Up until just a few years ago the main way of controlling and monitoring building operations whether on a new development, refurbishment, civil engineering or any other project was by recognised paper based systems, in other words manually writing down and documenting everything before and during the project. In recent years a challenge as been made to this old technique with the advent of computer based systems of monitoring and controlling building projects. I will in the following artile explain the in and outs, for and against for both systems. Hopefully we will be able to come to a conclusion as to which if any of these systems gives us the greatest scope and best means of monitoring and recording activities etc.
Paper based systems are still used very widely throughout the industry and can be exceptionally time consuming in their preparation and use. Method statements are still commonly written by hand; there use is for the explanation of how the activity that is covered by it is going to be carried out and when it will happen. From this Method statement a risk assessment can be produced ascertaining the particular risks involved with the particular activity mentioned and working out what the safest means of doing the job will be. Also COSHH assessments can be added to this portfolio.
The actual programme of events from start to finish is monitored by hand written and drawn bar charts that can be readily found on the site office wall. These are often colour coded for the different trades to make them more user friendly and they are usually up dated daily or weekly by hand. Also the Site Manager will usually write out what are called short-term programmes that cover smaller sections of the project to enable him/her to keep a better eye on the progress of the project and enable better monitoring on a day-to-day basis.
Other types of forms regularly used in site monitoring are Day work record sheets, Daily allocation sheets, Quality assurance check sheet, weekly plant return sheets, and Site instruction sheets to give a few examples. Day work sheets are filled in by hand to monitor and record extra work that is been done on site by tradesman, which is not covered, by their usual price work etc. Quality assurance sheets are used to basically keep a check on standards and quality been achieved during and at the end of the operations. These sheets usually have the items, things requiring checking, a column for the person whom carries out the check to place his/her name against the item checked a column for the date the item was checked and a further column for any comments he/she may wish to make. Weekly plant returns sheets are used to document where the plant was hired from, what the actual item of plant was, and the order number the hire rate etc. Site instruction sheets are used to basically give written confirmation of verbal instructions to give confirmation of variations to the contract, these require a signature from the client’s architect or nominated person before the instruction can be carried out.
All these different activities take hours and hours of the site managers and assistant’s time if he/she is fortunate enough to possess one. Also there is far more than mentioned above that needs manually documenting for instance a good site manager will keep a record of daily events in his diary, deliveries will be documented on paper quoting the order numbers, the delivery note number to cross reference and keep a check on stock been delivered etc etc.
All this paperwork requires storing somewhere this is usually done by filling up one after another of lever arch files. There needs to be obviously separate files for each different type of form to make it easier to find a particular piece of information in the future if required to do so.
Computer based systems of monitoring work are now becoming much more commonly used within the construction industry. One well-known package is Microsoft project, although there is many more on the market to chose from. Because Microsoft project is the one that I am most familiar with it will be the one that I am referring to in the following few paragraphs as I describe what can be achieved through using this software.
Computer based systems can take the place of and be used for many of the traditional paper based methods of control and monitoring. Microsoft project can be used for planning the operation from start to finish. A bar chart can be created for monitoring the progress of the work and also it can be updated very quickly and effectively. Print outs of the updated chart can be created more or less in an instance to replace previous ones. As well as the different work tasks different forms of information can also be inputted for example plant, labour, materials, costs etc, also values can be attached, so running totals of how the project is functioning against planned expenditure and costs can quickly be assessed. Also the package allows you to break down the project into smaller areas just like short-term programmes in the paper-based system. Critical path analysis can also be created using the software so the critical path of the project can quickly be checked and monitored.
Method Statements, Risk Assessments and other forms of documentation can be readily created using word-processing on a computer. Different forms can be created and saved as templates so they can be used over and over again. A lot of items like method statements if saved can be altered with a very minimal effort to suit new projects in the future when the time arises. With computer systems though a back up of all the work is always strongly advised just in case the system crashes. If work isn’t backed up on disc or a copy sent to another computer then a system crash can be disastrous.
The conclusion that I have drawn up whilst examining both systems, firstly the paper based system of monitoring projects and secondly the computer based system is as follows: - I strongly believe that a computer based system is a more efficient and effective because the project can be monitored and altered much more easily by the touch of a button, and it can even be carried with you around the site by means of a lap top computer if necessary. This could also benefit members of the different trades by discussing with them and showing them up to the minute details of how their particular activity is effecting the over all site project. Also if the computer system is net worked then your head office can also monitor the activities and view how the project is progressing, failing this the daily up dated chart could soon be e-mailed through as an attachment. Once familiar with the computer system I believe the site manager would find that he had much more time at his disposal. Also the production of method statements and other forms such as checklists etc can be produced very quickly and efficiently especially once a template is produced for the particular item. Even letters can be quickly produced and printed off. Even a computer database could be used for monitoring deliveries, members of staff etc. Another big benefit as I see it of a computer based system is the potential saving of space in the site office which could be made through not having to have all the documentation stored in lever arched files as is common at present.
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