01 Dec 2020

How to Conduct a Remote Inspection for your Project

How to Conduct a Remote Inspection for your Project

In this article Program Director, Les Carleton explains how site inspections can be conducted remotely due to travel and physical distancing requirements. 

Getting the right people to attend the site to look at all aspects of the delivery of a project on a regular basis is essential.
 
Throughout the build it can improve quality, reduce rework, limit variations, and above all generate a collaborative environment between the off-site team and onsite subcontractors and managers. Talking through issues as they happen and making decisions based on consensus, saves time and money in delivery.
 
Physical inspections have been with us since the dawn of project management, but now have become more difficult due to travel restrictions and physical distancing requirements during COVID-19.
 
Normally a site inspection (or tour) will occur numerous times during the build, and key stakeholders to the project will pass through the site looking in all directions, gathering their own views based on their skills, experience, and interest. Having specialists attend inspections provides diversity of knowledge and interest.

 

VIDEO INSPECTIONS

COVID-19 has reduced the ability to do this, and so new ways have had to be found. Luckily technology has advanced enough to give good quality video feeds from almost anywhere in point-to-point and point-to-multipoint manner. This will only improve as better 4G and 5G networks expand their coverage and higher bandwidths for video become available.

The obvious drawback to video inspections is that generally only one viewpoint (the camera holder) will be available, and management of that person and the process of inspection is not a skill project managers (except possibly in the entertainment industry) have experience of.

Use of video conferencing to perform the inspection has become the de-facto way to do remote inspections in the recent past, and I wouldn’t dream of challenging that as a great tool. Any videoconferencing platform can be used for inspections, with Microsoft Teams and Zoom being the most popular, however FaceTime, Cisco WebEx, and others are also in use. 

 

RECORDING YOUR INSPECTIONS

Recordings of the inspection are a great add on to the inspection process, as participants can play back sections that they need to look more closely at later on, and hold separate sessions using the video produced to inform later decision making.

These can be shared through platforms such as Microsoft Stream and others for later viewing and can also be built into captioned presentations for executives later. Screenshots of the video can then be used to provide context for later direction. There’s no point at which more information becomes less useful, when filed and indexed in a simple manner.


SELECTING THE RIGHT TOOL

Quality of the outgoing feed should be at the highest available level, and preferably configurable by the camera holder. Tools like Microsoft Teams are great, especially where many people are watching, but the video quality can vary based on factors external to the camera holder (e.g. available bandwidth, capacity at the video provider’s central servers, etc.).
 
Often, companies will focus on providing a standard (read cheap) phone with a camera, and ignore the quality of that element. When broadcasting, quality of the camera, the trueness of colour reproduction, and particularly low light sensitivity is very important as many sites are poorly lit. It is possible to stream directly from some DSLR cameras now, and that should be considered instead of using a cheap phone.
 
Background noise suppression, whilst a boon for video meetings, can actually reduce the effectiveness of site inspections as the noise level at a site can provide additional colour to the inspection.
 
The biggest issue though is that there’s usually only one viewpoint. Having 10 people viewing is great but they can only look at one thing at a time, so inspections will naturally take longer, as no multitasking can occur. Additionally, collaboratively looking at plans is more difficult (due to screen sizes when combined with a video feed) and thus more time consuming. Getting the attention of the camera holder to point at particular items is also a challenge, as anyone who’s been in a Teams meeting can attest!

 

THE FUTURE OF INSPECTIONS

Despite the drawbacks, having the ability to bring any number of team members to the inspection no matter where they are located does provide a big opportunity, especially for specialist inspections of individual items.

COVID-19 has accelerated the development of new tools and technology to round out the ‘being there’ part of any meeting and new technologies such as 3D cameras and virtual reality displays of live video are only around the corner, and these will bring the actual onsite experience closer to the remote observer. Video analytics are also getting better, being able to search video for individual items (e.g. power points) will make later analysis simpler and faster. 
 

There’s nothing like actually being there, the light, temperature, multitasking, and even the smells of a site can’t be duplicated remotely with current technology. However, a lot can be done. Focussing on smaller specialist inspections separate to a whole of team inspection can yield great benefits (if micromanaging is avoided!) and add a dimension to project delivery not previously available. Managed well, video inspections can get close to reality, and they’ll only get closer in the future!
 



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