The Irwin Q&A Case Study
Read this frank Q&A-style interview with Irwin M&E for a detailed account of how the company has harnessed the power of system data to gain important business insights and improve overall efficiency.
Making the most of system data
Irwin M&E Case Study
Kevin Willis is the IT Analyst at Irwin M&E. We asked him about how RedSky software is being used across the company and the massive difference it is making to the business.
Kevin, how long has Irwin been using RedSky and what was your starting point?
We signed up with RedSky in February 2016 and implemented the Service Management package. We started small, with one contract and three or four engineers. We kept things very simple for the first five or six months and were just using the standard tracking screen on the Service Management App.
You attended a few RedSky meetings and roadshows to find out more about the system and what it can offer…
I got speaking to a couple of members of the team, including Gary Marshall and Chris Winson. They told me about what was possible with RedSky’s Document Management and Business Analytics – and the dashboards.
A dashboards session with RedSky Consultant Wayne Simmonds at the User Conference in Milton Keynes proved to be a bit of an eye-opener for you…
He ran through the dashboards set-up and opened up my eyes as to how dashboards could be adapted. He showed me the range of information you can include on the dashboards; how you can set up different dashboards for different types of contract; and how you can ensure that people using the dashboards only see content that’s relevant to their job role.
You went on to book some one-to-one sessions with RedSky consultants…
Wayne came over to help me learn more about getting the most out of the Business Analytics dashboards. I found that very, very useful. I also later had a one-to-one with another consultant on the Planned Maintenance side. It was really excellent. In both cases, I sort of took on their knowledge of what they have done, tweaked it a bit (obviously) and applied it to our business.
Let’s take a moment to look back at how you used to work and then we can compare and contrast that with today’s more efficient approach. Before dashboards came into play, the monthly review meetings were very much a paper-based affair. Who took part in these meetings?
The Operations Director and the Managing Director used to block out a full day for the monthly meeting with the contract managers, who would all turn up with loads of paperwork and Excel spreadsheets.
What did these old-style monthly review meetings involve?
The contract managers would go in one by one. The directors would go through their work, job by job, trying to figure out exactly what stage each project was at. Each contract manager would just have his spreadsheets to work with and would use the conditional formatting built into the spreadsheets to answer questions from the directors about specific jobs. For example, a particular colour would mean that the job was at a particular stage.
How long did the review take?
Each contract manager would be with the directors for over an hour. It would take around seven hours to get through all the meetings. It was a very long day.
Things are very different now, of course…
Instead of spending six to seven hours and blocking out a full day each month for the contract manager briefings, the entire process now takes around two-and-a-half to three hours. They start off at 08:30 and are done by 11:00.
And that’s every contract, every manager and every job?
Yes. It’s all on the dashboards. What has changed is that all the discussions are now based around key tiles on the RedSky dashboards – particularly the ‘overdue jobs’ tile. So out of 100 jobs, let’s say around 77 are where we want them to be, so we only want to look at the 23 that are running behind.
How did you set up the dashboard to flag up the overdue jobs?
We have our own internal KPIs. We think that if a job has been open for four weeks, it should at least be at ‘x’ particular stage. So I set up a tile that flagged up any jobs that are more than four weeks old and that are not yet at stage ‘x’, and added them to the list.
So the directors and contract managers click on the ‘overdue jobs’ tile on their laptop or tablet…
Yes, and then they drill down into individual jobs on that list, to find out the history of the job, the last labour, the materials used and perhaps a reason why the internal target has been missed. All this can be done in just two clicks. They can bash through those jobs, one by one, because they’ve got the tiles on the dashboard; they’ve got the data in front of them.
Have you got multiple reports up and running now?
I’ve got a full suite of reports that are there for my contract managers, the Operations Director and the Managing Director. They are all using RedSky at all of their meetings. They don’t bring along pieces of paper and big Excel spreadsheets any more.
What feedback have you received?
I’ve had a lot of really good feedback from the directors, who now routinely use the dashboards in their meetings. One director told me that it’s so much easier to pick up his tablet, “take RedSky into the meeting” and have all the tiles in front of him – he can then just click into whatever he wants. So the feedback has been very positive.
And you’ve tailored the dashboards to the job roles?
It’s much more efficient and the reporting can be done at the touch of a button. I have it all set up to give the contract managers exactly what they need to do their job. And I have managers who manage little contracts – and they only see their own contracts. There are just three people in the business who will see all of the contracts: the Operations Director, the MD and me.
Do you have an example to share with us – what about your Service Manager’s monthly reports?
As part of our contract with some clients, we have to provide them with a monthly report of every job they have sent us, everything we’ve done, how many targets we met and where each job stands.
What was the old process?
It was a very onerous task for our Service Manager. At the end of the month, he’d have to pore through a spreadsheet to get the figures and he’d be looking at a very old, clunky Access-based database, job by job.
And how about now?
He now clicks a button and the system automatically produces a Contacts Response Report for him to send to the client. I’ve set up the report with filters so that it includes details of all the jobs we’ve received from the client and what status they are at.
How much time is this saving the Service Manager every month?
It used to take him six hours to do all that. Now it takes five minutes because the data’s all there.
What about your Operations Director?
I remember one-morning last year when our Operations Director had a contracts meeting to attend. His laptop had died on him the previous night. He came to me and said: “Can you get me another machine with RedSky on it because there’s no way I’m going back to looking at spreadsheets. I do not want this meeting to be longer than an hour.” I simply got him another laptop, and another login, put him on RedSky and said: “There you go.” It was as simple as that.
Is the visual nature of the dashboards proving very important now?
Yes, we had a massive TV sitting here, hooked up beside the Reactive Maintenance team. The only time it had ever been used was during the World Cup! The manager had always wanted to have some sort of display, showing how we’re doing, day to day. He said to me: “Now that we have dashboard reports going, can you get something up there?” And now it’s up there.
What’s on the TV screen?
It flips every five minutes between a screen showing where all the engineers are, up and down the country; and a RedSky screen showing jobs due today, jobs overdue, KPIs met, and jobs current and open. I’ve recently added the monthly stats on jobs, how many are still open and the proportion of first fixes – that’s a very important metric for our business, it’s what people wanted to see. The TV screen is the first thing people clock when they come up the stairs. It gives them visibility of what’s going on before they even turn on their own computer. There are nine tiles on there now.
Who sees it?
The Reactive Maintenance team sees it and so does everyone in the business as they walk past. I look up at it five or six times a day. It gives a visual idea of how RedSky is working within the business. It updates throughout the day; it’s an active system within the business that people are actively monitoring and using.
Setting it all up is not an overnight task, of course…
It’s taken a wee while to get to where we are now. And you know, there’s only me – I’m not just a data analyst, I’m also the IT person for the company. So my job is not just nine to five RedSky (although sometimes it is); I’m also trying to manage the servers, the phones, all the desktops, all the laptops and the day-to-day IT issues.
So the implementation would have been quicker if you’d had more resources available?
Yes, I think if a company has a team of two to three people to bring the RedSky system in, you can actually do it a lot more quickly. It’s taken us a few years to get to where we are now, but that’s because it’s only me building it; we started off slowly and it has taken us a wee while to figure it out.
Did you get any resistance from users?
There was a bit of resistance, which is understandable when people have been using spreadsheets for the last 20 years. There were a few instances of people ‘doubling up’ and continuing to use the spreadsheets even after I’ve given them the RedSky system, but eventually, they stopped. They quickly saw the value in viewing the information on screen – and they also saw their colleagues using RedSky at meetings and on their laptops, of course.
Is the RedSky mobile Service Management App also working well for the engineers out in the field?
Yes. Rather than ringing in to confirm that they’ve arrived on site and filling in a load of paperwork, the engineers use the App. They simply call up the job on their smartphone, press a button that records their arrival, list their materials, click a couple more buttons to add a signature, then press ‘send’.
What about training?
I had all the engineers back in for a RedSky refresher training exercise in November, to remind them all about how to use the App. I ran two groups: electrical and mechanical. Some engineers have adapted to the digitisation brilliantly, while with others it’s been a nightmare, getting them to move away from paper and their old routines and into a live update system. The session did make quite a difference because we were able to lay the law down and say: “This is the way things are done now.”
Having them all in the one place definitely helped because the not-so-confident ones learned from the engineers who’d been using the system for 18 months – they ended up selling it for us because they were able to show how much easier it is to click a button on RedSky rather than spending loads of time manually filling in spreadsheets. That worked really well and we’re now down to just one or two old-school engineers who are dragging their feet.
What about patchy coverage? Is that problematic?
There are certain rural areas of Northern Ireland that are a little bit sketchy in terms of network coverage, so I have said to the engineers that it’s fine for them to download their jobs in the morning, turn off their data and then update the system later in the day when there’s better reception. For most of them it’s fine. And the main advantage for them is getting rid of the paperwork.
How is this new electronic approach to reactive maintenance improving efficiency?
The managers used to have to phone the engineers for an update. There could be four engineers on a particular contract – that’s four separate phone calls.
The business is big enough now that managers sometimes have to share engineers. I’ve set up the system so that if you want to see all the jobs on the system by engineer, you can see who’s got what job. You can search in many different ways – for example, you can search all jobs by contract, by engineer or by status. And you can look at jobs that are complete but haven’t yet been invoiced; or jobs that have been invoiced but not yet paid.
Now the managers just click a button on RedSky and they have all the information on the screen in front of them. That is an absolutely massive difference to how the company works.
Were there any problems?
The only slight issue we have with the App is that if a boiler breaks down and the engineer has to drop his tools, get in a van and fix the problem within a 30-minute response window, he may forget to log off the first job. It doesn’t happen often. We have got round it by putting trackers in their vans.
Do the helpdesk operatives use RedSky too?
Yes. The people on the helpdesk use RedSky to look at three things: their engineers, their allocated jobs and any jobs that are overdue. If the last visit was more than seven days ago, the RedSky system flags it up to the operative, who then contacts the engineer to see what’s going on. Before RedSky, they just had a job list and it was extremely difficult to keep track of what was going on, because of the high volumes involved.
Is this new way of dealing with reactive maintenance translating into measurable business benefits?
We’ve noticed that jobs aren’t remaining open for anywhere near as long as they used to. We had ones that would sometimes sit for two to three months, especially if an engineer has been moved on to another job… then we would get a call from the client to find out why nothing’s being done and it turns out the materials have been sitting there for eight weeks.
And your new approach means that these problems have been eradicated…
Correct. We no longer have jobs that go missing and just sit there. We report on all the jobs. And obviously it’s better for our clients too – we don’t have clients phoning us to chase up on jobs that have fallen into a wee black hole and have become an issue.
If a job is queried by a client, you simply go onto RedSky, pop in your job number and (from the way I’ve built the view) you immediately get the history, what materials have been used, the job status, how long it’s been at that status and why. That is the killer for our managers – they absolutely love that.
What advice would you give to anyone in the audience thinking about implementing Business Analytics and the dashboard approach?
Try it out. Speak to one of the experts at RedSky. Book a session with a consultant for a day or two – that should be enough, if you have some basic database and system knowledge – and really drill down to what you want to achieve. Bring along a couple of Excel reports that you want to put onto the system. A little bit of their time makes all the difference. You can’t break anything or mess anything up on the database side and you have a test system on there as well.
Really it’s about being prepared to make the most of the data that you have got on the system. You may as well have the best analytics you can. It’s definitely a worthwhile investment, because you then see all the stuff in front of you, ready to go. And it does make your managers’ life a lot better.
You are always very enthusiastic about your RedSky system.
Whenever I talk about it – and even talking to you today – it gives me a bit of a boost. I know RedSky inside out now. When I came in, everything was on paper… I was on the helpdesk for six months, to see how everything worked, and I couldn’t believe the chaos, with all the operatives chasing down paperwork and jobs. There were always a couple stressful incidents a day.
It’s so different now. We just look back and laugh… we don’t work that way any more. We just click a button and get a report. That was a couple of years ago and now it’s all there on the system – every service report and every bit of data is all there within five minutes. I’ve got all my dashboards and tiles running on a five-minute update – that’s important for reactive maintenance. What more do you want?
How embedded is RedSky Business Analytics in your business?
It’s absolutely embedded. A couple of parts of the company are aware of RedSky but not yet using it, but I’d say that 75% of our business now uses it in some shape or form, whether that’s getting the jobs on the devices or reporting on those jobs and even managing them day to day. It’s running smoothly so I haven’t had to do much on it lately, apart from setting up the odd report for a manager every now and then.
What have you been working on lately?
My main focus has been on PPM and Forms.
Tell me about PPM – planned preventative maintenance – you’ve been live with that for about four months. How did the implementation go?
We were using spreadsheets for scheduled testing of things like emergency lights, portable appliances (PAT) and fire alarms, as well as tasks like chimney inspections and boiler servicing.
But we’ve now put in the RedSky PPM module – ventilation, mechanical (other), emergency lighting and fire service – and the Workflow is in too.
We had two options: we ran it for a month with the first option, which in practice didn’t really suit how we worked, so we switched to the second option – the actual PPM designed Workflow tool that’s in RedSky – and it went on very smoothly. We made a couple of little tweaks and it’s been working perfectly since October.
How does it work?
With the Workflow tool, rather than people having to manually update a spreadsheet each month with every job we had to do that month, RedSky does it for them.
They just go into RedSky, look at tickets we need to do for the month, scan through and quickly review them, to validate them against our client list (there’s an option to exclude any that don’t count). They then press a button and the system creates 300 jobs for them on the system. It’s so much quicker than doing it manually.
We do the PPM scheduling completely for one of our biggest clients. Instead of having a load of spreadsheets to contend with (there were 27 tabs, one for each area and then one for each month), it’s now just four pages on RedSky: ventilation, mechanical, electrical and lighting. They just click on each page and as the jobs get completed, the pages will update.
Have you tied the PPM side of things in with Business Analytics?
Yes, the manager who deals with PPM has a dashboard that he can look at every morning for an up-to-date picture of which jobs have been completed, which are under way, how many are outstanding for the month – and where. We’ve used green and red colours to present the information more visually. It’s much better than what happened before, when the manager would often have to call engineers to find out the job status, in order to be able to update the spreadsheet. Now it’s always up to date. We know where we are in terms of progress made within a given month and it’s easy to drill down into the details.
Any other improvements planned for PPM?
I’m looking to introduce an API integration for a couple of clients. We’d give them a login so that they can go onto a portal and view the information for themselves, rather than us sending them reports. I mentioned this to a director of a client organisation and he’s very keen on the idea.
And what will RedSky Forms do for Irwin M&E?
Forms has been my main focus since October and I’ve had a couple of training sessions. We’re trying to digitise all of the onsite forms and pop them onto RedSky. I’m starting off with the Health and Safety ones. They are based around our site audits.
Our health and safety managers and contract managers will all be responsible for picking a site at random, looking at all the jobs that we’re doing there and making sure that our engineers are complying with health and safety regulations. The form has 60 questions and can be completed on the RedSky Forms App on a phone. Then once the data is on the system, you just press a button to print out a nice-looking report.
You’re currently in the testing stage for RedSky Forms, which eventually you’ll be tying in with Business Analytics…
A health and safety officer has been testing it on site since the start of this month – she’ll be filling out a paper form at the same time, during the test period. It’s at the very early stage… pre-rollout, which is an opportunity for me to fix any broken links that she spots. But by the end of the month, I’ll say to her: “Right, you’re live and good to go.” And then I’ll move on to some of the other health and safety forms.
I’ve got a list of ideas for forms, given to me by the contract managers. Basically, we’re trying to get rid of the paper. And we’re trying to be as consistent as possible.
How easy is it to create digital Forms on RedSky?
Once you’ve got your head around how to do it, it’s fine. You also have to build it so that when you get to the end of the process you can print the information out in a report. RedSky has been absolutely brilliant in helping me with the Forms and the PPM modules. They are always willing to answer any questions I have.
And will you in time be using Business Analytics to analyse the Forms data?
Two-way communication is very important when developing a system to suit a business…
I have a monthly meeting with the Operations Director, the MD, the Client Manager, the PPM Works Manager and the Reactive Maintenance Manager. I tell them anything I’ve done that month and I ask them if there’s anything more they’d like from the system. I wouldn’t have a clue how to do their job, but I can help them get the information they need for their role.
And that process has led to your next RedSky project.
I’ve been asked to develop notifications to flag up to the managers. There are always things they want to keep track of and particular jobs they want to keep an eye on, especially big ones. Rather than them having to go into the system to access the latest data, they’ll get a notification if the job goes over a certain spend or if it has been open for a long time without any labour on it, for example. We’ve got a meeting about that shortly, to see what we could use it for and whether it would be worthwhile for our business.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to take the next steps on their digital transformation journey?
The main thing is: don’t be afraid of the change. Although the first few months may feel difficult, it’s well worth pushing through. Don’t allow yourself to get disheartened. Work through any teething problems. Get the data on the system and start using it, day to day.
RedSky Service Management and Business Analytics have completely changed how we work. We have full visibility on every job – and the ability to drill down without having to make loads of phone calls and chasing around the country. It’s so quick now to get information in front of the people who need it – and I’ve structured things so that everyone just sees what they need to, in order to make their job easier, better and more enjoyable.
Once the data is on the system and you start running reports, a few months down the line you start to see patterns. And that’s what Business Analytics is all about: using the knowledge gained from the analysis to improve the business.
Can you put a figure on the amount that RedSky is now saving you?
I can’t give you an exact figure, but what I can say is that it’s definitely saving us a lot of time and effort. Before RedSky, our engineers were getting through between five and seven jobs a day – now they are doing 20% more on average, because they’re not bogged down with paperwork.
Our ‘jobs outstanding’ numbers are what we report back to client – they have dropped from 30% to 20% and that’s all down to efficiencies achieved through RedSky.
Has there been an impact on staff morale?
RedSky has removed a lot of pressure, frustration and unnecessary administrative work – instead of taking an hour to prepare for a meeting, it now takes five minutes. Reports can be produced at the touch of a button. And instead of spending an hour finding one job and updating four locations manually on spreadsheets, it takes two minutes. We never now hear the war cry: “Where’s the paperwork?”
RedSky has made a massive difference to our business.
About Irwin M&E
Irwin M&E is a contractor that provides the full range of mechanical, electrical and FM services to clients across the public and private sectors throughout the UK and Ireland. It has a workforce of around 150, including office personnel and engineers out in the field.
RedSky software enables construction companies to achieve and maintain competitive advantage. We make real-time actions visible, enabling you to control change, eliminate risk and achieve ongoing incremental gains from improved operational efficiency. Across all types of construction and contracting projects our software is scalable, modular and proven to improve performance and productivity.
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