Supporting our people through technology

At a hugely disruptive time for businesses, technology is at the forefront of our ability to function. Alan Ramsay, CIO of Willmott Dixon explains the business’s digital transformation.

Since joining Willmott Dixon two years ago, we have come an extremely long way. We took the big decision to move our business to Office 365, migrating everything into the cloud and re-issued our people with new cutting-edge devices that would support a new ‘agile’ way of working. For a fairly traditional company, by IT standards at the time, it was a real step change and in many ways a leap of faith.

As I sit here writing this, with many of our office-based people working from home, I am extremely happy we took those decisions to transform. But that is what Willmott Dixon does, above everything it trusts and empowers its people to innovate and evolve.

Supporting our values

When we first thought about changing the way we work it was more than just about our infrastructure and security, although that did play a huge part.

The move to the cloud also supported our values and we saw it as an exciting opportunity to give our people the ability work in a more flexible and agile way. We knew from our people survey that it was an important driver for wellbeing and happiness and also that the next generation value work life balance more highly than any other before them.

It really has been a fantastic change; our teams are now encouraged to use their time more efficiently by cutting down on unnecessary business travel and use Microsoft Teams instead to have video calls and meetings. We can also share and collaborate on documents from almost any location reducing the need to be traveling from sites to offices to get our work done. It is more than simply working from home.

Not only is this good for our people’s wellbeing and efficiency, it is also great for the environment, helping us to reduce our carbon footprint. As a winner of a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Sustainable Development last year, we are always looking for new ways to reduce our impact on the environment and we will be looking closely at data such as video calls vs business mileage to monitor the continued success of this.

A culture change

One of the big surprises for me has been how quickly our people have embraced a new way of working, it has completely transformed the culture in our IT team for one. People are happier in the knowledge they can work in a flexible way and feel they are at the heart of an exciting time for our business – really making a difference to our people out working on our projects.

It has also been great for me personally; I now have a better work life balance and I am also able to recruit from a wider talent pool into my team. I now have people based in different parts of the country which it just wouldn’t have been possible to recruit (or retain), without the technology we now have in place.

Not all plain sailing

It hasn’t all been easy, no major change like this ever is. We have very dispersed teams across the country and also working out on sites. Getting people together to change PC devices and receive training has definitely been challenging. We are still in the process of migrating everyone to Office 365 but even with a few bumps in the road the transformation has been faster than in many other organisations. We anticipated we may face challenges logistically completing full migrations in parts of the business, so we took the decision to roll out certain key elements to the whole company in advance, like Teams and Yammer. This approach has meant we can quickly give everyone new exciting collaboration tools – and this has also proved both timely and critical with current prevailing circumstances.

As we face an unprecedented challenge at the moment, I am at least thankful that our digital transformation will go some way to help support our people to stay safe and also continue to deliver the brilliant service to our customers that we always strive to do. It is not lost on me that the real challenges are in keeping our construction projects and sites working, so I hope that our IT changes will play their part in helping us all achieve.

Perhaps if there is anything positive to be taken from the prevailing challenges, it is that it may help businesses to realise that working in an agile and flexible way can offer more than just disaster recovery; but also perhaps be the start of a new way of working.