Q&A: John Evans, BIM Manager, Lawray Architects – Life in lockdown

Lawray Architects has 37 staff spread across three studios, Cardiff, Wrexham and London and works across all sectors. Since the lockdown the company has successfully switched to home working. John Evans explains how.

Talk us through the transition to home working

All our staff are working from home currently. They took their office desktop/laptop PCs home and access the internet via their home routers and then access our data via secure VPN connections. We even run Revit work-sharing across these connections and whilst slower than in the studios, it is generally working satisfactorily, even on a complicated Grade 1/2 gothic refurb. So that’s the immediate panic over then.

To get there we have revolutionised our IT infrastructures and fully incorporated BIM Level 2 into our business culture and projects. We certify everything under our ISO 9001:2015 accreditation. So that’s the process tick-box checked. We don’t buy in to expensive 1192 certification when we’ve got all 1192’s six parts, 19650, our BEP and the other BIM Level 2 requirements covered by 9001.

Covid-19 has highlighted to all our staff the benefits of cloud computing as they only had a few days to get to grips with the cloud-based technologies they never used before. – John Evans, Lawray Architects

It’s been a long slog to get here, but with the full support of the board of directors, excellent change management (though I say it myself), the full cooperation of all staff and backed up by good mentoring and training regimes, we are in a good place, despite the current issues we face.

How has the lockdown changed your approach?

Covid-19 has been a catalyst for us to try out new collaboration technologies that have been on the back-burner for some time, ie MS Teams, Autodesk BIM 360 Design and enabling staff to be more mobile through technology. There’s nothing like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire to focus minds on things we’ve been deliberating for a while. These technologies not only focus staff minds but when used on live projects staff can see immediate benefits from using them.

The most pleasing thing about all this is that our IT Infrastructure is stepping up to the mark and all the work and technologies we have put in place over the last six years is yielding some juicy fruit now, especially in these difficult times.

This pleases me most, as it confirms that what I have put in place, for and on behalf of the business, were the right decisions. Phew! But they were only decisions that came from industry best practice and a board willing to invest in the company, its staff, its projects and its client base. This enables us to remain available and empathetic for our clients.

So we’ve not done anything new, we’ve just done it right. Although as an SME of 36 staff in three studios, all in the UK, it is a lot easier for us to adapt than the big international players. The benefit of this agility is a commercial advantage.

What else has helped?

Moving our software into rental licencing has helped considerably too. It has made managing our licences much easier and more dynamic than ever before. It also means we get the latest updates and better after-sales support.

Our IT service providers have been especially helpful during our transition from a business of silos to a holistic one, in which we can combat Covid-19 and other issues head-on as a company.

In terms of software, our core application’s developers have enabled us to get where we are with their latest technologies and behind the scenes, things like backup/disaster recovery and anti-malware/anti-ransomware protect our data, both locally and in the cloud.

Biggest challenge?

My real bugbear is that whilst the cost of hardware is falling, the cost of software is going through the roof. We are transitioning to NBS Chorus – it’s brilliant, but a lot more expensive per licence for example. This has to be rectified through industry pressure on the software developers.

The future for us is to push more of our services and functions into the cloud, including telephony, data stores, core software and so on and dramatically reduce our in-house server estate and the need for desktop PCs in favour of more cloud and mobile technologies. I call this world “Martini BIM” – any time, any place, anywhere that’s BIM – you need to remember the 70s Martini ads to get this.

Covid-19 has highlighted to all our staff the benefits of cloud computing as they only had a few days to get to grips with the cloud-based technologies they never used before. For example, we are using MS Planner in MS Teams to organise and track the work of staff who are home-based currently.

The speed at which they have adjusted to home working and the cloud technologies has been remarkable if not miraculous and well done to them. Well done to all of us at Lawray Architects!

But it should not be forgotten that without the best practice implementation of our IT infrastructure, BIM Level 2 compliance and the full support of the board we would not be in the place we are. Get the foundations right and everything else just fits into place.

I keep telling staff, we have done the revolution (getting the business into a holistic state) everything from then on is evolution. And so that is proving to be, despite Covid-19.

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