Mobile app lightens paperwork at Ace Contractors

'Going paperless is definitely the way of the future,' says compliance manager.

Ace Contractors has reduced paper use and expedited its compliance operations by digitising site inspection forms in a mobile app.

The nearly 50-year-old company from Victoria performs civil, electrical, environmental, infrastructure, landscape and water services. The company’s site supervisors use a plethora of forms for compliance with safety and quality requirements of projects, including site safety and plant inspections.

However, the amount of paper involved was bogging down site supervisors and slowing the company’s internal processes, according to Ace Contractors compliance manager, Michael Spiteri.

“We wanted to reduce paper, streamline processes, increase communication and ensure that sites were using the latest version of forms and to be able to monitor compliance remotely.”

The site supervisors had to carry binders containing reams of A4-sized papers, he said. “The usual folder when it’s full would be four or five [kilograms].”

Not only was it a “hassle” to provide so much paper to site supervisors, but the need to update the forms made things even more complicated, he said.

The issue with updating paper forms was how to get the latest version out to 20 to 30 supervisors out on various sites, he said. “That means we have to print out multiple copies of the forms and try to get them out to each of the sites.”

It created a situation where two or three different versions of the form might be in circulation at the same time, Spiteri said.

Another issue with the paper forms was that they could be lost and it would take time to recapture the information, he said.

Ace Contractors decided to address the problems by selecting Canvas, a service that allowed it to digitise the paperwork and push it into a mobile app. The site supervisors access Canvas on laptops and HTC Android smartphones supplied by Ace Contractors.

The company began the transition to digital with a trial group to gain feedback, Spiteri said. “There was positive uptake on the mobile application and we soon rolled it out to all site supervisors and then onto the project managers.”

Spiteri said he used a template in Canvas as a guide for building the forms. Ace has digitised its most common forms, but some paper forms remain. These exceptions do not lend themselves to conversion due to the amount of text that needs to be filled in – it’s still easier to use a pen then to type everything in an app, he said.

Even so, digitising the majority of Ace’s forms has greatly reduced paper, as well as the time it takes to update forms at multiple sites, he said.

“All sites no matter how far from the head office are able to access the latest version of the forms and it is there and ready to be completed,” he said.

“As soon as [site supervisors] log in, they just hit the synchronise button and they’ve automatically got the latest version of the form.”

And whereas before Ace Contractors would wait to issue a revision until enough changes had built up to warrant all the printing, the company can now roll out small tweaks as often as it likes, he said.

“We are also able to monitor compliance and have a copy of the report in the head office on the day it is completed. It has eliminated lost forms and increased information flow to senior management.”

While Canvas has also expedited the flow of information from sites back into the office, the process is still not perfect, said Spiteri. Ace Contractors runs an Access database, but the forms arrive in PDF format. Ultimately, the company would like to have the data go directly into the database, he said.

Ace has saved at least $2200 by embracing mobile digital forms, said Spiteri, citing an estimate calculated by the Canvas app.

“But I believe we have most likely saved a lot more than that if you take into account form revision upgrades that do not require a person going to site with a handful of paper, time and effort to re-print, and being able to instantly be informed if there is an issue on site,” he said.

“Going paperless is definitely the way of the future. Setting up the forms is not difficult. Being able to know what is happening on your site is priceless.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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