Remote Audits Ease Pandemic Pressure

Many industries slowed down due to the global pandemic, and construction was not spared. When work was in jeopardy of slowing down or coming to a halt, one project manager at Interstates saw this challenge as an opportunity to innovate.

Randy Best, Project Manager at Interstates, had a team performing numerous site audits for a large feed mill client in advance of process control system (PCS) upgrades for potentially 40 facilities. When the pandemic hit, the client restricted all travel to plants from outside contractors as a safety precaution. Interstates had already taken measured steps to weather this challenge as a company, and Best didn't want to lose the momentum they had created. He and Jeremy Van Den Berg, Business Development Rep at Interstates, set up a meeting with the large feed mill client to pitch the new idea.

The idea was this: Since Interstates employees could no longer physically visit the job sites, they would utilize plant personnel to capture the information necessary to perform the audits remotely. A remote audit would mean that Interstates could continue to put together accurate estimates and bid on these projects as a trusted partner, keeping the project moving for the client. "Interstates' goal was to continue to serve the client and keep their PCS upgrades moving forward, even with the restrictions in place," says Van Den Berg. Having a close, trusted relationship with the client was necessary.

"The risk was that the plant personnel wouldn't be able to take on the extra work and disrupt their daily schedules to gather the information, but the upside for them was that the price of the audit would greatly decrease," says Best. The solution was mutually beneficial, and the client agreed.

Remote site audits entail getting documentation from the site on the current controls system software and hardware, the equipment they are interfacing with, and documentation and pictures of panels, devices, and hardware. Who collects the information can vary from site to site, but it is generally a maintenance manager or someone with appropriate maintenance knowledge.

Instead of bombarding the plant with all the questions at once, Best created specific weekly lists to guide the plant personnel and keep the project moving with the Interstates estimating team. "All in all, it really only took us two weeks from start to finish to turn our information around and submit an estimate. Typically, that size of a project and that number of hours would create a 2-month backlog for our team, so it was really rewarding," says Best. This new process's success allowed the team to look at the list of other facilities to find several more where they could serve clients remotely.

Once travel restrictions are lifted, Interstates may continue to pursue remote audit opportunities. "If we are doing feed mills, there is a lot of consistency from project to project. We have built templates that can be used at similar facilities, so it's well laid out and easy for the client to gather the information," says Best. He says that they have the technology to make remote audits even more efficient going forward, like headsets and live streams, as data is collected.

Traveling to site for audits won't be a thing of the past, though. "We will still travel to sites to close any gaps or look into anything we feel has been missed," says Best, "but if we can keep people in-house, limit our exposure, and save the client money, it's a win-win all around."