NEWS / Blog / Thriving in a predominately digital environment


13 JUL 2021


Steven Hale of Crofton explores the importance of leadership for digital transformation.

Steven Hale of Crofton Consulting explores leadership and digital transformation in the second blog of our Cutting Through the Hype series.


n the first blog in the series, my colleague Jon Frost of BWB Consulting stressed how it important it is for digital transformation to flow from corporate strategy. That wise advice certainly holds for my experiences at Crofton Consulting.

We are an SME working across civil, structural and MEP engineering practices. As a senior management team we have embraced digital because we see it as central to our desire to engage directly with clients as a genuine professional services business. We want to be in a place where we can price our work on the basis of the value we add through the asset lifecycle. The alternative is to be trapped into delivering increasingly commoditised design packages as part of a contractors supply chain. 

Leadership for a digital environment
In my contribution to these think pieces, I want however to focus on leadership and culture. Ultimately this is all about changing how the business operates and SMTs must be front and centre in driving change. Whatever your strategic intent, it must translate into changes to process and culture at all levels of the business. Consultancy is still about the people in the business – but we needed to drive behavioural change so that they can thrive in an environment that is now predominantly digital.

Two moments of realisation
We took the decision to fully embrace digital in 2011 following an unsatisfactory experience on a project that used 3D modelling. The project wasn’t a failure but it did make clear to us that as a business we didn’t have the capability to fully exploit technologies that were beginning to transform how our clients expected to engage with the supply chain.

Around the same time, we had a second moment of realisation. The greatest value of Building Information Modelling (BIM) was not in generating 3D models but in exploiting the underlying data to help clients make better decisions. That isn’t to say that models don’t bring benefits for design co-ordination and enabling pre-construction walkthroughs. However, for the business they were really just another commodity product.

Consultancy is still about the people in the business – but we needed to drive behavioural change so that they can thrive in an environment that is now predominantly digital. Steven Hale, Crofton

Tackling legacy culture
So against this backdrop we had to think hard about what the firm needed to do to align our practices with that strategic objective to be a direct provider of high value professional service.

As with any change programme the business faced a host of legacy culture, practice and workflows. A key challenge for Crofton was to close any perceived gap between engineering and BIM so that everyone in the business, no matter what their status or position in the hierarchy, was using the new digital tools consistently.

I am not going to lie and say this has always been easy. We have at times struggled to align the intent of the SMT with the behaviours and cultural norms of middle management and front-line practitioners. This means we haven’t always exploited the full capabilities of technology and that we have periods where progress has been quite linear.

Never waste a good crisis
Our response to COVID 19 has been turning point – and one we’ve embraced it to create the step-change we’ve been looking for.

At the start of the crisis, to keep furloughed or under utilised staff engaged with the business we invested in a training platform backed up with high-quality training.

Getting everyone on this platform has turned out to be key in overhauling workflows and driving a consistent use of software tools. This has delivered the homogeneity necessary at the whole business level to create and manipulate high quality data that can underpin a much wider offering of high value services to our clients. It really is vital to make sure data isn’t trapped inside individual projects and private pools.

It hasn’t however just been a tech-solution. As I said earlier, consultancy remains a people business and we’ve used regular 'cake and learn' sessions that started during COVID to help all staff get on top of the capabilities of the software. Very importantly these sessions have also broken down hierarchies that prevented effective knowledge trading between junior and senior staff. Now anyone in the business can attain the status of expert – something that has been enormously helpful in identifying processes that can be automated, which in turn has freed up more time for high value activity. We’ve also invested in a quality management system that has allowed us to achieve an ISO 19650 (BIM) Kitemark. 

For me all of this is really just a first step. We are now in a position where Crofton has aligned the SMT’s strategy and intent, with the key processes used across the business, and the day-to-day working culture of all our staff. The result is that we’ve created the information pipeline that generates the high quality insight we need to be able to offer more services and more value to our clients.

The campaign, Cutting Through the Hype runs over the summer of 2021 and is led by ACE's digital transformation group. This blog is the second in the series of five exploring digital transformation. Download your copy of the report below.

Steven Hale

Steven Hale


Steven is Treasurer at ACE, formerly chair of the SME forum and a director at Crofton Consulting.


Future of Consultancy - Cutting Through the Hype

June 2021

Helping businesses make critical decisions on digital transformation.