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Is the paperless office achievable?

We spoke to Alistair Sloan, Director at Redpath Construction Limited, about how RedSky’s Summit Document Management module has transformed business operations.

Redpath logo

Company profile:
Established in 2008, Redpath is a leading regional Scottish contractor specialising in refurbishment, interiors and construction projects for the public sector and blue-chip clients. Most of its projects are based in the Central Belt of Scotland, and 70% of its turnover comes from repeat business. The company employs 32 people.

Why did you decide to migrate from CONSTRUCT to Summit?
It was mainly because we wanted to integrate with the Summit Document Management module.

When did you migrate and how did it go?
We migrated in 2015. To be honest, we found the migration to be relatively straightforward. It was a fairly painless exercise because CONSTRUCT and Summit are two very similar systems. Once we had done the testing and established that Summit was working as it should, RedSky did the transfer.

What was transferred across?
All the balances and all the historical transactions were transferred automatically. The key for us was making sure that everything in the cost ledger (going right back to day one) was transferred across.

What Summit software did you go for?
We took on the Core Financials package – Cost Ledger, Nominal Ledger, Purchase Ledger, Subcontractor Ledger, Sales Ledger, Job Costing, and Payroll. I would describe the system as straightforward. All you really want is a system that works. It doesn’t need to be complex – some people make accounting for construction companies far too complicated. My view is that it should be kept relatively simple: a simple set of cost codes and a simple structure.

The Document Management module was the main attraction for you – how did you go about implementing it at Redpath?
The first thing I knew I had to do was to understand how Summit Document Management works. I started off with what I know best: the accounting documents. We set up templates for a few things that we do routinely in the accounting system. Once we had developed those and were comfortable that the system worked, we effectively moved into digital storage – that was a massive step for me.

Why was digital storage such a big step for you?
Because it meant that we would not be keeping the original set of hard-copy documents any more; instead, we would be keeping them in a digital format. The first time we shredded an original set of invoices was a very big moment – that was three years ago and we haven’t stored any hard-copy documents for the accounting system since then. Every accounting document is now stored electronically in Summit.

I understand that you then rolled out Document Management to Redpath’s office-based staff?
Yes. Having gone through that process of learning how it all worked and storing documents digitally for the accounting side of the business, I then moved on to the other office-based staff, including estimators, quantity surveyors, contract managers, marketing and human resources. The way I described it to people internally is this: there’s the genius of Microsoft in the background, but there’s the front of house that’s been designed by a construction specialist, so we’re getting the best of both worlds.

How did the roll-out go?
We used the same approach as before: we developed a structure that worked for us and then we created templates for the office-based staff to use. Unlike with the accounting side of things, I can’t say, hand on heart, that they don’t keep any paper copies at all. But I can say that the vast majority of their documents are now stored digitally on the system.

What about people out on site?
That was the third and final stage of the roll-out. At any one time, we have between 12 and 15 live construction sites. I knew internet access was not always possible and that was my biggest concern, because I needed our site managers to be able to complete their paperwork.

How did you resolve the internet access challenge for your construction sites?
Technology is getting better all the time. We soon found that if broadband technology is not available, the site managers can use a dongle instead and access the net on their smartphones or tablets.

What process did you apply to roll Document Management out to the sites?
We started off with just one construction site. It was a fairly large project that actually had a good broadband connection, so we thought it would provide a good test bed. We worked out the routines that we wanted to apply and then set about creating the templates. We concentrated on the basics of site documentation, which meant setting up templates for the daily site diary and documents relating to labour, plant, materials, subcontractors and health and safety. It probably took us a good 12 months to complete.

Once the first site was up and running, how did you roll the system out to the other sites?
We decided that from that moment onwards, every new site would use Document Management, so we rolled it out very gradually. Twelve months on and now every site uses Document Management for the most important paperwork. The beauty of it is that the guys all know how the templates work and we have standardised documentation on every site. I’ve got to say, it is working very well.

Is there anything else you still need to do for your site-based staff?
There are some more site-based templates that we need to develop for documents that are used less frequently. We will get around to it. It’s just time pressure that’s preventing us from getting it done.

What difference has digital storage made to the business, from an operational perspective?
For some of our files, we’re up to version 1700, yet we can easily look back at all previous versions if we want to. That is a brilliant benefit. For example, every day we produce a cash report. The current version is now available at the touch of a button and is constantly updated. And I can look back at any day in the last three years and see exactly what our cash position was at that moment in time. It’s conceptually simple, yet brilliant. It’s incredibly easy to use and it’s incredibly valuable to the business.

Has it helped on the auditing front too?
Going paperless certainly is a step in the right direction. When the auditors started working on our year-end accounts, we didn’t give them a single piece of paper. Instead, we gave them a log-on so that they could access the accounting section of the Document Management system. This meant that they could look at anything they liked, without having to ask us for any files. It worked very well and was a lot more efficient, both for the auditors and for us.

You now have a completely integrated system with a ‘single source of truth’ – what are the benefits?
Rather than having multiple versions of spreadsheets, like we had previously, there’s just one current version. Bank reconciliations are a good example. We used to keep a cash book record for every day of every week, so we had hundreds of files, stretching back years. But now we have just one file; we are always 100% confident that we’re working on the current version and there’s absolutely no danger of anyone updating the wrong version. It’s a brilliantly simple concept, but it works very well. And all the historic data is safely stored and easily accessed.

Are templates essential to this ‘single source of truth’ concept?
Definitely. Before Document Management, if I decided to alter a document that’s used on our sites, I’d have had to issue it to all the users and rely on them taking out the old version and replacing it with the new one. It’s so much easier now. If I want to alter a template, I make the change – then everyone on site can work only with the latest version.

How embedded is Summit Document Management within Redpath?
We originally purchased Document Management licences for a handful of people, mainly those working on the accounting system. But as we started to roll it out across the company, we took on more licences. Now every single person in the company uses the system.

As part of the migration, you also moved to the Cloud, hosted by RedSky – why was that?
We had experienced one or two issues with our server, which we’d had for quite a few years, so we decided it would be safer to move to the Cloud. I work mainly from home, which is where the server was located – that was very handy, but it meant that whenever I was at the Glasgow office, I couldn’t work on our accounting system. RedSky hosting us in the Cloud means that we can access the accounting system from anywhere with internet access. Also we don’t have to worry about back-ups and updates, because it’s all done automatically by RedSky.

How is the Cloud working out for Redpath?
We’ve had no issues with it. There has been the occasional day where things are running slightly more slowly than usual, but the whole broadband network infrastructure is now so powerful that we really don’t have any problems. On sites without broadband access, the dongles are working really well and enabling the guys to access the net at any time. We do have one guy who nips to a nearby Costa a couple of times a day to use their wi-fi, but I think he quite enjoys having an extra few cups of coffee, to be honest!

What would you say to encourage anyone considering the Summit Document Management module?
My advice would be to go ahead and do it, you’ll never regret it. If you want to take the administration of your business and move it forward a couple of big steps, a document management system is a necessity. You do need to put in a lot of effort to make it work for your business, but it is undoubtedly worth the effort. I’ve got absolutely no regrets. Before Summit Document Management, I used to think we ran our business reasonably efficiently. But we’ve now taken our efficiency to a much higher level.

Any top tips to pass on?
Developing the system is undoubtedly time-consuming and you’ve got to have somebody who has the ability to set up templates and the authority to ensure that those templates are adhered to. If you’re prepared to make that level of commitment, it can transform the administration of the company. That’s how I feel about it. I’m massively enthusiastic but you’ve got to be prepared to commit the time and resources to do it properly. It’s well worth the effort, I assure you.

And a final word?
I’m a very enthusiastic user. We no longer keep hard-copy documents: everything is stored digitally, which makes a fantastic difference to document storage and retrieval. And the ability to standardise and share documentation across the company is brilliant. To be honest, I couldn’t go back to how we used to work, in the days before Document Management.

To find out more about RedSky’s construction-specific software solutions, click HERE or telephone +44 (0)20 3002 8700. Middle East customers telephone +971(0)4 362 5106.