Construction Record Management System is So Much More than a Site Diary

June 18, 2024
A record management system turns the site diary on its head. It is time for consistent, structured data to be the beating heart of site data capture.

"If I would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

This famous quote attributed to Henry Ford shows the challenge of innovating in a mature industry. Applied to construction, if site diaries are horses, then a record management system is the motor vehicle.

For decades, the site diary has been the engineer's bible and project manager's holy grail of what happened on site. As a contemporary record, it provided a snapshot of a particular day during the life of a construction project.

This practice of completing a site diary, often on paper, has not radically changed in 200 years. One of its many weaknesses is that it limits the value that we gain from capturing contemporaneous site data.

A record management system (RMS) revolutionises how we capture site data and what we can do with it. This article explores the benefits and advantages for all project stakeholders of adopting this new, modern RMS.

Why capture data at all?

Let's first revisit the purpose of capturing site data on a construction site. The "Time, Cost, Quality" triangle of project management is a good place to start. 

Graph by Project Smart

Every reason we should capture data will fall somewhere in these three categories. Measuring progress against programme requires real-time site data. Capturing resource information to inform cost estimates and recording completion hinges on having consistent site data. And having high-quality site data is vital to compliance of work activities.

Having specific data can make or break progress tracking and delay analysis on complex live asset possessions. Detailed record keeping is central to satisfying contractual obligations. For example, in New Engineering Contracts (NEC) cost reimbursable contracts, Defined Cost must be substantiated with structured, contemporaneous data.

The "why" of capturing site data has never been in question. However, the "how" has never evolved, ever reliant on the ubiquitous site diary. In many ways, the site diary has been both the input and output of a centuries-old process at the heart of construction. 

A record management system turns the site diary on its head. The site diary should be no more than an output. It is time for consistent, structured data to be the beating heart of site data capture.

Enhanced Project Control

Major infrastructure projects are considered a success if they deliver on time and to budget. Historically, this has been a major challenge, particularly in the UK. 

A critical element to improving the outcomes of these mega projects is maintaining control. We have an entire industry of Project Controls dedicated to establishing baselines, guardrails, and lead indicators to monitor progress and potential outcomes. 

Project Controls thrives on accurate, contemporary, structured data. The traditional site diary, either in paper or digital format, lacks these key components.

A record management system delivers control through aligning data capture with project performance measurements. The ability to prepopulate a short-term plan and measure progress against that plan whilst linking back to the established Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) of the project is a core principle of a record management system. 

In a record management system, we can monitor contemporary performance metrics. This can then track and inform measures such as Earned Value Management in real time. 

Remove Unnecessary Admin Work

Completing a site diary is not always a priority for site engineers or site supervisors. It frequently suffers from being a mere afterthought. 

Filling out paper allocation sheets, entering data using digital templates, attaching pictures to emails, never-ending back and forth on messaging apps... Practitioners have to spend hours completing these additional administration tasks. But it does not have to be like this. 

An effective record management system can drastically simplify the process of data entry. Using mobile technology, it eliminates the site diary template as the data input. 

Instead, an RMS focuses on the specific data required at every step. It also allows practitioners to prepopulate over two-thirds of the site information that they require. Entering data on site on the go slashes the administration time from hours to minutes.

Optimise Productivity

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK construction sector is less productive now than it was in 1997. For decades, investment in technology has not enabled this sector to deliver more with fewer resources.

We should be relentless in our efforts to root out unproductive practices and identify areas for radical improvements. The site diary convention presents a real, meaningful opportunity to understand and improve productivity.

An effective record management system can give us structured insights on productivity through resource allocation linked to work activities. A record of planned vs actual progress and categorised delay analysis provides the performance metrics required to benchmark performance. Having an overview of productivity leads to identifying and nurturing best practice. 

Real-time insights and consistent production metrics allow for lessons learned during a project. Continuous learning is key to harnessing improved processes and embedding consistent and high-quality outcomes.

Make Collaboration Easier

Anyone who has needed to collaborate around a paper site diary knows that it is not easy. Nor are traditional digital allocation sheets. Access is rarely shared across the board. Files are in various formats, making extracting and sharing insights difficult and time-consuming. 

Very quickly, the single shift record becomes a historic audit file, left to collect dust until a problem arises. Long-term learning and cross-project application are impossible without having site data readily available. 

A contemporary, effective construction site record management system enables real-time sharing of access to multiple stakeholders. This transparency is crucial to making informed, accelerated decisions.

Modern forms of contract, such as the NEC, require a proactive and cooperative approach to problem-solving. The transparency that an RMS can provide helps to build trust and deliver more win-win outcomes. 

In the UK construction industry, collaboration can be a challenge, and building the foundation of trust hard. Sharing consistent, structured site data provides a backbone of objective information. This single source of truth allows integrated project management teams to deliver complex projects. 

Minimising Risks 

When you rely on inconsistent, incoherent, often illegible site records, there is an obvious risk. It's almost impossible to understand what actually happened on site, when it happened, and who and what was involved! 

This is a huge safety risk, with hazards missed, lessons not learned, and continuous improvement lost. It is also a commercial risk for all stakeholders, who lack vital contemporaneous records to administer contracts effectively.

Large infrastructure projects have complex governance structures often running through different stakeholders. Accurate, timely, objective data is critical for compliance and assurance. A record management system delivers this important missing piece of the puzzle compared to the traditional, antiquated site diary.  

Towards a more Sustainable Industry

For the construction industry to be sustainable, it must do more with less of every available and required resource.

Without insights on the inputs and outputs of every shift, we will not know where to start to make large projects more sustainable. A digital, consistent record management system offers a good entry point to capturing and analysing crucial site data.

Sustainability goes beyond the carbon footprint of our industry. It must also mean increased value for money.

A record management system aggregates short-term site data for long-term insights, be it for productivity or commercial assurance. Delivering sustainable profits to our contractors at every level of the supply chain is essential for a thriving industry. 

Photo by Made From The Sky on Unsplash

I want to use another famous quote to conclude this article, this time from Albert Einstein. It perfectly encapsulates the imperative and urgency of taking action to revolutionise how we capture site data:

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."

In construction, all too often, we're guilty of hoping for the best without planning to make things better. 

Adopting a record management system is more than switching from paper to digital. It signals a change of mindset. By capturing consistent, structured data on construction site activities, we can start to plan, record, and improve.  

Don't you think that it is about time to start uncovering valuable insights from every shift?

More on Record Management System in Construction from Team Gather

Ready to Switch to an RMS?

Construction Record Management System is So Much More than a Site Diary

Nick Woodrow

Operations Director

A positive and outcome focused chartered civil engineer with over 20 years spent in a broad range of businesses successfully delivering complex projects & leading teams at C-level.

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