More time to grow — how HBL Associates use Synergy to stay nimble

How does a growing consulting engineering business keep progressing without losing their responsiveness to staff and client growth? We ask HBL Associates’ Liam Massey how they used Synergy to save an average eight admin hours a day.

HBL Associates is a civil and structural engineering consultancy with an impressive depth of knowledge and experience. Also impressive, according to director Liam Massey, is the company’s capacity to scale — both for the growth of their business and employees, and for the size of their projects.

Massey started as a trainee technician and worked his way up to director.

“HBL Associates has been going for nearly 30 years, expanding organically over that time to employ twenty-two staff,” Liam says.

“Our clients range from private individuals and small businesses up to FTSE 100 companies. It’s quite a broad spectrum we work on.”

As a growing consulting engineering business, the question for HBL became how to keep progressing without losing flexibility with staff and client growth.

Time is (not) on our side

“Three of us became associate directors at the same time,” Massey says.

“That kickstarted the look at Total Synergy as we wanted to find better ways to run the practice and project management, which, until then, involved a lot of spreadsheets in various locations.

“Spreadsheets mean there’s a large possibility of error and a lot of time went into keeping these spreadsheets up to date. With the manual input there was always the possibility that certain stages in the construction process might have invoicing delayed, for example.

“The problem is that spreadsheets don’t scale with the business,” he says.

“These were Excel spreadsheets that we’d created years ago and added to, and added to, when we needed to record more things. The spreadsheet system was kicking out information that was helpful, but it wasn’t the full picture the business needed. We had to take a step back and consider what additional information we needed to be able to keep the business growing.”

Time to step back and see the bigger picture

“We were just waiting for the right solution, essentially. We recognised that software like Synergy would give a certain amount of time back,” Massey says.

“You can track business and projects a lot more easily with Synergy. Even though we’ve got very different sizes of contracts, we can now keep a track of them all in a single, central location.

“[The old spreadsheet system] was quite limited in what it produced because it relied on us adding to them as we went along. Whereas the joy of working with software like Synergy is that you’ve gone out into the [architectural, engineering, and construction design] AEC industry and asked what we need. You’ve incorporated that into Synergy and it feels like it is designed for our specific needs. We’re getting information that we now see we need, but we might not have realised previously. It’s certainly a massive value added in being able to look at the business as a whole.”

In it for the engineering, not the spreadsheets

HBL Associates is a consultancy with a passion for engineering at its heart. Juggling spreadsheets and labouring over data input was costing engineering time. Asked what he loves most about his work, Liam says it’s the satisfaction of seeing your innovative solutions being constructed.

“When you get a tricky engineering scenario, you sit down and think about how it has to be constructed and then at the end of the project you take a step back and you look at your creation,” he says.

“If you look at [the amount of time] saved with Synergy, I’d say it’s probably ten percent, overall, per engineer. If you just add up the number of hours that you stage a project… I mean, every single engineer’s finding Synergy a lot easier to work with.”

If we take Liam’s advice and look at his estimation of time saved using industry-specific business and project management software (ten percent of time for every engineer), we can start to get a feel for the amount of time HBL Associates has been able to win back.

If eleven of HBL’s employees out of twenty-two are engineers, and we average their billable time to be 40 hours per week — some will work more, and some less — then the sums turn out the frightening equations below.

11 (engineers) x 40 (hours per week) = 440 engineering hours per week → 10% of 440 is 44 (hours per week saved)… That’s a staff cost to the business of more than 1 engineer. Full time. Working on administration.

We’ve certainly simplified this in order to demonstrate the point, but whichever way you look at it, those saved hours can be immediately redeployed on billable project delivery work.

A good business and project management software solution can give you that time back to spend on the work that you actually love.

Scalable success — the forest and the trees

Liam Massey has always been clear that HBL’s management software needed to be scalable, both in terms of the size of the business itself and the scope of their projects.

“We’ve taken Synergy on board at this stage to improve our structure around tracking and billing project delivery work,” he says.

“The next step is to grow with the software and tap into all the additional functionality around document management and project collaboration”.

HBL is a prime example of how a scalable, cloud project and business management software, used well, can help a growing AEC business become more effective and efficient. That efficiency gives the business more time to be responsive to growth, and the team more time to work on what they’re passionate about – engineering.

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