Newsletter 22:

Winter 2014 - Waterstons, Durham

The Winter 2014 Community Day was kindly hosted by Waterstons & was attended by 30 delegates.

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Alistair McLeod from Waterstons welcomed COMIT to their Durham offices (complete with Christmas tree) & carried out the requisite housekeeping.

Chairman's comments

Stephen Smith, COMIT's Construction Chairman picked up on a survey by Enterprise Management Associates about mobile technology. This was broadly in line with the findings of a survey carried out for COMIT by Harrison O'Hara from Costain.


It showed the PC is far from dead but 60% of companies believe mobile is critical to their business. However, only 15% are fully prepared to support it at an enterprise level. It also found that support was based on a perception of importance, rather than economic measures - a leap of faith rather than a clear business case.


Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) was common (a third of respondents) but Bring Your Own Application (BYOA) was only permitted by 2% of responding companies.  Stephen felt anecdotally that is much higher in construction where many individuals are using their own apps because no enterprise solution is available.

Iain Miskimmin, COMIT's Technology Chairman, observed the same thing happening in technology companies. He gave an example of his resorting to private means  when the enterprise solution he was provided with failed to deliver.


Iain's thoughts for the day focused on Durham Castle - or rather an archaeological project in  

France which is building a castle from scratch using medieval methods. The project is the subject of a BBC documentary. Iain observed that construction today relies on 2D drawings and that many on site don't like interacting with a 3D model. However, when a medieval castle was designed a model was made out of wooden blocks that was modified by the "client". The model was then used to get angles and distances and to predict what materials would go where. 700 years later, isn't that exactly what we are trying to do with BIM? Nothing new!

Iain's other thought was about the "in 60 seconds" challenges. A show of hands indicated half a dozen people present had watched the in-60-seconds videos on the website and Iain played the COBIE one as an example. He called for members to help create others.

There are plenty of subjects that we need to explain better (BS7000, collaboration, mobility etc.) An "in 60 seconds" script is typically 2 pages of A4 and will help promote your business. COMIT can help technically if needed.

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CPD Accreditation

Members were reminded again that all COMIT community days are now CPD accredited and members are encouraged to send their graduates along. All attendees are asked to complete a feedback questionnaire after each meeting, either on the day or by downloading it from the website.

New Members

COMIT welcomed four new technology members who have joined since the last Community Day:

While it is great to see new technology members, Iain noted that we also need new construction members, particularly those below tier's 1 & 2. He encouraged construction members to bring along their suppliers and subcontractors and technology members to invite construction clients to a community day.


Out of three organisations expected as guests, only one was eventually able to make it. We welcomed two Engineering Masters students from the University of Edinburgh - Tobias Mansfield-Williams and Karim Mansour.

VINCI's CC/PI Portal

Nigel Lassman, IT Project Manager at VINCI Construction is a long-term member of COMIT. He described a new mobile application that is being used by VINCI to improve the reporting of unsafe conditions/events ("close calls") on site as well as positive interventions and feedback. Importantly it is an app that can be used internally or by members of the general public.


The new system is intended to augment and potentially replace a system based on hand-written cards. These would be deposited at the site office where they would be read and actioned. Inevitably there are sometimes problems with legibility, a lack of photographic evidence and delays in processing. Consequently VINCI were looking for a more effective alternative using mobile technology.

VINCI wanted an online solution that would allow anybody (staff, public, subcontractors etc.) to submit an entry and for it to be acted on quickly. 


The solution had to be easy to use, work on any device supporting a browser and have the ability to include photographs. It also had to work alongside the existing manual system and be able to provide feedback to the people submitting entries, which

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was something that was currently very hard to do. However, it was also important to allow people to make anonymous submissions  if they wished.


The solution that was developed uses HTLM5 and is hosted on a server outside of the corporate firewall. On an hourly basis completed entries are transferred to a holding library where they are reviewed by a close-call champion.


Pilot and Launch

The application was piloted in early 2014 across 12 sites and refined before launch. Mobile coverage in Cornwall was found to be particularly poor.

Posters were created for each site which included a site-specific QR code and Tiny URL. Scanning the QR code or entering the URL will direct you to the form with the site location already filled in. Business card sized versions of the poster were also produced so that staff always had access to the QR code.


The application was launched on a safety day in October 2014 across all VINCI sites at the same time. A short film was made and used to promote the application to all VINCI employees.



Since the launch the response from all parties has been very positive and it has lead to a number of significant benefits:


  • 50% reduction in time to report & action

  • Close call champions notified within the hour

  • Ability to attach images

  • Feedback to any interested party

  • Wider participation - clients, supply chain, members of the public

The system has not be in use for long but already VINCI have received enquiries from clients wanting to know how they can use it as well.



Currently the system is entirely web-based, so it cannot be used when there is no internet access. VINCI may develop an app so that entries can be recorded on a mobile device and then uploaded when there is coverage. 


IF you want to know more about this application then please contact COMIT and we will put you in touch with Nigel Lassman, or alternatively you can contact him directly via LinkedIn.



Deployment at Paddington, Costain-Skanska JV


Dr Simon McCabe, CTO of Basestone, described the practical issues of deploying a drawing review product on this Crossrail project. He avoided the details of Basestone's solution and instead focused on the "grit" of using mobile devices

The problem being addressed is the huge number of drawings - over 1 million for Crossrail. Clearly Construction is still firmly rooted in 2D. Printing and reviewing on these drawings is increasingly difficult. The focus is on trying to capture and access review information electronically - via Google, PDF's, tablet devices etc.


On the CSJV Crossrail manage the back-end environment while the CSJV manage the review process. Simplistically Crossrail push out drawings and the CSJV review and push them back.


One issue that immediately arose on deploying Basestone's solution was hardware. Many users had their own tablets but they were personal devices (a show of hands indicated that nearly the 

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entire COMIT audience had tablets, but only 20% were company devices). This meant no consistency of device or OS and Basetone had to make their App (which is native) available for everyone.


They also found that a number of users were not familiar with tablets. It was surprising how hard to use some people found them and Basestone had to get involved in training those people. Neill Pawsey (Crossrail) commented that he had similar experience at Crossrail.


Another significant issue is the difference between model and reality. Simon gave the example of an umbrella - lots of people have broken umbrella's at home because the model used to design them does not reflect the reality of their use.

A similar problem occurs in designing software. Desktop software is designed in an environment that is similar to the one in which it is used - but mobile IT is not. It is created in the same controlled environment, but its consumption is chaotic. It is therefore important that developers get onto site and observe people in the field. Where they cannot observe they need to collect data.


Simon gave an example  where an operative was given a tablet without much training asked to snag Eastbourne Terrace (the road beside Paddington) with the added pressure of an audience. They learned an important lesson - internet access there was bad; very bad. Both 3G and WiFi. 


The problem was that the modelling tools provided by Apple allowed for testing under "no network", "bad network" and "good network" conditions. The App had been developed to work under the worst modelled conditions, but it turned out that in reality the network speed was about 1/10th of this worst modelled speed. Consequently images would push but then time-out. Their modelling tools needed a "very, very bad network" setting.

Culture - user acceptance

Interestingly, this was not found to be a problem. Although it was a limited trial people were generally eager to be involved.


Heath and Safety

This was also not found to be a problem. There were some limitations on accessing some parts of the site but no concerns or issues were encountered specifically about the use of the mobile devices on site in general.



A report was produced after the trial which showed an increase in review speed of between 2.5 and 4 times. The output was accepted by Crossrail client Westminster council, who commented that it was good quality. Currently there has been agreement to proceed and look at deeper integration with the Crosrail environment.


Savings are likely to be significant. The tool was also used in the team review process on a smart board - which was not part of the initial intention but greatly simplified the review.


Background and Discussion

Basestone is only 2 years old and the solution has been live for about 6 months (since June 2014). Simon's presentation prompted a number of questions and lead to a discussion of why small firms were often the most innovative and better at driving new ideas into the industry than established larger companies.


A number of reasons were suggested, such as risk taking and a smaller acceptable revenue models, but no real conclusion was reached. 


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Lafarge Tarmac

Cusomter Portal and Next Steps Workshop


Tim Bestwich , Business Solutions Manager at Lafarge Tarmac, described how as a materials supplier they want to understand how they can offer solutions that add value to construction.

Lafarge Tarmac is a joint venture company formed in January 2013 following a merger of Lafarge UK and Anglo American's Tarmac business. It has a £1.8 billion turnover and makes 5 million deliveries per year to 15,000 customers from 20 offices and 500 manufacturing sites. The company wants to be the preferred choice for sustainable construction solutions.


They currently have an online Customer Portal which was developed over a number of years based on customer feedback. The portal allows customers to manage their account, access Proof of Deliveries (POD's) and request and review the status of orders (has my load gone yet? What time will it get there? How much did you deliver to my site yesterday?).


Part of the motivation was to create a self-service solution. Lafarge Tarmac would rather spend time dealing with customer issues than basic enquiries. The portal helps deliver this. Customers can print invoices (PDF) and request orders (but not actually place them). The portal acts as a single repository of truth for the customer and avoids rework or misleading information. It is widely used but not as widely as it could be.


The question Tim then asked is what should they do next? In light of the development of online services, BIM, mobile applications etc. how can they help with the optimisation of an end-to-end solution for their clients? What else should the portal, or a mobile app do?

Four groups were formed and given 30 minutes to collate ideas. These were then presented and led to a wide-ranging and lively discussion. Among the ideas suggested were:


  • Online ordering to improve uptake

  • Scanning of delivery tickets

  • Inclusion of mix design on tickets

  • Opening data to external access via an API to encourage 3rd parties to develop solutions

  • Real-time tracking of vehicles using GPS linked with traffic and accident information

  • Developing API's to support interoperability

  • Looking at how to use the data to provide a more intelligence to the end user (reporting)

  • Use the "Amazon" approach to suggest additional services following orders

  • Provide carbon costing with pricing

  • Smart tracking of deliveries to combine loads and avoid part loading

  • Ensure support on mobile devices to give power to the people at the coalface

  • Link material, asset and vehicle tagging

  • Use sensors on site to monitor weather conditions (and feed into "smart" delivery management)

  • Look at how tracking and usage of aggregate materials can feed into client BIM model (from ordering it becomes an asset, then moves onto site and potentially becomes something on the client BIM system)

  • Tracking vehicles/materials on site (exclusion zones etc.)



Enterprise Experience Design

Alex Waterston an Ross Dargon gave a very interesting presentation about user experience design and raised a number of questions about why it is often so poorly considered or executed in many enterprise solutions.

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Alex asked the COMIT audience what they thought user experience was. It is hard to define but is about feeling and is very important. A great deal of money is spent honing it on websites and new devices are driving new consumer experiences. In the past it was enterprise software that drove the design of consumer software, but now that trend has reversed.

Alex gave an example of just how important it is. In online retail most baskets are abandoned before the checkout - typically 60%. One company, Asos, reduced this by half by making one single change to their website. They simply changed the "register" button to a "continue" button. Nothing else was altered.


The improvements in user experience design have failed to trickle down into enterprise solutions yet. There are many examples of overly complex and cumbersome UI's in enterprise software.

One of the benefits of intuitive design means less change management. Simplified interfaces remove opportunities for error. Contextual awareness can also be used to reduce data input time - showing just the appropriate data and options.


Taking advantage of available tools and sensors can also improve safety - GPS and Bluetooth beacons can be used for Geo-fencing. Sound and 

Vibration can be monitored., Bone conductivity can be used in noisy environments. The camera can be used to reduce ambiguity, to provide proof and to capture work done. NFC RFID can be used for more than just tags for asset management.


There are huge opportunities for improving the user experience and benefiting from mobile devices, but why has so little change in enterprise software?  A number of reasons were suggested:


  • "Good enough" as generally been good enough

  • Feature creep

  • Design with anyone but the end user

  • Desktop applications ported to mobile

  • Assumption that "design" means expensive fonts and fancy graphics

Alex when on to outline the experience design principles based around human-centred design.


  • Contextual Research

  • Design with users

  • Agile prototyping


There were interesting echoes with aspects of Bastone's presentation from earlier in the day. Waterstones presentation lead to a discussion about just how bad some enterprise software is with some amusing (and bemused) examples from members of the audience.

Ten Minute Tech Reviews

Short descriptions of recent experiences


Rapid Office Mobilisation - Atkins

Ray Dudding described Atkins' experience with getting connectivity into short-term offices in the Scottish highlands and Welsh valleys. They used a solution by Anvil which provides fixed IP address SIM cards and uncontended internet connections for fixed monthly charges. They also used Viprinet which bonds six 3G and 4G SIMS together to provide a form of mobile broadband.

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Much of their experience revolved around how to manage the available bandwidth. A lot of people can do 80% of their work on an internet-only connection - which is much lighter on data use than connecting to corporate systems. This was encouraged. A number of lessons were learned such as:


  • A single user can bring down the site

  • Windows updates are a big problem

  • Most mobile devices automatically update when connected to WiFi

  • Weekend and bank holidays can be hard to maintain if that is when you are working

  • Map out the permutations of what people can connect to, when and why.

  • Passwords get out (local taxi rank were found browsing on their wifi!)


In conclusion the solutions works very well, but it is expensive to run. Corporate network traffic is the biggest overhead. Educating staff and managing user behaviour is difficult but essential.


Improving Progress Tracking with BIM

University of Edinburgh

Tobias Mansfield-Williams and Karim Mansour from the University of Edinburgh are researching how progress tracking on site can be integrated with BIM. A number of people have identified the potential value of the daily recording carried out by engineers but nobody has yet quantified it.

They are looking for industry contacts to find out what the issues are and if there are potential solutions. They would like to understand current practice and the potential for conflicts of interest.


If you believe you can help Tobias and Karim then please contact COMIT to be put in touch with them.


Experience with MS Office 365 at Clugston

Alf Spencer, Head of IT at  Clugston Construction Ltd shared his experience with switching to Office 365. They were going to upgrade to Office 2015 but decided that 365 was a better option.

They took out Enterprise E3 which includes Office on up to 5 devices as well as Office Online. Lync is being rebranded as Skype for Business and a number of people in the audience reported having problems with it. The discussion that followed suggests that configuration is the issue.


Clugston have also moved to Windows Phone and are using OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online. Alf reported that synchronisation of files on an individual level works well - but he is not sure about having multiple people working offline on the same documents.

Survey Update

Harrison O'Hara, gave an update on the Use of IT in Construction survey. The report is due end of December. He was looking for more information on the biggest frustration of available software in the current market. If anyone else wanted to contribute he could arrange a telephone interview.

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Conference Report

Jason Scott did a quick report on the COMIT conference that was held at the end of October in collaboration with Fiatech. It was a two-day event attended by 150 delegates with 19 presentations and a showcase about the MobiCloud project.

It was the first COMIT conference that had been held in collaboration with Fiatech and generated a lot of interest from the US. It also had a number of high-profile speakers and presentations, such as Richard Lane from the Government BIM Task Group and the Bloodhound SSC project. 

Consequently the conference generated a lot of social media coverage and web traffic for COMIT. During the week of the conference there were nearly 10,000 views on twitter - with one tweet about the Bloodhound project getting nearly 17,000 views alone.

Photographs from the event are available on the COMIT website, along with all of the presentations and details of the presenters. If you attended you are also encouraged to submit feedback via the form on Conference 2014 page.


Planning for next year's event is already underway and anyone who is interested in sponsoring or presenting should contact Gerry.

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Registered Address: BSRIA, Old Bracknell Lane West

Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 7AH

Registered in England No. 7475561

COMIT is a company limited by shares but currently run on a not for profit basis

for the benefit of its members


COMIT Financial Director: Mrs Gerry (Geraldine) Samuelsson-Brown - Mob: 07775 677 547


COMIT Director, Chair for Technology: Iain Miskimmin - Mob: 07814 007 731

COMIT, Chair for Construction: Stephen Smith - Mob: 07774 017968


COMIT Director: Neill Pawsey - Mob: 07792 074 163

COMIT Acting Director of Professional Services: Jason Scott - Mob: 07710 634 676


COMIT Director of Consultancy Servics - Mob: 07786 110 669


Management Committee:

Representing construction:

Steve Slater: Shepherd Construction –

Glyn Matthews: Speedy Services –



Representing dissemination:

Paul Wilkinson: pwcom 2.0 –

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