More and more businesses within the construction and rail industries are starting to realise: paper is out, digital is in. And the benefits of embracing the trend are undeniable. But how do you get your digital transformation off on the right foot? 

The rate of technological advancement over the last decade has had a huge impact on industries across the board. Business innovation through digitising is now commonplace. However, some sectors are slower to adapt than others. This has certainly been the case with rail and construction.

Construction and rail are admin-heavy industries; a large part of this being due to the rigorous health and safety regulations in place within these high-risk working environments. Also simply trying to keep track of who is where, when, and what they’re working on, can cause an administrative headache on these disparate work sites. 

The manual nature of these sectors isn’t reserved to on-site workers; many administrative teams and managers within rail and construction are still using the same manually completed, paper-based forms they’ve used for years. 

Although these reports are tedious to create, distribute, complete, and collect, they’re intrinsic to the safe and efficient running of a worksite. This information should never be left or half attempted — it needs to be complete, accurate, and punctual every time to avoid accidents and, if found to be non-compliant with regulations, hefty fines. 

Digital transformation holds the key to solving the common problems managers find with their processes. But how do you start digitising, and convince your team that digital is the way forward? Read on or download our digital transformation eBook to find out…

Costs of using paper 

Before any digital journey is started, it’s important to look at existing costs. The deduction to a business’s bottom line when using paper-based processes is quite frankly terrifying. Aside from the buying and printing costs, there are a whole host of not-so-obvious factors such as time wasted on chasing down missing information or petrol costs for the members of the team driving to and from various persons in charge for sign-off. According to McKinsey, employees spend 1.8 hours every day (that’s 9.3 hours per week on average) searching for and gathering information. The amount of money wasted on this sort of activity is unavoidable when using paper-based forms. 

Then there’s the human error issues like filling in timesheets incorrectly, leading to overpaid staff. It’s all too easy to fluff timesheets when they’re paper-based, or even get one of your colleagues to sign in for you. 

The obvious big cost is the fines and penalties you could receive if your documentation doesn’t comply with regulations. Business functions like Health & Safety and Human Resources are increasingly under pressure to meet strict compliance goals in heavily regulated industries such as rail, construction, facilities, energy and renewables. 

While it’s true that tracking competencies, site inductions, safety briefings and work procedures saves lives and prevents injuries on-site, it can also play a part in avoiding litigation too. Accidents do happen, and the ability to provide indisputable evidence that proper standards, processes and policies were communicated, understood and adhered to can be an organisation’s only protection from the law when something does go wrong.

It’s considerably easier to flout the rules, even accidentally, when using a manual process. Digital solutions empower managers to impose restrictions on form submission; if something is incorrect or missing from a document, they can be automatically blocked from submitting, forcing a higher quality of reporting. 

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Business implications of not going digital 

Making the transition from paper-and-pen processes that have been embedded within a business for decades can be a daunting prospect; even more so when you deal with hundreds of these paper-based critical forms on a daily basis. However, the implications of not digitising are considerably worse than a bit of business change; we can go much further than simply the cost of paper. 

The impact of not digitising on the wider business is considerable. It touches every department in one way or another, and could lead to the stagnation of your success. Attracting and retaining staff for one is hugely important for the continuation of an industry. If a sector doesn’t appeal to the younger generation beginning their career journeys, it creates an employment gap.

The future of rail and construction is in the hands of the digital generation; they have grown up surrounded by technology and are very comfortable using it, so the processes within the job they choose need to meet their expectations. Outdated paper-based and manual processes will alienate the tech-savvy youth of our modern world. 

Staying relevant within the supply chain is paramount. If the competition is seen to be digitising, as many clients are themselves, they’ll have the upper hand when going for tender bids as they will be seen to be innovative and exciting. It’s common knowledge that efficiency is boosted significantly through digitising, and this is something clients will take into consideration. In order to continually be getting new business, you need to stay competitive and adapt to the changing expectations of the people you work with. 

How do I start my digital transformation journey?

As Elbert Hubbard once said, “The best way to get ahead is to get started.” But how to get started on your digitisation journey?

You’ve looked at how much paper and manual processes are costing you, as well as the wider business implications, you’ll have a good idea of the potential risk in the future if you maintain your existing processes. This can feel like a huge burden, but the good news is, it’s a surprisingly easy problem to solve if you have a digital transformation guide. Even if your business doesn’t have a dedicated technical lead, digital transformation can be made simpler by knowing which external experts to work with, and how to break down the challenge into manageable chunks. 

Here are the initial questions you need to be asking before starting your digital journey:

1. Which processes are unnecessarily costing your team the most time? 

Focus especially on those processes that involve your leadership or senior management, rather than your admin team, for two reasons: firstly, time is money and they’re the most expensive people in your business; secondly because they should be focussing their energies on more important commercial imperatives that have an immediate impact on profitability — such as sales. 

2. Which processes are your team most frustrated with? 

Even if they don’t represent the heaviest financial cost, these are the problems that are causing your staff the most distress and are likely having a detrimental effect on staff morale and your company culture. An employee who can’t do their job properly due to a broken system is not a happy one. According to PayScale, 27% of employees leave their current job for an opportunity to do more meaningful work elsewhere. 

3. Which processes do your competitors seem to be getting right? 

You just know they’ll be talking about their iron-clad compliance and rapidly declining NCR rates in tenders, making everyone else look old-fashioned and out of date by comparison. In fact, they don’t even need to be getting it right; they just need to be getting it less wrong than you. 

4. Which are the ones your staff are talking about? 

Speak to your team in order to find out what your competition is getting right. Staff who have worked for, or alongside their counterparts on-site, in previous roles, joint ventures or sub-contracting arrangements will have plenty of tech envy, and will be ready to tell you where you’re missing the mark. And listen well; after all, these are the competitors who will eventually poach all your best people. 

5. Which processes and factors might be losing you work? 

Think about your safety and quality compliance workflows and how they, or your track record in executing them, might have an impact on how you score in tender bids. Large contracts, especially in the public sector, come with stringent demands where safety and quality are concerned, not to mention the move toward carbon neutrality. If your competitors are already fully digital, they’re probably scoring comparatively high in all these areas. 

6. Which processes have historically resulted in NCRs, litigation, insurance claims or injuries? 

While serious negative outcomes might be few and far between, their impact on a business can be deep and far-reaching, either due to heavy financial penalties, or the lingering reputational damage that inevitably follows. These penalties can range from relatively easy to quantify (fines and legal costs) to extremely difficult (opportunities lost due to a company’s soiled reputation), but even a high-level estimate should highlight a few key areas of concern. 

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s a case of getting buy-in from senior management to invest in digitisation, which can be a challenge. You’ll need to look at potential solutions and assess which one is the best fit for your business, in terms of capabilities and cost. Then a strong business case should be composed to present to whoever holds the purse strings. This should take into consideration which processes you’ll look at digitising first and how much you should consider investing in each one to maximise return on investment.


Although a business digital transformation can seem to be a daunting prospect, it’s easier to implement than you would think. With the right tools and guidance, a business can be changed for the better and safeguarded for the future. From attracting new employees to improving safety and efficiency of your processes, technology holds the key to solving your problems. 

As a business, you must constantly be looking at your competition and assessing whether or not you’re staying relevant within your industry. Paper and manual processes are outdated; hanging on to them simply because they have worked fine for you up until now won’t cut it. Rail and construction businesses especially need to be thinking long-term about their continued success and how this can be sustained. 

Nutshell Apps eBook - Hidden cost of analogue

Looking for more information on how to get started with digitising your business? Download our eBook ‘The Hidden Cost of Analogue’ here for expert advice.