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Select a specialist trade contract package in the area of a supplier of intelligent building services and:


  1. Identify the interface with other packages
  2. Map the information flows within the package
  3. Map the information flows across the interface boundaries
  4. Identify the responsibilities for the information flows
  5. Critically appraise the package documentation to achieve efficient information flows across the package boundaries
  6. Propose improvements in the management of the package with either the (a) internal specialists or, (b) the external contractor/construction management system.


by

Rhys Haden

Assignment from Module Seven

MSc Intelligent Buildings Reading University

16th September 2000


Introduction


The specialist trade package selected is one that recently provided structured cabling for a global IT company in London.

In this examination a number of issues become evident and these issues, which are italicised, provide pointers as to problems that exist within the incentives, project management and communication aspects of this project.

Once the structured cabling system and the contract conditions have been described we look at how this package interfaces with the other packages. The practical aspects of installing the data cables are discussed particularly with respect to how they affect other trades and how other trades impinge on the data cabling installation.

Whilst looking at the information flow within the package itself a number of points of weakness become evident in the way the specialist conducts the design and installation.

Mapping the flows of information across the interface boundaries brings to light issues that indicate the value of early involvement and proper incentives to encourage the various packages to work together constructively. The issued Terms and Conditions are examined to see where the responsibilities lie in managing the flows of information and then there is critical appraisal of the package documentation with respect to how it enables the information flows.

The specialist's handling of the package is examined and improvements are discussed with particular regard to the way the specialist organisation maps to the customer and how the specialist can improve its communications and processes.

The concluding remarks bring together the issues raised throughout and highlight particular points such as risk management, communications, early design involvement of the specialist and the impact on safety as time-scales became tight.

Description of the specialist trade package related to data cabling.


Overview of Structured Cabling


The following diagram illustrates the type of systems installed by the specialist:

SCS

A typical structured cabling system is split into five subsystems:
  • Campus Backbone Sub-system - includes both fibre and copper cables linking buildings locally, external to internal cable: splicing (external cables are often armoured and contain a water resist gel to protect the copper cables) and lightning protection circuitry built into the splice boxes and frames.
  • Riser Backbone Sub-system - includes both fibre and copper cables running between frames.
  • Equipment Sub-system - includes equipment (or host) cables linking equipment to the frames plus any baluns or adapters that may be required to run equipment protocols over the UTP. The Equipment cables are often 4-pair RJ45 ended cables or 25-pair telco (RJ21) ended cables.
  • Horizontal Sub-system - includes 4 pair UTP star-wired cables, plus 25 pair cable runs to outlet blocks and includes the RJ45 (RJ stands for 'Radio Jack' and the RJ45 is an 8-wire plug/socket similar to the American 4-wire RJ11, but larger) sockets themselves.
  • Work Area Sub-system - includes baluns or adapters if required, and the 4 pair flyleads linking between the RJ45 socket and the PC/terminal/telephone etc.
  • Administration Sub-system - includes jumper wire or 110/RJ45 plug-ended patch leads, the 110/RJ45 patch frames, any adapters that are required at the frame and the labelling system used at the frames.
The MDF is the Main Distribution Frame, and is often located wherever the external data and voice services are supplied into the building. It is common for this main administration point to be in the main computer room and is close to the main servers and data hubs/switches. Traditionally, voice services are administered here and extension numbers distributed via copper riser cables to the Intermediate Distribution Frames (IDF).

The IDF is where localised data services are administered and hubs/switches provide users with access to the servers via fibre riser cables linking back to the MDF or locally placed servers. In addition, copper services such as telephone extensions can be administered here.

The Copper patching frame commonly uses a number of 110 frames wall-mounted together and separated into a number of fields, such as outlet, equipment or riser fields. Riser, equipment or outlet cables are terminated onto the back of these frames using the Insulation Displacement Connection (IDC). The connection is made by use of a punch-down tool that pushes each wire (24 AWG) into a narrow slot containing metal blades just wide enough to allow the solid copper core of the wire to pass through, but not the insulation. The insulation is completely displaced and the copper has a clean firm connection on the frame. Patching occurs on the front of the frame via the use of jumper wire, terminated in the same fashion, or a patchlead of between 1 and 4 pairs which uses metal blades that push into 110 blocks mounted in rows on the front of the frame.

Details of the particular contract.


The building concerned is a multi-tenanted office block. The client is going to be occupying floors 9 and 10 with a computer room on the 7th floor where another tenant is located.

The client had the pressure of having to be out of the leased building that they were occupying due to a 5-year renewal of the lease.

The contractual arrangement is based around a construction management environment.

The Terms and Conditions information that is referred to throughout this document come from the IT Cabling Installation Tender Specifications.

Identification of the Interfaces with the Other Packages


Subsequent to the description of the nature of the structured cabling system that was installed the following factors are important when installation occurs on site:
  • Due to the nature of the UTP cable, there is a limit of 90m for the horizontal runs.
  • These runs need to be installed in one go.
  • The cables are sensitive to twisting, compression, tight bends and knots as this affects the performance characteristics, particularly for high-speed data signalling.
  • The IDC connections in the frames and the data sockets require a relatively dust free environment.
  • The cabling needs to be run so that it is not affected by electromagnetism from fluorescent discharge tubes and starters.
  • Earthed steel bridging is required perpendicular to power cables when data cables have to cross power cables.
  • In the risers the data cables need to be run on tray that is mounted on a wall that is different from high voltage cables.
  • There are areas where work is more concentrated. These areas include risers, riser closets and computer rooms, all of which tend to be fairly small spaces.
The other sub-contractors that these issues affect include the following:
  • Electrician
  • Lighting
  • Ceiling
  • Flooring
  • Builders
  • Air-conditioning
  • Security (secure areas for expensive equipment)
The specialist was expected to co-ordinate with other sub-contractors. Whilst the main contractor would establish priorities and resolve interference no extra money was allowed to be charged by the specialist for co-ordination. The expectation was that the specialist would attend planning meetings.

Issue - The problem with this stance is that there is a strong motivation to carry on regardless of others rather than take into considerations the needs of other sub-contractors.

The constructor was entirely responsible for the protection of materials and works.

Issue - This meant that the other contractors would not look out for one another e.g. cleaners told to clean a room threw equipment as well as rubbish without due concern or motivation to let anyone know.

The consultant worked for the client. On one occasion the consultant asked for cables to run along one tray when another designated tray had not yet been installed. When the designated tray was finally installed the contractor blamed the specialist for putting the cables in the wrong place.

Issue - The lines of communication and responsibility for ongoing project decisions were unclear.

As the project was being progressed it transpired that other experienced specialists such as the electricians were having difficulties. The expectation from the contractor was verbally expressed (in increasing volumes) that if areas were not ready for a specialist than the onus was on that specialist to liase with the other specialists concerned to resolve the issue.

Issue - As a result, specialist trades were in reality attempting to program and re-program their works without necessarily having the full picture of the project. The incentive for each specialist was to concentrate on the areas of the project that affected him or her.

Mapping the information flows within the package


This can be summed up in a flowchart:

Flow in

The flow chart above shows how the information flows are mainly top down with very little feedback. There is a mechanism in place called a contract review, which is designed to bring the sales, design and implementation parties to one meeting.

Issue - This process however, is rarely carried out effectively and just becomes a paper exercise. In addition, if the meeting does take place it tends only to happen once.

In this particular project, information flow between the sales and the operations departments at the tender response time was poor. In addition, the lead-time to the project start was very short and together with the poor quality of the drawings this meant that there was little chance to be able to propose a more cost effective and speedier installation solution.

Issue - Poor documentation within the tender documents leads to poor responses.

Issue - There was virtually no communication between the day and night shifts and so work was often duplicated or missed.

Mapping the information flows across the interface boundaries


The following flowchart illustrates how the terms and conditions describe the relationships within the project:

flow terms

Questions or modifications can only be submitted for the first time at the bid stage.

Issue - By then the big decisions have been made and the trade contractor has little influence on the design. This is much too late! One example on this project was that 40% capacity on the cable trays was demanded when there are 4000 cables to be installed in some areas. This resulted in very large trays that were unfeasible. There were questions whether the trays were needed anyway as it is perfectly acceptable if not preferable to lay cables straight on to the slab.

As far as the actual cabling design although alternative designs will be considered, the specialist will assume full design liability if the client decides to use the alternative designed offered. The contractor only assumes liability for the contractor's design.

Issue - There is therefore little incentive for collaboration and design ownership across all parties. The client wants the benefit of the design changes but not the risk. This is despite the fact that the primary sub-contractor is likely to have the better solution but has only first seen the contract at the bid stage.

Overtime is allowable only by instruction by the contractor but no profit or overhead will be paid. If the contractor believes that the constructor is behind program then they will instruct overtime to be worked at no extra cost.

Issue - The danger is that this is open to abuse since instructions could force a lot of overtime work whose costs fall upon the sub-contractor.

Changes to the works will be ordered in writing by the contractor and will require a written response. Any changes to the design or the price will need to be detailed and approved by the main contractor. If the pricing is disputed then the instruction may be enforced even if under protest, agreement of the costs occurring later.

Issue - This means that changes incur risk to the sub-contractor.

At one stage in the project, despite the Communication rooms being incomplete, there were instructions to lay cables anyway.

Issues - This resulted in:
  1. A waste of cables as they are coiled up somewhere many metres from their destination and over-estimates have to be made on how much cable is required for the final run.
  2. Possible damage to sensitive cables.
  3. Extra labour as areas have to be revisited twice, cables take less time if run from the frame. Also, the cable ends have to be sorted.
  4. Labour is intensified into a shorter period of time, normally requiring out of hours work.
  5. Labour is intensified in localised areas i.e. at the patch frames. There is a limit to how many engineers that can work around a 1.5m high 2m wide wiring frame.
Often the installation teams were asked to provide percentage completions of areas and were frequently asked to lay certain 'percentages' of cable.

Issue - There is a lack of understanding from an electrical/mechanical contractor as to what constitutes completion. Just because 80% of the cable tray is complete does not mean that 80% of the data cables can be laid. Often a building is completed area by area and signed off accordingly. This means that the request is for work to cease from one area. Data cables need to be run in from start to finish in one go. This may mean a run of up to 90m within a building that could crosses a number of areas at varying degrees of completion. One area may have floor-tiles down other areas may not have any tray laid in the ceiling voids yet etc.

The contractor required the basket tray to be installed after the cables had been installed.

Issue - The purpose of basket tray is to allow cables to feed off the main run through the mesh. The problem with the basket is that the rails impinge on the cable jackets. The data cable is very sensitive to kinks, twists and distortion due to the effects that this has on distorting the Electromagnetic field around the Unshielded Twisted pairs. The consultant will not accept any cable test results until the tray is installed. This breaks up the program of works even further for the specialist.

Identification of the responsibilities for the information flows


There was encouragement to feedback on discrepancies in the tender documents. Failure to do so would mean that if work needed redoing then there would be costs incurred on the primary subcontractor (specialist).

Review (feedback) on working drawings did not relieve the specialist of the responsibility of getting it right. If the contractor made a wrong decision on a drawing review the specialist would still take the blame.

When site problems occurred the contractor was only took responsibility when it caused the constructor 'unreasonable' delay, provided that there was speedy written notice of the delay.

Issue - the word unreasonable is difficult to define, for example if there is a delay and work needs to speed up, there is a limit to how many workers can fit in one place.

As far as health and safety was concerned if the Planning Supervisor had not appointed the specialist as the Principle Contractor, then the main contractor could do so. Under CDM the specialists should each have allowed in their rates for someone to continually be checking that safety is maintained not only within their own works but also with other trades. In reality as deadlines drew closer on this project, many trades were forced to work in one place at one time with no proper program management.

Issues - Safety on site declined, fleece material was seen over incomplete floors, and ceilings were being worked on at the same time as the floors.

On a number of occasions one of the client directors threatened to affect future work with the product if the quality was poor.

Issue - The specialist was exposed in this particular contract such that there was perceivable threat to it's position as a successful VAR for the client's products. This risk is one that ought to have been thought of at the tender stage and perhaps some ways devised to mitigate the risk.

Appraisal of the package documentation to achieve efficient information flows across the package boundaries


After the specialist has used 'all measures' to complete works the arguments on costs run on as the specialists claims are thrown out and a compromise sought as going to court is too costly. The result of this is that it does not encourage honesty in the original figures as all parties seek to attain a win-win situation.

From the client's point of view, there ought to have been more time up front to allow for at least a month's breathing space. It is far better to send a month's rent than run the risk of paying for 5 years. The leasing system itself is very inflexible however, the opportunity was there to work around this.

The main contractor has a motivation for the whole project cost (5million), not the 5% (250,000) of it that is the data cabling specialist. Accordingly the contractor's attention was divided in a proportionate manner.

It was evident that there was a need to have an independent Planning Supervisor to force the client to set realistic time-scales. A Planning Supervisor working for the client is not going to agree to extend the program risking a 5-year hit on the lease cost. The Planning Supervisor should not go into hibernation but be involved throughout a project irrespective of the Principle Contractor was.

The specialist should be involved earlier on to highlight design issues.

Improvements in the Management of the Package with the Internal Specialist


Taking a model used in the construction industry (Gray, 2000) we could see that the specialist organisation has varying degrees of role involvement with projects, this can be illustrated by the following diagram:

Specialist Role

This diagram illustrates a complete project from conception to beyond the end to the service business. It is recognised however that the specialist often come into projects at later stages and perhaps only gets involved in one or two stages.

It is important to separate out roles from actual positions held by individuals in the specialist organisation. For instance, an implementation engineer may be the one introducing a sale to the group rather than a sales person. The implementation engineer in this case is performing the role of sales. Sometimes there may be a sales person, an engineer and a director involved at the concept stage providing contact with a customer at three levels at the same time.

The above model helps to show that throughout a project each role has a changing level of involvement and at different stages. A number of things fall out from this such as suitable incentives encouraging the relevant people at the relevant points of a project, and the importance of communication between the roles as overlaps occur between each stage of the project.

Communication


Good communication between roles either externally or internally is paramount to give every chance of success in projects. One aspect of communication can be illustrated in the following diagram (Worthington, 2000):

Communication

This shows that different roles often operate within different time spans as a background to that role. This is particularly prominent when communication is required between levels of an organisation (be it an inter-company one, such as on a project, or an internal one). For a director to communicate in a way that is meaningful to the worker on the ground is extremely difficult to do even if the communication is relevant. The same is true vice versa. This also expands to communication between roles within organisations.

The Specialist Processes


As well as communication there needs to be a defined process that details the way in which the specialist tackles a project. This process is made up of many smaller processes that represent areas of the specialist organisation designated to deal with certain aspects of a project. These areas include Bid Review, Design, Implementation, Account Management etc.

These processes exist already within the organisation and form the bulk of the ISO 9000 procedures and pockets of tacit knowledge that exist within individuals. The issue is that these processes need to be more clearly identified so that there are clear boundaries between tasks. This provides two main benefits:
  1. Minimises the possibility of an individual under-compensating when performing a role required within a particular process. Also, it helps to prevent an individual over-compensating either to take into account others under compensating or because of other reasons perhaps to do with job fulfilment etc.
  2. A clearer measure of performance and ability of individuals.
We end up with a picture a little like this:

Overall Process

This illustrates a section of the overall process that the organisation goes through in dealing with a project. The overall process contains 'black boxes' that contain detail on individual processes that require actions by the individuals tasked with fulfilling specific roles.

A drawback of more clearly defining processes is that handover between processes may become unsuitably abrupt. In the project we looked at earlier there was very little co-ordination between teams performing similar roles, the day shift and the night shift.

Individuals fulfilling roles within other 'black boxes' need not know all the detail of another black box, however it is important for good work flow that they understand how to present the outcomes of the process that they are involved in and why the outcomes are required. This must be true not only for their own processes but for the other processes that they have to communicate with. There has to be an understanding of the requirements of the other roles!

Another important aspect of the flow chart illustrated above is the feedback that must occur, not necessarily as a one off but continuously, until both process groups are happy with the handover.

Practical solutions


In hindsight there are some practical things that could have been done to ease the installation and some of these are described below:

Rather than run separate cables bundles of cables could have been loomed off site and brought on to site for a much speedier install. Such a solution could be a full-loomed system (48 cables bundled together terminated at both ends) or a part-loomed system where the outlets only are terminated. The pre-requisites for this however, are accurate drawings (to save wrong cable length measurements) and a longer lead-time before installation to allow time for looming and off-site termination. When off-site looming occurs, A-frames are used to carry the long lengths of bundled cables. These frames make it relatively easy for the installation team to transport the cables.

It would be far better to forget the basket tray. Data cables require flat surfaces and the floor slab, provided that it is clean and free from grit, is fine. Basket tray creates problems with sensitive high-speed data cables due to the metal bars impinging on the cable sheaths.

From the discussion on the relative importance of roles at the various stages of a project, the on-sight project management needed to be strong. The ability of senior management to select the correctly skilled individual is crucial for success on site. When instructions were given that were either conflicting or likely to cause problems a suitably aware project manager rather than respond blindly, would communicate the impact of the instruction.

Some cabling specialists implement a toolbox talk at the start of each shift. This provides a forum for laying down the planned work for the day and for feedback on any site or technical issues that may be raised by the installers. This simple meeting allows not only feedback on issues from the ground-force upwards, but it also provides a way of accurately assessing progress on a daily basis. When site workers just drift on to site at different times and there is no focused meet it becomes more difficult to evaluate the success of the work. On this project, such toolbox talks would have also aided in the communication between the night and day shifts.

The specialist are gradually introducing a system called Global Project Management (GPM) which provides customisable and comprehensive tools to manage project manpower, resources, documentation and reports. GPM allows remote access for anybody involved in the project, and provided that they have a PC and the necessary software, they can work locally and update the central server at a later time. One of the strengths of GPM is that it has built in processes that can act to remind and guide those working on a particular project. GPM mirrors concept described in the earlier diagram illustrating the roles required throughout the various stages of a project.

Conclusions


Taking into account the other trades working on the site a number of issues were raised and these can be categorised thus:
  • There is a requirement for incentives for sub-contractors to collaborate.
  • The decision-making authority needs to be very clear.
  • Project programming needs to be centrally controlled but it requires clear and continual communication by all the trades.
  • Processes exist in every corner of the contractual world but they are often neglected or they are perceived as too complex to implement. These processes are often in existence for good reason however they need to be made more accessible for the people that are required to implement them.
  • Feedback from all parties is crucial both in the design process and also in the implementation process.
  • Communication is very important between the sub-contractors and up and down the contractual chain.
  • Involvement of the specialist early on in the design process can help to prevent costly wrong decisions with the added benefit of educating the designers and the client of the impact of aspects of design.
  • The Terms and Conditions are heavily weighted against the specialist and there is little incentive to be creative or helpful during the tender process or once the project is won.
  • In practice safety was not the foremost priority, particularly as the deadlines approached. The Planning Supervisor not only should be involved early on in the project design but should be independent.
  • The specialist contractor should have looked at the risks more closely and thought more about mitigating them.
In the case of this particular project the data-cabling specialist are now inviting the Main Contractor to look at a similar installation elsewhere in the city where off-site termination and cable bundling is practised and where the program is achievable. Although this will not benefit the specialist on this particular project it may help in future projects, not only for this specialist but also for others. The problem however runs deeper; an understanding is required by the client, and other design levels, of the impact on the program of poor communication and changes at the specialist level. From the specialist point of view, educating those higher up the contractual chain is a challenge that needs to be met if projects that operate within the current common contractual environment are to succeed.

References


Gray, C. (2000) 10 Essential Steps to Successful Design Management, Reading University.

Worthington, J. (2000) Better Briefing, DEGW.

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