Lewis Builders Ltd are located in the Western Isles of Scotland and provide Building services, Civils,  Plumbing ( gas and oil services) for both commercial and domestic contexts as well as Electrical and Refrigeration. 

We interviewed Ewen Maclean, Facilities Maintenance Manager at Lewis Builders Ltd, about how they’ve adapted to Covid-19 and how Okappy is working for them! Read on for more…

Tell us a bit more about Lewis Builders Limited and what you guys do. 

We started as a construction company in 1989. Since then we’ve progressed into being a multi-trade organisation. We are involved with plumbing, gas and oil, for both commercial and domestic contexts. We also work in areas of electrical and refrigeration. 

Within the building sector we pretty much cover all trades, ranging from scaffolding and joinery, to painting and decorating. We’ve grown quite substantially  over the last 10 years or so, and it’s much easier to have everything underneath the one roof! We cover the whole of the Western Isles from the Isle of  Barra all the way up to the Isle of Lewis. There are about 70-80 people in the company with about 15 office and management staff, and around 60 engineers. 

We use Okappy for managing smaller jobs that we used to use job cards for. Now we’ve got about 20 different people using tablets to manage these types of jobs.

What made you get Okappy?

I started with the company just over 7 years ago and I have always  been  involved with looking after reactive/facilities maintenance. We started getting quite a lot of work from FM companies looking after the supermarkets up here. That then went to looking after the post and sorting office and various other commercial properties. Then about 2 years ago, we got a substantial size contact with the local council looking after all the council properties on the island.

Often the islands can be slower to uptake to technology, but we knew that on the mainland most of the management was being done digitally with handheld devices. A lot of the FM companies now want to have access to a system that gives them reference points for information around job timings and location, e.g. for when you’re going on-site and sign onto the job etc.

We knew that digital was the way things were going, but we were a bit hesitant to start with because of what the cost may be. In order to keep all the operatives working on facilities maintenance jobs, going fully digital would require us to buy an individual tablet or iPad for each person, on top of buying the software and training program. So we thought it was going to be quite a costly thing. 

Then obviously with everything that’s happened with Covid-19, we felt that now was the time to go as paperless as possible. Covid-19 pushed us to make the jump to digital a bit sooner, but it seems to be working pretty well for us so far!

Before Okappy, were you paper-based, or did you have another kind of digital management software that you used?

We essentially used paper job cards with an excel-spreadsheet-based system. We logged all the job information that way and did monthly reviews on the system to see what jobs went out, what ones we hadn’t billed for yet, and what ones were on hold etc. It was straightforward, but very time-consuming and there was a lot of paper involved!

A job card would be sent out and when it came back, it would come back with other bits of paper from the different companies who had their own job sheets they wanted signed as well. You were coming back with four sheets of paper! Then there was the invoice to go on top of that! A paperless system seemed to be the best way to avoid this kind of excess movement of paperwork between people. It’s worked out really well for us so far!

How much time has it saved?

We’re still in the very early stages, as we’ve only had the system for 5 or 6 weeks so far [July 2020]. During the first couple of weeks, we were still running a skeleton crew back from reopening after COVID. I’d say we’ve been using it in full swing now for about 4 weeks.

In terms of raising a job, and sending job information out – it’s been a massive time saver. We’re still learning different things and we’ve been really lucky that any question we’ve posed has been answered by the Okappy team pretty quickly as well! I can’t say that there’s anything I’ve asked that we haven’t been able to come to some sort of agreeable solution with. It’s worked very well for us.

 We do have some people who are not so used to technology that are slower on the uptake, but even they’ve noticed that there’s a massive difference in the time it takes to set up a job and send them out. It’s definitely for the greater benefit long-term for us – without a doubt! I can only see it getting better and better for us, as soon as we get used to it.

Are you planning on using it to collaborate with subcontractors and other people in your industry? 

Every different company we work for uses their own system for monitoring jobs, but it’s something that we’re going to possibly think about later.  I think getting it working for us first, before we start introducing any of our subcontractors is the best way forward.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business? Could you talk more about how it was a tipping point for thinking about going digital?

Covid-19 was the tipping point for us going fully digital. If Covid-19 hadn’t happened, we would have eventually gone down this route, but probably would have introduced it on a smaller scale with one contract at a time. 

We cover pretty much all the trades for the local council. That’s around 200 different sites between all the schools, care homes and places like that. We would have possibly been using it on those contracts first and reviewed how it would’ve worked, before introducing it across more and more of the stakeholders that we work for.  When Covid-19 came along it pushed us down the line of going as paperless as possible. 

We’ve introduced it across the whole company for every minor contract that we have. It’s probably been a good thing in a way because we’re pushing ourselves into just bringing it across the board, which I think is quite important.

Has the experience of Covid-19 and having to adapt, and then implementing Okappy, made you think about any other ways of growing the business?

We were at that crossroads  as a company anyway.  The company was set up by 2 people and one of them actually just retired a few weeks ago. Our company structure was changing and 2 new management people have come in. We had to change quite a lot of the systems and policies that we had. It’s definitely a growth stage for us.

We’re putting money into having new vans and new machinery that’s required. We’ve upgraded a lot of our welfare facilities. 

But we have to remember – it’s one step at a time. We’ve got operatives that are not so used to this kind of technology and it takes time to adapt. We’re changing a system that’s been in place for more than a decade and we’ve got to be careful. But, we’re definitely adapting and looking to grow in any way that we can!

What’s the best thing about Okappy?

I would say the best thing about Okappy is just being able to get instant updates on jobs. I used to get upwards of 15 calls a day asking me for an update on a job and what’s required, so being able to go in and just have all the information there, when they signed on, whenever the job’s complete, photos of any parts that are required and what was done on the job – it’s just brilliant! It’s such a massive, massive time-saver on my side of things.

Is there anything else that you’d like to share that we haven’t covered?

I would just say that everyone we’ve dealt with within Okappy has been extremely helpful. It’s maybe a cliched thing to say, but we’ve dealt with Joe and there’ve been a couple of different people that have helped us with technical issues. Joe was especially fantastic, and did a lot at the start. I think it’s a great system. Like I said, we’re still learning and adapting to it, but I see it being very beneficial for us in the future.

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