Murphy Group: Building with data to transform construction
Murphy Group’s Head of Digital Construction, Alex Jones leads the infrastructure specialists in meeting the challenges of digital transformation with Oracle and Aconex.
Murphy Group is a multidisciplinary UK-based company, delivering primarily to the infrastructure sector in rail and utilities. A family owned business founded in 1951, with its roots in Ireland, Murphy employs more than 3,500 engineers, professional managers and skilled operatives around the world. It specialises in delivering pipelines; design; marine; structural steel; tunnelling; fabrication; bridges and piling; it invests heavily in a substantial holding of plant, equipment and facilities.Embracing BIM has been integral to Murphy’s 10-year plan to transform the business by 2020.
“BIM is a key vehicle for delivering best value to our customers and underpins our broader digital construction strategy.”
“Certification means that our policy, tools, training and procedures comply with recognised BIM standards, and that we can deliver comfortably in a BIM Level 2 environment. This strengthens our bids and reassures our customers of both our ability and intent to deliver digital excellence,” says Alex Jones, Head of BIM & Digital Construction at Murphy Group.
Murphy Group’s decision to partner with Oracle and Aconex (acquired by Oracle in 2018) was driven by a pressing question. “We looked at our interface architecture and asked: ‘What does Murphy look like in five years’ time?’ to find the smartest way for an infrastructure specialist to work, operate and share information.” He notes that software is becoming better integrated allowing for a smaller, better targeted, suite of solutions: “We went big before we went small. It makes sense to start designing overarching enterprise architecture with a picture of that jigsaw puzzle in mind. The picture is changing all the time so it would be crazy to nail it down and say, ‘That’s what we’re going to do’, because it would be obsolete by the time you'd built it.”
Jones knew what Murphy needed from a common data environment so following a vendor assessment involving eight major players, Oracle and Aconex were chosen, not just as powerful systems, but as user friendly solutions that could be rolled out to teams across Murphy Group. “The training materials are really smooth,” says Jones. “These are world leading tools for a reason. It was a good fit for us as an electronic document management system, but also something we can scale for the future, where we want to develop it into a contract management solution, for managing areas like our early warning agencies. We want to incorporate this with our estimates and bring in the Oracle Primavera P6 (Enterprise Project Portfolio Management) scheduling tool to develop a project controls environment.”
Murphy Group was awarded a multi-billion-pound contract with Network Rail’s HS2 programme. Jones notes it’s now rare to receive a tender like this that doesn’t include digital requirements. “We can’t risk losing rail infrastructure projects because we haven’t up-skilled and aren’t BIM-ready,” he says.The company identified document control had become siloed but with Aconex solutions to control it, efficiencies are being found. “We know of projects that have liquidated damages of £45k per week. Depending on their size, that might be big or small, but it’s unsustainable and outrageous,” says Jones, outlining a scenario he’s encountered with a project running three weeks late: “The actual facility is built and open, ready to go, we've cut the tape, everyone's high-fived each other, but we can't hand over the documentation, which means we can't get paid to liquidate our damages, but also, we've got millions of pounds of retention behind that we’re unable to get hold of because we can't hand over. Looking at the data is more than just BIM and 3D models, it’s excellent information management. Murphy will be so much stronger, just from phase one of rolling out consistent information management across the group.”
Murphy Group is system agnostic in its approach, choosing not to be limited by one vendor... “I'm delighted to have had Aconex and Bentley both in agreement at the same time, to flesh out the right solutions. At the heart of all of this is collaboration, not collusion,” he says. “If I drew out my plan for five years’ time, it's wrong, the minute I've printed it. That's the pace of technology and why we have to make sure we’re open-ended with our application protocol interface (APIs). Open APIs offer an open coding background. People come and see the coding, and they can ask who wants to be able to take information from here. We'll need to put information back into there. This is the coding structure enabling other to build solutions to work in that environment. We have to be scalable, so we have to remain flexible.”
Jones is excited to be able to be draw on the capability of a range of tools to give Murphy’s clients the options they need. “We've tried to map out what our digital upgrading model looks like. I wonder whether our customers, our clients, have actually spent time working out what their asset information strategy is? We’ve seen different divisions of the same company quite schizophrenic about their own ambition,” reveals Jones, offering another good reason for the company to remain agnostic. “We have a duty to be best in class in the construction sector, knowing exactly what our customers want and helping to advise them. I like to see us contracted to be a learned advisor, like a consultant used to be...”
The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) has trusted Murphy to run a level two BIM project with 3D modelling and 4D construction simulation. Jones maintains the challenge now is to make sure the company is delivering: “Using Arup and Aconex, we've been able to, not just share documents and drawings, but also our approvals, workflows, TQs and NCRs. We're now engaging with Jacobs, a notoriously big consulting body, and I’m really pleased we have clients and end users collaborating.”
Jones has operations managers, design managers, document controllers on board and all excited about going digital. “Rather than just having the BIM nerds tell them it's a great new world, it's much better to have peer-to-peer communication and training,” he adds, highlighting that the benefits of going digital with Aconex will be huge. “Just getting drawings from our local agents, from a hundred tablets in the field, will make a massive difference to our business. We've got parts of the company, in the utilities business, where our teams might have various jobs to complete and on contract three, they find out they haven't got the right bit of paper. So, they all come back to the office, for it and it costs the business a fortune - it's ridiculous in a world that should be paperless. So now they've all got Aconex with job packs downloadable to their smartphones.”
Murphy Group’s business transformation journey has seen the company analyse its processes and the technology and tools needed, ensuring they are wrapped around its new values of collaboration combined with an understanding of data security. A ten-year plan is driving the company to become a tier one contractor with a £2bn revenue target, 10% operating margin, and 10% profit margin. “Underlying this, we’ve become smarter,” pledges Jones. “We work on projects where we've got a real USP using our direct delivery model, on tricky schemes other firms won’t touch. Imagine building a hotel over the top of a railway, next to a gas station. Murphy's all over that, where others might shy away... There's opportunity out there for Murphy to grow but to realise this is not just about transforming the operating model, but completing a complimentary digital upgrade that supports it.”
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