Over recent years, procurement and job management in the construction industry has become increasingly digitised, allowing contractors to maximise their time on site. But there has been one notable exception: the purchase of structural beams. Up to now, contractors have continued to wait for quotes and drive to fabricators to make their purchase, consoling themselves that the trusted relationship is worth the trip and the time out of their working day.
It was this anomaly in an otherwise increasingly convenient and streamlined supply chain process that prompted Tom Baker, the MD of British steel supplier Baker Steel Trading, to start a new digital venture – an online and mobile marketplace for procuring structural beams. To this end he has started a separate second business, Buy A Beam, with the aim of bringing a ‘Just Eat’ marketplace experience to beams supply and purchase.
“Once drawings have been accepted, clients are generally in a hurry and want to get moving quickly,” Tom explains. “But, up to now, sourcing structural beams has been a bottleneck. Buy A Beam changes all that, providing a 24/7 ordering facility, and the ability to get an instant quote – via a computer or mobile device.”
Tom knew exactly the experience he was aiming for with the new venture. The next step was to find a suitable software partner to build the mobile app and web store.
It was a strong relationship from the outset, characterised by great customer service. I met with Nick, the MD, and felt I was getting a personalised service; I wasn’t just an account number.
A trusted business advisor introduced Tom to bespoke development company DCSL Software, which he himself had used to build a system for his tool hire company. The early specification meetings were very encouraging. DCSL Software is a Microsoft Gold Partner, and uses the latest technology to create intuitive solutions that fulfil specialist requirements.
“We sat down and mapped out what I wanted, and DCSL were very proactive in asking questions and suggesting what we could do,” Tom recalls. “It was a strong relationship from the outset, characterised by great customer service. I met with Nick, the MD, and felt I was getting a personalised service; I wasn’t just an account number. And they’ve been in regular contact all the way through, checking with us that everything is alright, rather than presenting something at the end which might not have been what we expected.”
Initially, the app and web store supported product selection and ordering – functionality that is now being broadened to include fuller trading management, such as automated order processing, and invoice and job sheet management, to ease administration and reporting for registered users.
The Buy A Beam app and web store allow purchasers to enter a postcode and select a supplier from that area, see a list of their products, customise these and create new orders, and manage these digitally.
The evolving administration system supports order and supplier management; the addition of new products; and the setting of base prices for products and processes including delivery options (which can be overridden by suppliers). Suppliers can also specify their delivery areas and print off worksheets for accepted orders.
New suppliers can be added to the system too, and existing ones managed, along with the accounts of clients that have registered with the app. (The administration system provides the API that receives queries by the mobile app/retail site for user/order/product information.)
“We wanted the digital experience to be as easy and intuitive for both parties as possible, and that is what DCSL has achieved,” Tom says. “The live system carries some 400-500 products, each with multiple configuration options, so ensuring that all these options could be easily set by the end user and that the final price would take everything into account properly was critical,” he notes.
Importantly, the channels can be used interchangeably: suppliers and buyers can interact with the digital platform via the web store or mobile app using the same account details, for complete continuity and convenience.
We wanted the digital experience to be as easy and intuitive for both parties as possible, and that is what DCSL has achieved
Tom projects that Buy A Beam will account for £1 million of structural beam purchases per month, once the UK construction industry adapts to this new and more convenient means of doing business. In addition to the streamlined buying process for contractors, suppliers will benefit from a more automated means of capturing smaller orders, freeing up their teams to process larger requirements.
Over time, as well as extending the administrative capabilities of the app and web store, Buy A Beam plans to grow its product range to incorporate timber and concrete beams as well as steel products. “The goal is to be a one-stop-shop for any kind of structural beam,” Tom says.
Of his experience of working with DCSL Software, he concludes, “I’ve been genuinely impressed with the team’s work ethic, their talent for what they do, and their communication, customer service and support throughout. We’re already collaborating on the next phase of development, and I look forward to a long and fruitful partnership.”