The past 12 months have given Luke Allen and his team time to reflect on building their strengths for what their clients truly need. Looking forward to 2021, what are the goals of the company? And how can emerging technologies help them get there? Tangent sits down with Allen, managing director at eviFile, to find out more
November’s news of eviFile being shortlisted in the Yorkshire & Humberside Tech 50 is the latest of successes this year for the Leeds-based firm.
Prior to the national lockdown in March, Luke Allen and his team were continuing to support clients in rail like SPL Powerlines, as well as major utility stakeholders like Drax Power and Water Leak Location Services. As lockdown ensued and infrastructure projects relied more heavily on digital management, Luke tells Tangent that eviFile saw “a huge increase” in what it could do to help rail projects delivery in a safe, secure, and efficient way.
“There was a lot of interest from our rail clients looking for a platform to help our industry continue work with minimum disruption through this period,” the managing director explained. “To best enable them to get through it.”
Since May, eviFile was awarded a £1.6m Innovate UK funding partnership to develop a ‘production control room’ with Mace, 3DRepo, and Mission Room, to build out its capability of real-time site-to-boardroom reporting of ongoing works and revolutionise what it means to manage complex construction projects and programmes, and ensure all stakeholders in the project stay on the same page.
Before that, the focus was how we can work more efficiently. Now, the focus is on how we put that in as a baseline, but also what can we do with the data we’re collecting
Luke explained eviFile’s easy to use, mobile data collection has been a “key lynchpin” in the grant: “We’ve been creating the reports from the datasets that clients need to continue to work through a pandemic safely, but also to create real-time insights on projects,” he said.
“Before that, the focus was how we can work more efficiently. Now, the focus is on how we put that in as a baseline, but also what can we do with the data we’re collecting, and how we can make the data work harder while working safely.”
“An example comes from one of our clients, VolkerRail, who were awarded an “Early Contractor Involvement” contract for early GRIP4 activities just as Covid struck in March. They were able to continue with their TPWS, signal and cable route surveys whilst maintaining social distancing.
“By digitising survey proformas in eviFile, recording data on site and synchronising to live data in the cloud everyone could remotely access dashboards and trackers, with custom exports into PDF and excel.”
That necessity to collect data in the field with ease became a major priority for Luke’s team as rail projects rolled through the pandemic. Following angel investment in June, eviFile “spent a lot of time investing in tools,” Luke notes, “that harness data collection and provides insights on them, rather than simply hoarding data on the progress on sites without direct action coming from it.”
Luke outlined how the firm actioned this change in working practices: “We have released our iOS version, so we’re now available on any device. We’ve really focussed on that ability to collect data in the field, and the ability to help people work more efficiently while delivering insights on projects that people can action through our Microsoft Power BI release.”
In addition to the technical features needed, the pandemic has reaffirmed the point to Luke of the company’s priority to “deliver value” at the coal face of projects and providing support year-round.
“We’ve had to invest more in our onboarding team. What we’re finding is, as clients try to take on more technology, we are being asked to go beyond simply handing them a log-in. To get this to work, it’s all about the people and process piece,” explained the managing director. eviFile has since recruited a customer success lead, to ensure that all firms, from engineers on-site, to admin members in the back office, are getting continual value in their project reportage.
“This is not as straightforward as just configuring a website for somebody,” Luke says. “You’ve got to be there from day one to understand the specific challenges they want to solve, then undertake training, and you’ve got to support them all the way through the life-cycle of that.”
What 2021 holds
As promising news of vaccines continue to buoy public and industry optimism of getting back to regularity, 2021 is a year full of potential for what eviFile can provide its current and prospective client base.
The Innovate UK partnership, for example, will be particularly intriguing as to what Augmented Reality (AR) can mean for managing projects remotely. Mission Room, one of the partners in the project, will combine eviFile’s reporting technologies to provide an immersive video experience to allow project managers to walk around a construction site whilst respecting social distancing measures.
The benefits of 5G, Luke notes, will be a “huge enabler” for eviFile and its clients. Lower latency on the network will allowing not just imagery and text to be fed through eviFile’s reporting software, but also video will become more prevalent in reporting on-site progress.
“While people can’t get on site, that kind of technology is invaluable for people to plan, prep, and make sure that they understand the programme of works to be done, without actually being there,” Luke argued.
“We can see all of these things becoming more and more critical as we continue to work through a pandemic. As we come out the other end, what we and our customers are discovering and more importantly proving is that these are just better ways of doing things, whether you’re in a pandemic or not. People are going to expand the new ways of working, because they appreciate the scale of projects that we’re working on.” If a digital innovation can provide cost savings for 0.1% of a major project like HS2, for example, the savings and learnings for the wider industry could be immense, Luke adds.
As we come out the other end, what we and our customers are discovering and more importantly proving is that these are just better ways of doing things, whether you’re in a pandemic or not
The resounding call from the eviFile MD was to ensure that the pandemic is not simply a temporary driver for digital reporting, and utilising emerging technologies like 5G and AR. “One of the main barriers we have faced pre-2020 was convincing people that this kind of technology was valuable,” Luke said.
“It feels very intangible sometimes to say that deploying mobile work technology, better reporting and workflow processes that are digitised, is of value to an organisation. You’ve almost got to sell the concept: that’s no longer the case.
“At the end of 2021, success for me would be to see that trend continue – and I would hope that we’re not in such a difficult pandemic by the end of the year.”