These are without doubt challenging times for many SME businesses working in, and supporting, the construction industry. When we look back in years to come, will we also see this as the time that the sector transformed itself – taking a gigantic leap forward in adopting digital solutions?

Productivity, business resilience, winning business, profitability, skills shortages, cashflow, workforce engagement and training. These can all be issues that keep SME business owners awake at night. They are also all issues that digital solutions can help resolve.

Considering making investments in digital technology can mean making decisions outside your area of expertise. Business owners rightly want to see a return on their investment. They also want investments to be part of a digital roadmap to solve their challenges, not a piecemeal approach that ends with multiple systems and more frustrations.

Finding advice and support can be expensive. So, it is refreshing to know that free, quality advice is available from experts – if you know where to look!

Digital Construction Skills (DCS) https://www.digitalconstructionskills.com provides access to a range of fully funded services and support for SMEs. Helpfully, support is available from 6am-10pm and at weekends – in appreciation of the busy lives that business owners lead! DCS works with stakeholders in the construction sector to ensure its support and products are the right ones.

Free support for SMEs can include help with digital capability, business growth and development and one-to-one advice on technology to address your specific challenges.

Take a free resilience health-check to create your own action plan to ride out the storms. DCS has a new, innovative, Resilience in Construction tool. Funded by Innovate UK it is suitable for professional services and construction firms. This will give businesses their own PDF report identifying strengths and weaknesses, based on a simple questionnaire. The eight areas covered are: payments and cashflow, business planning, risk, leadership, mental health and workforce engagement, training, disruption and change, and digital enablement.

The tool also gives access to valuable articles, videos, e-learning and additional support.

So, how can technology help? The right technology offers opportunities to become more efficient, claim payments, increase productivity, win work, adapt, gather data for better decision making and manage risks.

Businesses more advanced in the use of technology have generally fared better against the considerable challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, having to adapt quickly to new ways of working and communicating. Being forced to work outside the ‘norm’ has meant that progressive businesses have found new energies and ways of thinking.

Will these difficult times create the digital revolution that will attract new, younger, more diverse recruits into construction? Tackling the climate change impacts of construction works, and increasing social value through technology will provide young people with a career that is also a cause that they believe in. Skills shortages will only be addressed by attracting more people into the sector, able to work across a range of different methods of construction, supported by technology and training.

Larger business employing SMEs as sub-contractors also have a role to play. Squeezing prices and late payments can be the end of the road for SMEs, so the government’s speaking up for SMEs on fairer treatment and payment terms is welcomed.

Using technology now will mean that in a couple of years’ time SMEs will not be as reliant on the less supportive larger companies. Businesses can help themselves by becoming more resilient, having data to negotiate, make claims or defend claims, and understand if they are making a suitable profit.

Winning work is vital, and the changes in procurement to encourage more SMEs onto public sector frameworks, is important. Technology can help with more effective tendering, alongside the use of specialist bid consultants for time-limited upskilling and resourcing as and when needed.

With thanks to Saffron Grant, Managing Director, Digital Construction Skills