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A conversation with Neville Construction Group
We spoke to Chris Foulkes, Financial Controller at Neville Construction Group, about her experience of the migration from AXiM to Summit.
Based in Luton, Bedfordshire, Neville Construction Group is a family business dating back to 1875. It’s organised into three companies: T&E Neville Ltd – new-build, refurbishment, alterations and fit-out projects; Neville Special Projects Ltd – contracting, maintenance, decorating, electrical and mechanical; and Neville Joinery Ltd – production and fitting of bespoke and structural joinery. The Group employs 100 staff and has an annual turnover of approximately £21 million.
What made you decide to migrate from AXiM to Summit?
Neville is a very diverse group, with three companies spanning many different construction disciplines. We’d had AXiM in place since around 2003 (I joined in 2009). We needed something that was smarter and more able to deal with the way our three companies were set up (one of them is actually an amalgamation of lots of small businesses). We knew that RedSky would continue to support our AXiM system but felt the time was right to migrate. As a forward-looking company we want to be on the latest and best software.
What do you mean by ‘smarter’?
We wanted to work smarter on a much more up-to-date system – a modern approach, rather than “that’s just how it’s always been done”. We knew it would involve reconfiguring everything, but at the same time we wanted to be able to maintain our existing knowledge of the system. This wasn’t about starting from scratch, it was about improving things and cutting down the number of processes. Also, I wanted to be able to access information at my desk, rather than having to get up each time and take a folder out, to look at a piece of paper.
You mentioned wanting to maintain your existing knowledge of the system… was that familiarity a big factor in your choice of new system?
Absolutely. We felt we weren’t starting with a completely new product, and we knew we’d be using the same terminology and similar processes. When we migrated to Summit it was great because I knew that all our history would still be there on the system, and there’d be no need to change all the codes. I’ve worked with the system for a long time; I understand how it works. And I felt that it wouldn’t be too difficult for the staff to get to grips with, because the fundamentals were the same.
How did the switch go?
It was fine. RedSky converted all the data from AXiM to Summit with no loss of history. It was a safe passage.
Why did you decide against running the new system in parallel with the old?
Because we were familiar with the product and I was confident that we wouldn’t have an issue with it. Rather than stressing the staff out by trying to run two systems in parallel, I just thought to myself: “We’re a good team. We know what we’re doing. If we do have any problems, we’ll resolve them. We won’t panic, we’ll just get on with it. Let’s not just dip a toe in the water; let’s jump in with both feet.”
And did that turn out to be a good strategy?
Yes. It was definitely the best approach for us, because we’re so much further forward now. Some people run parallel systems for six months before finally switching one off. I don’t see that as the best use of staff time. And why put all that pressure on yourself and your staff? It’s hard enough running a business as it is. And at Neville I’m already running three companies – I certainly didn’t need that additional burden.
Any advice for companies in a similar situation?
Yes. Have the training and make sure you buy enough of it so that your staff know what’s expected of them. Make sure you take advantage of the consultancy too, because this isn’t an off-the-shelf product. Doing that will allow you to get maximum benefit from Summit… it really does have to be set up correctly. And use a test company.
Bring your team in and let them talk through and use the test system. We were really good at testing a small batch of transactions on the live AXiM system first, then testing that same batch on the new Summit system, to see what looked different. That allowed us to spot any anomalies and glitches. It also gave us opportunities to ask RedSky questions and get explanations. So my advice would definitely be: don’t do the parallel run, just keep testing it until you’re all set up and you know you’re ready.
Did the testing involve a lot of work?
Believe me, it was frantic. Effectively, we almost doubled our work, because we were repeating a process in a different company. But it was definitely worth it. The main advantage was that when we went live, we knew what was coming; we knew how to do things because we’d had the training and we’d tested it out already. The processes are slightly different, but it didn’t take the staff long to get to grips with them.
How did it feel on the day when you migrated to Summit?
It was busy. On the day when we were closing the old system down, I spent the entire day running loads of electronic reports. I still have all the data from AXiM even now! So I was very confident that if anything went wrong, I could fix it, because I had the data… and because I’m a fixer by nature. I knew we were ready for the switch. And when it happened, it was a big relief.
So was it smooth transition?
When I logged in, I had access to all three environments: live, test and original.
Fortunately, when we re-ran the reports after the migration, they were absolutely spot on. There were a few very minor problems… for example, the screens were different from what we were used to. But it was just a case of working with RedSky to fix things.
You mentioned earlier the importance of buying enough training – could you expand on that please?
We had some training time beforehand, where we talked about what we wanted to see and how we would operate the system. Then we had live training. Because we were working with someone we knew so well already – June Goode – and had a really good relationship with her, the training was absolutely great.
Our approach was to purchase ‘x’ number of training/consulting days. How we used those days was up to us. Sometimes we wanted a training day, which is when we’d be in the driving seat, asking RedSky to show us how to do specific tasks. And sometimes we wanted a consulting day, which is when RedSky would come in and tell us what to do. That flexibility is a real bonus and June is both trainer and consultant. Of course, we also knew that if issues arose, the RedSky support team was always on a hand.
And have you used up all your days now?
Yes, but I wouldn’t be against paying for more training. I think the training is essential. June would say to us: “You’ve bought a massive system and you’ve only just scratched the surface. The only way you’re going to learn more about it is to talk to other people or have more training.” And she’s right, the system is almost endless.
So how are things going, now that the system has bedded in? I hear that invoicing has become a lot simpler…
Most of our sales invoices get emailed out now. We had to do a lot of background work initially, going out to all the companies we use and checking that we had all the correct contact details for them. That was a massive exercise.
But having done all that, when we raise an invoice now, the simplicity is fantastic – the invoice pdf goes to the contact on the sales ledger. It’s a pdf that sits in the enquiries screen and all sorts of places in the system that are linked. It’s a document that you can open up and look at on screen at any time.
It’s very easy to retrieve too. If I’m on the system and want to look at a contract and a sale, it’s simple: I just click on the paper clip beside the sale and it opens up the invoice document that we sent to the client. Everything is done automatically – you do have to tell it to email or print, but all of that comes into your training. As soon as you’ve emailed it, it’s in your email system and it’s also in the document store within Summit.
Do you use the documentation emailing function for anything else?
Yes, it’s the same principle for subcontractor certificates. When we raise a payment on the system, the subcontractor receives the certificate in an email that also advises them when the money will reach their bank account. Whereas previously we were printing out four to five copies, we now just print one for our records, which we attach to a copy of the subcontract invoice or application for audit purposes, or for HMRC inspections.
Remittances to suppliers are automated too – the remittance sits as a file in the Document Store on the Purchase Ledger. We use all three aspects – Sales Ledger, Purchase Ledger, Subcontract Ledger – for automation of documentation.
Has management reporting improved as a result of migrating to Summit?
Management reporting is one of the big reasons why we’ve migrated to Summit. We want to report on up-to-date data. However, due to day-to-day pressures I’m still dropping data into CSV (comma separated variable) files for some of my reporting. With three companies to deal with, it’s time-consuming and there’s margin for error.
There is also the need to get as much information into Summit to make the reporting as accurate as possible. It’s just a case of finding the best way to get the information onto the system. Nothing happens quickly when you have a company that’s so complex and diverse because there are always several sets of problems to look at. I’m confident that using the reporting tools available with Summit, automatic links to Excel and Business Analytics, we will soon have the real-time reporting we want.
How are you doing on the Business Analytics front?
To me, Business Analytics is about getting the information to my QSs, my management team and my directors in a format that gives them exactly what they need. They need to look at information that’s pertinent to them, and has things on there that I as a management accountant would not be interested in. This is about creating role-based dashboards, which I can do. It’s fantastic, but at Neville it’s in its infancy. My issue here is: tell me what you need, guys, and I’ll develop it.
I’ve had my training and I’m confident about what I do. The new system is much more user-friendly when it comes to reporting, because you can use the Analytics and enter specific criteria. I do use it weekly to run five simple reports for my MD. I’ve cut the time spent doing that down from five hours to two hours tops. I still extract some information, though, and put it into an Excel sheet so that it’s summarised. When I have more time I will be able to setup more dashboards to provide the information in exactly the right format to meet our needs.
Have you moved forward with the Purchase Order Processing system yet?
We love the POP system and want to move forward with it. The biggest problem we have is setting up the library of our products. This is something that has to be done so that you can produce your orders. But because we’re so diverse, the product library is taking longer to generate than we had hoped.
We’re still manually processing orders, but Summit is something for the imminent future on that front. We want that to be operational, but it tends to stagnate when you get so wrapped up in your own job. We need to move it forward.
So is project management an important consideration?
Yes. We’re busy in a financial control role and as a finance department. For things to work properly, you’ve got to do the groundwork and set everything up before you go live. In an ideal world, I’d want to release myself to project manage this 100 per cent of my time, but that’s just not possible. So my advice to people would be: if you can, project manage it separately. Don’t try and do your own job at the same time.
What’s next on the cards?
Subcontractor valuations is my next job. Rather than waiting for the payments to come down to us from the quantity surveyor, we’re going to be intercepting all documents that come into Neville from the subcontractor – we’ll put them onto the system and then those payments will be committed against the job. That will enable us to forecast what our payments are and actually see how much money we’re making on the job… or not.
It’ll be a far more up-to-date way of working than waiting four weeks until we pay the subcontractor – we’re always four weeks behind and we want to stop that. If there’s any difference, the valuation will get reduced and reported on the job. So we’ll be able to see if subcontractors are overvaluing, or if people had issues. Subcontractor valuations are going to be my next rollout.
Would you say that Summit is the go-to system for construction organisations?
Summit is a purely construction-based product. So if you’re in construction, it’s a no-brainer – you should use it. At Neville, as far as the migration was concerned, we never even considered looking elsewhere. We wanted something we could operate smoothly, and we didn’t want all the aggro and stress of moving on to something completely new. We much preferred to stick with something that we knew, but that was better than what we had before.
Why would you recommend RedSky?
Well, aside from the product itself, we have a great relationship with June and the RedSky team. I can talk straight to them. And I always get a lot out of attending the RedSky events. I don’t go to these events for the ‘hard sell’, of course, but I do like learning about the new products, all the functionality that’s available and what might be beneficial for Neville to use.
The events are a great networking opportunity and I do find talking to other Summit users very beneficial: sometimes they have a better method than what I’m using; and sometimes I’m able to listen to their problems and give them the benefit of my experience.
Any final words of advice to your fellow users?
Be prepared. Don’t go in there expecting it to be a walk in the park. Don’t just think that you’ll be able to do it straight away; you have to put the effort in to understand the system. Summit is only as good as you are – learn the product!
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