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Trades turn to digital tools as workloads keep rising
UK trades firms are investing more in technology to stay on top of costs and manage the increase in demand they predict going into 2022, according to a study by field service software provider BigChange and independent research consultancy Opinium.
The study shows that 85% of firms expect to be busier over the next 12 months, and nearly one-in-five (17%) anticipate that workloads will at least double. Expectations of growth are highest among building maintenance, facilities management, cleaning and waste management firms. At least 88% of business leaders surveyed from these sectors said they expected workloads to increase going into 2022.
But growing demand doesn't mean plain sailing in the year ahead. A total of 73% of respondents said increasing costs for materials and fuel would reduce their profitability in 2022, and 69% said that the higher price of labour would negatively impact their finances.
Almost all (94%) of the firms surveyed expected to increase technology spending in 2022 to help manage extra demand and rising costs. A quarter (23%) say they will spend at least 50% more on digital tools than in the last 12 months.
The median - or middle of the pack - firm expects to increase technology spending by 11% in the next 12 months. Median firms plan to employ 7% more people and increase broader investment in their business by 10% over the same period.
Some 82% of leaders told researchers that good practice in their sector now involved using digital systems to manage their businesses. More than half (54%) said that operations should be automated and optimised within a single system.
Richard Warley, BigChange CEO, comments: "Demand for trades and other services delivered by field-based employees is booming. This is clearly good news for the sector.
"However, it also brings significant challenges. With costs spiralling, firms can't afford to take on and train a proportionate number of new employees.
"Our study suggests that almost all trades businesses are now looking to use technologies proven to make the best use of resources and time. Firms are working smarter as well as harder."
One example is Nserv, which provides facilities maintenance and construction services to retailers, restaurants and care homes across the South East of England. The company, whose headquarters are in Essex, increased its headcount to 57 people, grew turnover by 75% to £5.1 million and delivered a healthy profit in the year to August 2021. Nserv managing director Dean Barber, comments:
"Work with our retail and restaurant customers was affected during the initial lockdown, but we came out of that period three times stronger. We picked up big contracts to support national organisations in the South East and introduced new technology to help manage jobs and our workforce more effectively.
"Growth has been incredible since then. Those contracts boosted the business, we've been bringing sites back online after lockdown, and our slick processes and strong finances help attract new customers every week now. We are hiring across the South East in anticipation of further growth and another good year.
"We've been OK on fuel costs because our people are spread across the South East and live close to where they work, but materials is a tough one. We are quoting market rates and spending a lot more time justifying why they've gone up so much. A quote can end up being inaccurate by the time it's approved.”
Launched in 2013 and based in Leeds, England, BigChange’s field service management software is trusted by almost 1,700 field-based organisations around the world. Employing 200 people and recognised as an outstanding employer with a 2 Star Accreditation from Best Companies, BigChange says its complete Job Management Platform is helping field service businesses win more work, take control of their operations and deliver winning customer experiences.
For more details on BigChange's study and how trades businesses are faring in the current climate, visit:
16th December 2021