Auditing: Technology can do our work faster

Energy industry professionals who have worked with energy field audits for commercial buildings still conduct energy audit on paper and re-entered into office computer systems.

Energy industry professionals who have worked with energy field audits for commercial buildings still conduct energy audit on paper and re-entered into office computer systems.

When a company goes on to perform work at the site, it first needs to conduct an audit, then the work itself, and finally an inspection to see if everything was done properly. Frequently this requires several trips back and forth to the building being worked on.

If all goes well, the inspection process will not result in a punch list of corrective work to be done. A punch list would mean performing the whole work through the inspection process all over again.

Depending upon scheduling, there may be more than one trip to the building site involved, with various pieces of paper forms trickling back to the office from each visit to the site. If the process is paper-based, it is likely that the auditors carry audit forms with them.

These audit forms will have to be passed to all the contractors to complete the work. Of course ,those same forms must make their way to the inspectors, so that they can see what work the contractors have done, before doing an inspection.

All of this contributes to considerable time and cost as the paper moves between the different steps in the process. Contracting out auditing or inspections makes the process much more complicated because of the need to interact with another company.

A Better Mouse Trap
Many experienced auditors feel that paper is the only way to go. Some reject the idea of electronic input outright. However, as more and more energy consultants use technology to capture audit information, the pressure of competition may dictate at least considering the use of (non-paper) tools.

The use of wireless devices reduces trips to the customer site. An auditor can audit a site, creating work orders on site. The work orders can be approved (or adjusted) from the office remotely and assigned to contractors already at the worksite.

Depending upon the amount of work to be done, inspectors can review what has been done, verify it, or produce punchlists, all without moving paper back and fourth to the office. In the more rural areas of the country, reducing the paper travel can contribute to significant savings.

The use of wireless devices greatly reduces the number of errors that occur when moving information from paper into office systems. If information doesn’t have to be keyed, the possibility of data transcriptions or flat out errors, and all of the time that goes into looking for and correcting these errors, drops.

The wireless devices allow field staff to alter an audit on the fly. Office staff can monitor the information as it comes in from the on-site auditor or inspector. Recommendations to check in additional areas and other suggestions can be forwarded to the person in the field, while the auditor is still onsite.

The wireless devices simply peer reviews, stripping the paper flow time out of the equation and this makes it easier to determine who the best auditors are.

The wireless approach does have its drawbacks .The most important are the cost of hardware and the time to train those auditors who have been doing it the “paper way” for a long time.

Other tools
There have been significant improvements in mobile phone technology as well. There are a number of quality cell phone-based options now available that allow easy input of data from the field .For instance , a browser can access a website that can be used to portray (and capture) information.

There are even keyboard accessories for some phones now.
Phones have smaller displays than palms or pocket PCs, and keyboards are not available for all phones. Also, while PDAs support up to 65000 colours and even sound and video, the graphics capabilities of phones are fairly limited.

The “phone” option is an interesting one to track though, given that many of the palm and pocket PC vendors are now building devices that include integrated phone capabilities as well.

Handheld PDAs are not the only hardware tools that can improve the audit process. There are handheld devices that help monitor air quality, temperature, moisture and so on. This capability comes in the form of add-on hardware or standalone devices that capture heat, moisture or energy readings. Some tools include infrared imaging ,where infrared photographs are used to build a visual indication of testing.   

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