Site Investigation Data Management – is it a waste of time?

Back in the late 1970’s I was on extended holiday in south Florida and after a few weeks started to get a bit short of cash. A friend introduced me to Rick who offered me some part-time work to tide me over for the remaining month of my stay.

Rick made his living sub-contracting to several large department stores that specialised in furnishing and redecorating the second homes of wealthy business folk from northern USA and Canada – colloquially known as “Snowbirds”. The job was to produce an accurate floor-plan from which the carpeting scheme was calculated and priced, for which he received an agreed sum per apartment. Ostensibly it involved visiting each apartment to measure up, but in reality many were in high-rise condominium blocks and because he had been doing it for years, he had measured at least one apartment in most of the condos to which he was assigned. This gave him a template for many of the jobs he got and he merely blanked out and replaced the date and the apartment number and submitted a photocopy to the client.

My job was to drive to and measure the few new locations for which no previous measurements existed, thereby not only completing the necessary work for the client, but also adding to Rick’s portfolio of previous work. However, while I found my work varied and interesting, Rick grew increasingly bored and frustrated – he was working as little more than a filing clerk in his own office. I think he was glad when my holiday was over so he could break up his daily tedium with site visits.

I kept in touch with Rick and learned that, although still very profitable, he eventually sold his business because he couldn’t stand the dull stuff he was doing.

There are two lessons to be learnt here.

  1. There is great value in keeping a record of previous work, stored in a manner that facilitates fast retrieval.
  2. No matter how profitable an enterprise is, if the work to sustain it is dull and unchallenging, it is unlikely it will last very long.

With today’s computer technology each job could have been turned around quicker and with greater accuracy. And those humdrum tasks that forced Rick to quit his business could easily have been automated, freeing his entrepreneurial spirit to expand into other business areas.

So how does this relate to our industry?

Well for a start, if you keep detailed information about every job in a reusable and easily retrievable form, then over time you have a valuable legacy of data for future reference. For tendering you will have a better idea of how to price a job, and you’ll be best placed to win a job on a site you’ve previously investigated. Your desk studies will also be faster and more accurate.

Furthermore, most site investigation professionals are engaged in their work because they enjoy analysing and solving problems. Whether it is the cut and thrust of site work or utilising office technology to discover patterns and trends, it is the challenge and varied nature of the work, and the satisfaction of putting to good use the skills and knowledge accumulated at university and in the field, that drives them on.

If in order to get to this happy state they first need to sift through endless paper documents, rekey data into the application where they need it, or need to start a complex drawing from scratch when a small portion of data changes, then this is not only a waste of their time, but a soul-destroying disincentive and a distraction from the primary task.

So, is data management a waste of time? And my answer: Yes, if you don’t do it.

Mike Rothery
Keynetix Ltd

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