Records – why do we need them and how should we keep them?

A typical problem we come across when examining disputes on construction projects is poor record keeping. That doesn’t mean the records haven’t been kept. Often there are lots of records, in fact frequently there will be more records than you could imagine.

And the therein lies the problem. For example, one source of records is often email. But so few people still manage their emails effectively. The inbox and outbox will often be a pile of messages with discussions ranging from Valentine’s Day dinner to the final account on your latest project. But there’s rarely any structure. Even where structure exists, it may vary from user to user. Each individual will have their own preferred method of storing and structuring their filing system.

The same applies to other documents – whether electronic or paper. There are still some who prefer to print every single document out, and there are those who keep everything electronically.

Document management systems are often perceived as unwieldy or difficult to implement. However, you can be assured that something which takes a few extra seconds during the project will save thousands, if not millions, of pounds in the event you should need to find and use those documents in the event of a dispute.

Take Wembley for example. The dispute saw £1m spent on photocopying documents alone. If the records had been easier to manage and better organised, these costs may have been significantly less. Such high-profile cases are remarkably common. Even more common are the ones that don’t hit the headlines but suffer with the same problems.

The Society of Construction Law published some helpful guidance in their Delay and Disruption protocol, including six criteria for the management of records on a construction project. However, inevitably things change rapidly in the world of technology. Guidance which was effective and state of the art a few years ago will quickly become dated.

Ultimately, records, whether paper or electronic should be stored centrally. Emails should be stored (both inbound and outbound) by project in one location. Good electronic Document Management Systems can now automate most of that process. And where issues arise which might lead to a dispute or claim, it would be prudent to keep a copy of records relating to the matter separately.

The structure of records is key. It should be easy to identify records by project, individual employee, section of project or whatever logical structure is required. By putting in place rules and systems that will ensure records are structured at the outset of a project, much time and money can be saved if you find yourself unfortunate enough to be involved in a dispute. Some helpful tips for record management can be found in the CIOB’s publications on Project Management and Time Management.

 

It’s hoped that the increased encouragement of collaboration on projects through both contractual and technological means might help improve the management of records. Only time will tell.

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