A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to sit down with a panel of infrastructure construction professionals to discuss how they approach tracking projects and meeting compliance requirements in a world of increased infrastructure funding and federal reporting standards. The panelists shared the different ways they leverage the technological tools at their disposal to streamline the process of contract administration and compliance. More specifically, the panel discussed issues with offline systems, efficiencies gained by embracing the cloud, how to enhance transparency for project stakeholders, and methods for integrating digital systems with traditional survey tools.
In this article, we’ll share some of the highlights of the panel discussion. If you’re interested in viewing the webinar in its entirety, you can watch it here.
Peter Schirmer, P.E., Project Manager, BL Companies
Howard Weissberg, P.E., Deputy Director of Public Works, City of Middletown
Brian Ennis, P.E. City Engineer, City of Meriden
What are the most prevalent challenges with paper or spreadsheet-based record-keeping?
“You’re an office break-in or a spilled cup of coffee from losing 6-7 months of work.” - Brian Ennis
Both Ennis and Schirmer spoke to the precarious nature of paper files, especially when it comes to storage. Not only is a large stack of paper more likely to be damaged or misplaced, if a situation arises where the project manager needs to locate a specific record, it can be a time-consuming and paper cut-filled process. “If a contractor files a claim, now we’re rifling through 1200 days of written reports on paper,” said Ennis. In Connecticut specifically, teams are required to follow a four-volume method with retention laws that is much easier to track and store in a digital environment.
How can a cloud-based platform help with record-keeping?
“This [project] would probably be two to three full file drawers of paperwork if we did everything on paper… we don’t have room to store all this paper.” - Brian Ennis
Speaking from a municipality perspective, Ennis highlights the retention laws that LPAs in his state are required to follow. The benefit a cloud-based platform provides in this case is incredibly simple - it eliminates the need for physical storage. As Ennis points out, if you don’t need to ever print it out, there’s no need to find a place to put it, meaning those municipal vaults don’t need to be filled ceiling high with old files.
Schirmer highlighted how the search functionality inherent in cloud-based construction administration and inspection platforms like Appia can vastly simplify project oversight, especially when it comes to finding specific files or reports. “At the end of a month, the queries are fairly intuitive. You can get a list of all the items you worked on for the month and each item will have a link to the daily report that paid for those items, so you can really quickly verify something,” he said. He also notes that, if you have an old school mindset and prefer to review a paper copy, Appia has the option to print reports in a clean and well-organized format.
How can a cloud-based platform improve productivity?
“The logistics are made a lot simper” - Peter Schirmer
For Schirmer, access to near real-time information provides the greatest boost to efficiency for him and his team of inspectors. Previously, a job site that was an hour away would require two hours just for travel time if Schirmer wanted to check on a project, as opposed to instantly pulling up a status screen on a laptop. For inspectors, they’re able to complete their duties at the job site and enter the necessary information without having to travel all the way back to an office for data entry after a long day in the field.
Schirmer outlined how eliminating travel on a $150,000 job can save around $9,000, which in turn gives the firm some wiggle room if something goes wrong on a project. Weissberg also added that his inspectors can spend more time in the field actually inspecting as opposed to returning to the office to verify or input data. “Being able to do a [daily report] in 5 minutes in the field and only do it once is just fantastic. It really makes the job of inspection less busywork and more focused on the actual project,” he said.
How does a cloud-based platform improve transparency and access for project stakeholders?
“The [DOT] can log in at any time and see what’s going on in the project, they can look at photos, they can look at everything.” - Howard Weissberg
Weissberg highlighted the benefits that can come from project owners, managers, and contractors all having access to the same information in the same cloud-based system. Rather than inspectors and contractors keeping their own quantities, they worked together to verify the information at the end of the day. Everything is more out in the open, and that level of transparency gives the project owner peace-of-mind in how a project is progressing.
The impacts of data access and transparency can almost be like ripples in a pond, where the immediate impact produces tangential results across departments and divisions. Ennis notes how the invoice he provides to his financial department that is exported from Appia contains all the crucial information on a page one summary sheet, saving them time if they need to look for a specific purchase order, bid, etc. While the finance team may never actually open the Appia platform, the availability and transparency of accurate data is saving them time and effort.
How does a cloud-based platform reduce risk?
“Every job we do, somebody calls us up and says ‘okay, you broke something.’” - Brian Ennis
Both Ennis and Weissberg enthusiastically agreed that having a cloud-based platform for detailed record-keeping vastly helps reduce the risk of claims and disputes. Not only is there the benefit of working more closely with contractors for quantity verification, but the robust, photo-lined audit trail also protects organizations from homeowner claims. Ennis shared an example of how a homeowner may claim a retaining wall was damaged by construction, but their easily searchable records show that the wall was a mess prior to the start of a project. The ability to document everything and then search for it when claims and calls come through is another avenue for risk reduction.
Are you looking to improve how your organization handles record-keeping, reporting, and compliance in 2024? Exploring better ways to manage federally-funded projects? We’d love to chat more about what Appia can do for your record-keeping and reporting processes. Or, explore Appia’s total capabilities and integrations with leading GIS platforms here.