vodafone partner, Onecom provides Nobles with Vodafone One Net Business which gives a unified communications solution. It integrates mobiles, fixed line and tablets, enabling Nobles staff to work from anywhere using a virtual landline number. Callers have a direct line to each employee, with personal voicemail and hunt groups to ensure no calls are missed. Costs are consolidated under one contract.

At the same, moving over to Office 365 has allowed Nobles to deliver an office-quality environment to remote workers. Thirty staff now have Office 365 licenses, giving them on site access to the same email, documents and calendars, available through their mobile or tablet.

“Office 365 means we can work on the latest documents from anywhere, either on- or offline,” says John. “If one of our guys is offline, the file syncs as soon as they have a connection. Previously, we had instances of guys working off old site drawings; that can’t happen now. We’re all working off the same information.”

Connectivity remains crucial, says John. [This] solution makes provision for 4G routers as a short-term fix for new sites, Nobles will get a broadband line in to larger sites. “At worst we can now use the phones to connect laptops. We had been using dongles. We got rid of these, saving us £200 a month.”

Embraced by users

“The aim was always to make life easier for our guys. It’s now easier for us to check we’re working off the correct plans, that we’re meeting the latest regulations and that we have the right information to hand. We’re not scrabbling around in a site office looking for paperwork,” says John.

The head office is quieter, with no phones ringing unanswered. Customers get through to the right person every time. As a result, Nobles is more engaged and more productive: “Yes, some have found the switch easier than others, but the more we use it the more we can see the benefits – and the word spreads.”

The next issue, he says, is data usage. “We want to send and share files, to make the most of mobile working, to have video calls or video feeds of a particular site. But this all eats data.

The beauty of this solution is that we have a clear view of data usage and see where the costs are coming from. It means we can encourage best practice and keep a grip on costs.”