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The Quality in Construction Awards 2007 - Innovation through the use of ICT

Edmund Nuttall.

You don’t have to create your own software, or hardware, to make a real difference through the use of ICT. Nuttall has harnessed existing technology – albeit very up-to-date technology – to transform the administration of its Cheshire Highways term maintenance contract.

Nuttall was awarded the maintenance contract by Cheshire County Council in late 2004; it didn’t take long to discover that the process of completing maintenance sheets was highly inefficient. Paperwork generated up to 400 faxes a day, job sheets went missing and data was being re-entered, often erroneously.

The fundamental basis of Nuttall’s new system is that data is entered once, at the point of generation, and is then used and re-used over and over again, without any risk of corruption or loss.

This is done using a special electronic pen, a standard form printed on paper printed with a unique dot-matrix background pattern and a mobile camera-phone to transmit the data and photograph directly to a central computer.

A light sensor in the nib of the pen ‘reads’ the apparently random background pattern printed on the form; this records what is written, when it was written and on which part of the form – it can’t be erased or falsified later.

The system, though highly advanced, is sufficiently familiar in use to be accepted readily by site staff. “There have been issues, but people do get on with the system eventually,” says Rob Youster, IT operations manager with Nuttall. “After all, people are quite used to filling out forms.”

The system is incomparably more efficient than the previous manual method, says Mr Youster. “I don’t know of any other system that can do so much with information supplied by a guy with a shovel standing by the side of a road,” he says.