IT & e-COMMERCE REPORT

Article Business Practice Data Management by

E-Procurement

Extranets, intranets, e-commerce, e-procurement – all words we see regularly in the civil engineering press and hear more frequently in the office and on site. This is perhaps not surprising when the Government is supporting many initiatives to encourage e-commerce and the introduction of broadband (high speed) internet connections into UK business (www.ukonlineforbusiness.gov.uk). Other initiatives relating specifically to construction such as the IT Construction Best Practice programme (www.itcbp.org.uk) and other collaborative initiatives like the Construction Industry Trading Electronically (www.cite.org.uk) project are serving to bring these issues further up the construction industry agenda. Indeed most of the Government Agencies and many large private clients have e-strategies of one form or another turning these initiatives in to practice.

Whilst the headlines tend to concentrate on e-commerce, the buying and selling of goods and services on the world-wide web, it is the process of tendering based upon information provided in an electronic form, usually on CD, that seems to be having the most direct and immediate impact on the construction industry and hence members of the AGS.

The Business Practice Working Group (BPWG), under the banner of IT and e-commerce, has started to investigate the extent and impact of these issues on ASG members and has begun by considering the e-procurement issues under three broad headings,

· Tendering for contracts (consultancy or construction) over the internet · Buying and selling products and services over the internet · Tendering for contracts based upon information provided electronically

A straw poll within the BPWG suggested that a number of contracts have been tendered over the internet by AGS members and a brief review of member’s websites shows that several AGS members are already offering products and services directly over the internet. Nearly all however had either tendered or prepared documentation for tender in an electronic form with varying degrees of success and satisfaction. In an attempt to better understand the experiences of AGS members with respect to e-procurement a brief questionnaire has prepared (enclosed with this newsletter) which we would be grateful if you or one of your colleagues could complete and return to the AGS by fax. The questionnaire will also available on the AGS website (www.ags.org.uk).

Electronic Tender Information – the easy option?

The wonders of modern technology mean that virtually all of us have computers either on our desks at work or at home. Potentially we can all save although most of us from time to time lament the constant bombardment with emails. But life can be easier when we receive information electronically especially if, like me, you can use the data provided without re-entering it. There is nothing more irritating than typing numbers in from a printed / paper copy of a spreadsheet when in the back of your mind you know someone else has done this before and they have it in an electronic format.

There can be a down side to receiving data electronically which stems from the proliferation of CD writers which now enables vast amounts of data to be readily stored and dispatched. On some CDs the data is well organised and specific to the end user, on others a mass of data which is mostly irrelevant is burnt onto a CD without thought. The box (xxxxxx) records the experience of a piling contractor dealing with two electronic enquiries

In this age of improved efficiency, great technology, the drive for cost reduction and increased environmental awareness surely a standard electronic format must be the way forward. The first example represents the easy “send it all” option and a step backwards. It was more time consuming than receiving a paper copy and no less wasteful in terms of paper, the only gain was lower postage. The second example represented a saving of time and resource, although there was clearly time and effort directed creation of the CD and menu system. The piling contractor concluded with the observation, ‘Surely a simple standard file directory system and data format would suit all; in this way we can all get to and use data effectively saving time, money and going some way to save the environment.’

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On receiving tender invitations on CD The experience of a piling contractor

Piling Enquiry 1

The CD goes into the drive and nothing happens so the powers of Windows Explorer are invoked and a list of effectively anonymous folders fills the screen. There are no meaningful titles to guide me through the to the relevant data and most of the files are in “pdf” format including Word, Excel and drawing files, they must have “ghostscript pdf ” writer, and so the data is locked and has to be re-entered to use. It took several hours to go through and open the 269 files and 179 drawings (142MB of data). The information issued which included the Architectural and the Mechanical & Electrical drawings & specifications; as a Geotechnical engineer the fume cupboard drawings and specifications were particularly interesting.

Eventually the structural specification took centre stage on my computer screen and I thought I had at last come to the area of interest but no there followed another series of Electrical Controls drawings. Finally I did manage to get all the information I required (the structural drawings & specification, pile schedule and site investigation data – a total of 26MB of data). Needless to say, it was a big disappointment to find at this stage that the tender enquiry was only for 60 bored piles.

Unfortunately, probably like 4 or 5 other recipients of the tender enquiry, I had to print a large proportion of the data because I only have one computer and needed to re-enter data to carry out the necessary analysis. Another frustration was that the site investigation data was in “pdf” file format rather than the Association of Geotechnical Specialists’ “ags” format which can be ready analysed by a number of software packages. The “ags” data format seems to be rarely issued except on very large projects due to, I believe, the time it takes the site investigation contractors to issue it.

Piling Enquiry 2

The CD goes into the drive, auto-runs and you’re straight into a menu that enables you to navigate your way around the data. The relevant drawings, site investigation data, specifications, Bills of Quantity, etc can be opened up within minutes. It was disappointing but not surprising that the site investigation data had been scanned in “pdf” format.

Overall though the MACE electronic tender information was well above the rest, my thanks go to those at MACE even though they failed to see the merits of our tender submission.