How does a busy international specialist engineering consultancy make sure its business is always on track? We checked in with someone very well placed to answer that question — Sam Liptrott, director (London) at OFR Consultants.
The UK OFR offices have as many as 150 active projects at a time that Sam and his fellow directors and managers need to be on top of. A system that helps give visibility into the real state of progress on all of those projects is critical.
All building projects must comply with safety legislation and regulatory benchmarks. The problem is that the rules associated with those standards can be difficult to interpret and, if applied uncritically, can restrict a building’s design.
The firm’s primary focus is on reducing risk. It offers services ranging from building regulations advice, expert witness support, computational modelling, fire systems’ specifications to strategic operational fire advice. Around 65 percent of its work is in design phase and 35 percent in post-completion.
Landlords’ focus has sharpened following tragedies in recent years like the one at Grenfell Tower, so OFR’s expertise is much in demand.
“People are much more switched on about proper fire safety management than they were before,” Sam said.
In terms of the consultancy’s business and project management systems before Synergy, “most practices start with a database and add functionality over the years, like timesheet and expense-management,” he said. “With multiple systems like that, you have multiple logins —security and password management turns into a real nightmare. What’s great about Synergy is that it’s all there in one place and much easier to manage.”
Sam has to oversee a great deal of work and it can be a challenge for him to keep track of it all. The thing he is the biggest fan of in Synergy is the ability to ‘helicopter’ work.
“We have so many active projects going on, but they’re all at different stages of completion. Synergy enables us to ‘fly low’ and see how individual projects are progressing, but also hover up a level and see how things are going in a more macro sense.
“With Synergy, I can see how we’re faring regionally, where we are with cash flow right now, how profitable projects are across the board, and find any areas where cash is coming in too slowly. This is a fantastic way to see overall business and project performance.
“It’s the depth of easily accessible information across multiple projects at various stages of completion that I get with Synergy. I like things that are intuitive and give me something useful back, and both of those statements are true of Synergy,” he said.
“Now I can see at a glance if there is the remaining budget available given how far along the project has progressed. I can see when, say, 50 or 75 percent of the budget is nearly spent.”
Sam says OFR are now able to use the Synergy cloud software platform as a veritable swiss-army-knife of practice management.
“It’s our project accounting tool but also a customer relationship management platform,” he said. “Then it’s what we use to do budgeting. It helps us keep in touch with key clients and maintain the relationships that a firm like us really needs. It’s also our expenses system, and the way we track engineer time against projects, progress against spend…”
In fact, the package seems to dovetail quite perfectly with his job which is, as he sees it, “to know how far along we are in the design”.
“We want to spend our time making sure buildings work and are safe. The less time we spend on admin and number crunching, the better … And that’s what Synergy gives us.”