Improving Workflows with Electronic Forms for Pipeline Contractors
Even as digital technology flows into their workflows at an increasing rate, many contractors in the oil and gas pipeline sector remain heavily dependent on paper forms in the office and on their jobsites. These are four everyday examples of how replacing those forms and the paper-based processes related to them with a system for electronic forms — or “eforms” — and reporting can drive improvements in efficiency, performance, profitability and safety.
Safety Reporting and Toolbox Talks
Reporting on safety incidents and conducting morning safety meeting or “toolbox talks” are important procedures to keep pipeline construction personnel safe. These are also areas where replacing paper-based processes with a system for electronic data capture and analysis can improve efficiency and outcomes.
Getting the right information and safety documents to the field is the first step. Paper restricts portability and creates unnecessary administrative work finding, copying and distributing that information. A system for eforms and reporting, on the other hand, means that electronic documents can produced quickly and accessed and downloaded immediately.
Documenting who attends safety meetings or when incidents or near misses occur is the next challenge, and electronic forms offer significant advantages over paper.
Forms can be customized to capture the precise information needed. They are easier to complete on mobile devices. Structured and required fields eliminate opportunities for incorrect or misinterpreted data. Images, attachments, timestamps and e-signatures enhance the quality, validity and value of the data captured.
As in other workflows, the ability to turn data on forms into actionable intelligence may be the biggest reason to take paper out of the safety process. When safety data is contained on paper forms, compiling and analyzing it creates delays, increases administrative costs, and compromises the eventual effectiveness of the data.
With electronic forms, contractors can mine the data automatically and use it to populate reports that measure safety, drive improvement, and predict and prevent future incidents. An eforms and reporting program can even generate alerts delivered by e-mail, text, or within the application when an injury or an accident is reported.
Not much gets done in pipeline construction without equipment, and smart contractors rely on regular inspections as a part of their maintenance process.
Moving away from paper forms and the limitations of a paper-based inspection process is allowing many contractors to achieve dramatic decreases in downtime, maintenance costs and the profit killing disruptions on the jobsite related to equipment that can’t be operated.
Electronic forms and an electronic process essentially connects operators and equipment on the job site with the maintenance shop in real time.
Rather than struggling to maintain a library of inspection forms or relying on generic forms, operators and mangers in the field can access up-to-date forms customized for each piece of equipment on a tablet. Filling out and submitting the forms electronically is faster and easier. This frees operators up to get back to their “real jobs” and drives higher compliance and submission rates. Electronic forms also allow richer data like pictures and videos to be included with the inspection, increasing their value.
Time stamps, e-signatures and GPS tracking even validate when and where the inspection was completed.
The biggest advantage with an electronic inspection process, however, is time. Rather than waiting a week, two weeks or longer to get a paper inspection back from the field, maintenance teams can see and respond to an electronic inspection as soon as the operator hits the submit key.
That minimizes the critical interval between when a defect or potential problem is detected and when it can be fixed. Downtime and costs can be trimmed, because mechanics can take care of small problems before they become big ones and they have the information to plan and prioritize work more efficiently.
Electronic inspection forms also open the door to reporting and analysis that is extremely difficult and time consuming with paper forms. Contractors can use the structured, easily accessible electronic data to identify trends over time and across their fleet such as routine maintenance that may not be being performed correctly, operators that may require additional training or assets and components that may be defective.
Employee training, licenses and certifications are essential parts of ensuring safety, quality and compliance in pipeline construction. For the managers responsible for assigning the right personnel to work in specific environments, operate specific equipment or handle specific materials, keeping track of these qualification can be an administrative headache. The larger the workforce, the bigger the challenge. Unexpected or emergency work, when finding the personnel immediately is imperative, compounds the challenge.
Many contractors are turning to electronic forms and reporting for a more effective and efficient alternative to paper-based processes.
When information about qualifications is on paper or even on spreadsheets, discovering who is qualified to do what is a manual task. A typical scenario is a call to the office, or several offices, and delays while people sort through various paper or electronic files. The maintenance shop may have documentation on licenses to operate equipment. The HR and safety managers might have other information on training and certifications.
Moving to e-forms and reporting centralizes this vital data and makes it accessible to anyone in the company at any time and from any location. Data can be queried fast, and managers can filter by a wide range of variables such as expiration dates, type of license or employee group.
Contractors can also become more proactive in managing credentials. Rather than waiting for deadlines to pass, they can set up the system to prompt them a specified number of days in advance by email, text or in reports when expiration dates are approaching and for which employees.
Post-Project Review Process
Structured review meetings are important for documenting what went well and why after completion of a project and what can be done better when a company takes on similar work in the future. A key potential benefit of these meetings, however, can be lost or diminished when the results are trapped on paper documents.
The challenge of post-project reviews is that, as time passes, recollections fade. People leave the company. Details of specific projects and processes blur together or become hard to remember. Documenting this information on paper or static electronic files such as a Word or Excel document is better than nothing, but an electronic forms and data reporting system offers a much better alternative.
Electronic forms allow contractors to document post-project meetings with consistency and structure. More importantly, the valuable information provided by estimators, project managers and others in the aftermath of a project becomes inherently easy to search through and report on in the future.
Reviewing everything from production rates and job costing versus plan to subcontractor performance and the use of materials and resources on a past project — or multiple past projects in the aggregate — is faster
These electronic capabilities help companies leverage what is known as “institutional memory” and make learning from experience and avoiding the same mistakes over and over again more than just wishful clichés.
The trend toward replacing paper forms and paper-based processes is part of a bigger movement in heavy construction to capture better data and use it to improve competitiveness and profitability. An enterprise-wide system for data capture and analysis can reduce the time spent creating, distributing and collecting forms. More importantly, the opportunity to get electronic data in real time and to aggregate and analyze information that would otherwise be trapped on paper empowers contractors to perform better and make better decisions across these and other workflows.
B2W Software, e-forms, electronic forms, May June 2020 Print Issue
Greg Norris is director of marketing communications at B2W Software. The company’s ONE Platform connects people, workflows and data and includes advanced, unified applications to manage estimating, scheduling, field tracking, equipment maintenance, data capture and business intelligence. Its B2W Inform application streamlines data capture enterprise-wide and delivers the reporting and analytics contractors need to improve construction safety, quality, performance and financial outcomes. Contact him at Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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