Keeping an eye on the data gatherers

Building Engineer speaks to upcoming Webinar Wednesday expert Barry Cope – managing director of the Building Compliance Testers Association Group – about how he is using IT to prevent rogue testers and incorrect data.

The Building Compliance Testers Association (BCTA) Group incorporates the Building Performance Hub, the Air Tightness Testing and Measurement Association (ATTMA), and the Sound Insulation Testing and Measurement Association (SITMA). When it comes to verifying specific areas of building performance and – by association – building quality, the BCTA group’s managing director, Barry Cope has a firmer grasp of what is required and the potential pitfalls than perhaps many in the construction industry.

“To my mind, when we talk about quality, we are talking about a job being done to a standard. But to ensure quality, what we need to do is to reduce what I would call the risk,” Barry says.

“It all stems from trust. We know, based on all of the certification schemes that we run, what the positives and the negatives are. We know where and how people can hide things that they don’t like. But, at BCTA, as a certification scheme, we also know that we can substantially reduce the risk of a member going rogue or making up data.”

Eradicating error

For all the positives that good construction brings, as a professional certification body whose reputation depends on the veracity of the work it certifies, Barry and the BCTA are not blind to the potential for things to be done less than perfectly, whether by accident or deliberately. What marks them out as being special, though, are the steps they have built into their processes to try to eradicate such imperfections. 

“When we designed our SITMA acoustics and sound insulation certification scheme – which has just achieved UKAS accreditation – we asked ourselves, how can we build this differently and how can we stop people hiding? How can we add some extra layers of protection to make sure our certification scheme is head and shoulders above anything else on the market?” Barry says.

The answer was: IT.

“One of the keys things we do is we draw raw data from the 12 or 13 different sound level devices that we accept. We drag that data and drop those raw data files into our system and then, at SITMA, we create the report form for the tester. We do that so that the tester cannot edit the data – if they change anything, our system will fail them. And they can’t copy pieces of data from other constructions sites,” Barry explains.

“While they still do have to add some data manually, our system restricts that. But while I would look at it as restricting them, to the tester themselves, they see it as helping them. They see these as helpful programmes where they just have to drag and drop data files, and a report that used to take them four hours to write now takes them four minutes. 

“On our part, we see it as a question of verifying pure data. When they upload the files to us, we’re looking at things like time stamps, calibration dates, and serial numbers of the equipment. We’re looking at so much more around the data and we’re able to use that to ensure quality. For example, we can tell very quickly if a sound meter that is being used, isn’t one that has been declared to us.”

Trust but verify

However, the use of pure data and the ability to focus on its details to ensure trustworthiness is only one arm of a two-pronged approach.

“The other thing we do that is an absolute game-changer in this industry – I think we are the first people to do it in construction competence – is that with our SITMA scheme, all of our registered testers have to tell us where they are going before they go. They have to pre-lodge all of their jobs,” Barry says.

“I can log in and at around 3pm or 4pm each day, I can see where everybody registered with the scheme will be working tomorrow. We then appoint people as auditors. Typically we don’t just turn up on site, but we have done and we’ve seen people who are suspended from other companies who shouldn’t be working and we’ve removed them. So we are able to turn up, sit outside, wait for the tester to arrive, and watch them conduct their testing. 

“That gives the power back to us because, if we look at this data and we see anything that we think is suspicious, we will just turn up unannounced on a job and we will check the equipment that is in their hand. That is the most incredibly powerful tool that we have in the industry.”

Hear for yourself

On 24 April, in a Webinar Wednesday presentation, CABE members will have the opportunity to hear at first-hand how Barry uses these approaches, and particularly how BCTA employs IT to make sure competence and quality is maintained.

“We believe that by giving people the proper tools and removing the opportunity to take shortcuts, you generally increase the performance of the person using the product,” Barry says.

“The use of technology is a two-way street. From the user’s side, it is seen as a benefit because it makes their job simpler. From the other side, it can be a policing tool to first stop innocent errors being made, but also to stop the system being abused. 

“I think there is a lot to learn for other parts of the industry when it comes to using technology to reduce risks. The important thing is to be not afraid of technology and use it to your advantage – that is the whole premise of the webinar. We don’t need to be afraid of technology, we can embrace it, and I think there is huge potential for other areas of the construction industry to really take advantage of simple IT.”

Register for Barry’s CABE Webinar Wednesday presentation here.

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