Baxall md Malcom Clarke

Analysis

Interview: How Baxall flourished after embracing all things digital

22 November 2018 | By Andrew Pring

Why is Baxall Construction so keen on BIM? Could it be due to the fact that it has helped raise margins and help double turnover? Andrew Pring talks to managing director Malcolm Clarke about what the technology has brought to the Kent-based firm.

Malcolm Clarke has been working his way up the industry since the late 1980s, but he wishes he was starting out now rather than all those years ago. The reason? BIM.

For much of his career, Clarke has felt disillusioned with the way contractors operate. “The industry has been going downhill for so long because the model was fundamentally broken – you had to beat up your subbies and the client to make any money.”

A firm believer in the ideas of collaboration and teamwork set out by Michael Latham and John Egan, he felt isolated in an industry that refused to change.

But then the digital world rushed in, as he puts it, and things began to change.

“The world has changed massively in the past five years. It’s a new industrial revolution – the most exciting time in the industry I’ve ever known,” says Clarke.

Clarke and Baxall got on board with BIM nearly five years ago. “It got us on a few frameworks, but really we saw it as an opportunity to be more efficient, and to make more money,” he says.

“We’ve recently been involved in delivering BIM seminars and workshops across the South East. We provide support and advice to other main contractors, our clients and supply chain both in starting and developing their BIM capability and collaborative working processes.”

They’ve certainly done that. Turnover has doubled since 2103 from £25m to £50m, and profit margins have reached 4% and sometimes beyond – double the industry average.

Persuading his firm to go on the digital journey was one thing, persuading subcontractors was another.

“Subcontractors didn’t understand what we were saying initially, but then they were finding at the end of the project that they’d used 50% less labour and finished in 75% of the time – and made more money.

“The people we work with now see very clearly that better and more timely information means less risk and they get paid more quickly. Which means they will reduce their prices.”

Once clients see the benefits, they too become digital apostles, says Clarke.

“You’ve got to take people on the journey with you.”

Not everyone will follow. “I still see people who use Google maps but still want to work with spreadsheets and paper forms. It’s like the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries – some got it and flourished, and some didn’t.”

Having developed BIM capability over the last few years, Baxall’s PAS 1192-2-accredited BIM systems are now its default choice for project delivery. The company also uses data-rich 3D models and virtual reality software.

Clarke says many of the larger contractors have been surprised by Baxall’s digital sophistication. “We’ve had companies send their entire board down here to see how we do it. They often say ‘we are so far behind you’.”

He adds: “We’ve recently been involved in delivering BIM seminars and workshops across the South East. We provide support and advice to other main contractors, our clients and supply chain both in starting and developing their BIM capability and collaborative working processes.”

Clarke has also got Baxall using modern methods of construction such as modular and offsite manufacturing. They’re even looking at setting up their own factory.

Adopting BIM is an investment, he acknowledges “but not that much”.

And he believes it’s the only way to go for construction. “It’s a massive opportunity for our industry, and unless we do it we’ll have no future at all. As Mark Farmer says, we must modernise or die.”

Clarke is determined to keep modernising. “The industry’s been in the doldrums for a long time but now, it’s the most exciting time I’ve ever had. I just wish I was young again to see how it will all develop.”