With the advent of Covid affecting not just the way we work, but how we interact with our clients and peers, we would like to invite you to hear about the challenges we have faced and the approaches we have taken to overcome them in the last year, what the future holds and indeed our journey prior to Covid.

We will be talking about our journey by exploring several facets of our firm, the challenges the wider industry faces, and the key role professional service firms play in society. Whilst we have broken these down into key areas they are inextricably linked and must be considered holistically. For example, we cannot deliver high-quality design without high calibre engineers who are keeping up to date with technology and legislation changes through CPD and training. This reflects on the business model and how we manage that in the current environment.

An overarching philosophy which binds this all together is that of Sustainability!

Sustainability

Sustainability has been a much misused and abused term, so I’ll clarify what we mean by this.

We have reflected on the Five Capitals model of Sustainability, developed by the Forum For the Future, in considering how we are planning and developing the firm.

This approach takes a much wider view of the Sustainability issue identifying five “Capitals” which an organisation employs to deliver their service.

These are –

  1. Natural Capital: Natural resources, waste and recycling, natural processes such as climate.
  2. Human Capital: People, Health, Knowledge, Motivation
  3. Social Capital: Families, Communities, Businesses
  4. Manufactured Capital: Material Goods and Assets that contribute to the production process.
  5. Financial capital: Enabling the other capitals to be traded.

I will leave you to read the link which explains in more detail what each of these comprise. It very much reflects my comment that the various aspects of an organisations business need to be holistically linked – in fact, they are, and if this is not recognised and acted on, then the long-term outcomes will not be successful. (In my view!)

The Zero carbon Journey

Of course, an urgent call for action is that of dwindling natural resources and damage to the environment from carbon emissions cause.

The construction industry has been putting increased emphasis and effort into addressing the technical issues around reducing carbon emissions, and it has really been an issue that Crofton has taken an active role in since its formation.

Over the last 5 years or so it seems the pace of change is “hotting up” (If you will excuse the reference!), and one of the positive outcomes that may come from the pandemic is policymakers addressing the issue with renewed vigour and financial support; we really do owe it to our children to leave the planet in no worse a condition than the one our parents left to us. I think we can and should do better than that aiming to leave a legacy or renewal.

The buildings currently under construction will be used for at least the next 40 to 50 years, so as well as the importance of the embodied carbon in their construction clearly the ongoing emissions in their use and maintenance is a key contributor to achieving government commitments to reducing emissions.

So, in our design work, we are continuing to strive to introduce innovative low carbon approaches, that practically work for users and maintenance teams. We have been privileged to work on several interesting projects which are at the forefront of the drive to reduce operational carbon emissions.

We will be pleased to outline a selection of project profiles that we hope you will find informative, which includes one of the first (if not the first) “Active Haus” scheme. This is an advance on the “Passive Haus” system. We also look at some contemporary heat network schemes, and examples of modern heat pump schemes.

When it comes to our day to day working, we have also had to make changes, reducing waste moving to digital mark-up and collaboration to avoid unnecessary paper and energy use and we will explain how that was approached and indeed how things have changed in the last year.

Collaboration

This is an aspect of Social Capital – how we interact internally and externally. There are many links into our Digital Journey here where we are reaching out to improve expertise in the industry, with fellow professions.

The future of how we use office space is/has changed. We have reflected on this and have some proposals on collaborative working to explore with you.

The Digital Journey

Binding all our firm – just like yours – is, of course, our digital systems. This is not just about the design software we employ, but very important how we are using it to link and work as a team and to manage our productivity.

In the current “Covid” environment linking remotely working staff into teams productively has been a critical contribution of the digital environment. Yes, that means Teams, and Zoom meetings, that we all now are familiar with, but it also means using planning and programming facilities to ensure a cohesive effort. The quick conversation at the water cooler or at a desk to review is not an option now.

Apart from the “management” side of utilising this technology, there is the contribution it has made to maintain morale and keeping people communicating in less formal ways. This is important to wellbeing and mental health for individuals who may well be finding the “bedroom office” somewhat claustrophobic after all this time.

We have always sought to be at the forefront of technology and emerging thought. Again, our digital systems are helping us keep up to date. We have introduced online learning for a range of technical and non-technical subjects that allows staff to learn at their own pace. There is naturally training from external sources, which take the form of traditional CPD sessions – online. We encourage people to pursue an interest and to share their expertise with others.

All this contributing to the wellbeing and efficiency of our “Human” capital – (you see what I did there?).

The other massively important aspect of this is the rapidly approaching industry standard of using the BIM philosophy to manage and procure design output.

In fact, we started on our “BIM” journey some 5 or 6 years ago and continued to invest despite the challenge the year has provided. In November we were accredited with the BSI Kitemark™  for ISO 19650 .  It has been an interesting journey, during which we have invested time (=money!) in honing our systems to achieve high-quality output in a standard format, and in a structured environment to make it convenient and time-efficient for our engineers to use.

We will tell you how that was managed and what the challenges were, together with our view of the new opportunities and how we are planning to share some of our work with the design community.

The Business Model

Since the first day we opened our doors the firm has been founded on the principle that it should have a positive impact on the communities and people we touch. If fact our view is the broader professional service sector has a positive impact on society through the interpretation of knowledge, be that the nurse treating “Covid” patients, the engineer designing the hospital that treatment is taking place in and yes, I will say it the lawyer ensuring that everyone has access to justice.

The rise of free knowledge has however put the stress on the business model of all professional service firms that traditionally generated income from selling the time of the qualified professionals employed in the firm. As knowledge becomes free at the point of consumption, why would you want to pay for the interpretation of that knowledge when you can get the answer from Google, resulting that interpretation being viewed as any other commodity and putting pressure on firms to reduce cost placing their very existing in jeopardy and risking the social good that these firms offer.

It would be easy to push back and seek intervention by legislators. We do not believe that to be the right approach, our view is that we should embrace the change and develop new ways to generate income that allow the firm to continue to provide the key role of developing high quality-built environment assets that serve the communities they are in.

To that end, we instigate a programme of R&D developing intellectual property that we retain ownership of can licence for income generation and positive feedback to further R&D efforts. To date we have one patent filing for our mobile phone-based laser scanning technology, Cloud Chamber, have established a new start-up ‘EngPA’ (we are engineers so forgive us the quirk of this being the Klingon translation of Cloud Chamber) to commercialise the product and in testing with a major infrastructure client.

Our second R&D effort started in 2019, continuing through the lockdown and seeks to unlock asset improvement for our clients through machine learning by bringing together the data they hold in multiple silos in a consistent platform. We will keep you posted on this as it develops.

In short, we aim to re-invent what it means to be a professional service firm in the 21st century.

In Conclusion

We hope to open a dialogue and foster thought around the subjects that we have found to be the main challenges for us over the last few years and indeed over the last “Covid” year. I am sure some of our fellow consultants will have encountered these issues and have had to tackle the same issues. It will be interesting to hear what other people’s / organisations views are. Ideally, we can all learn something about the way we are now working, and the direction the industry is headed both technically and in terms of socially / work practice wise.

I look forward to sharing these subjects with you over the forthcoming weeks. The most important “Capital” is Human. So, In the next blog we will be talking about how the Covid crisis has affected the people in our business and the efforts we have made to keep everyone happy and productive!