The performance measurement software system that has won accolades from the Movement for Innovation.
Alan Crane has come across many innovative companies during his stint as head of the Egan-inspired Movement for Innovation. But, at the organisation's recent annual conference, he chose to single out just one: a small, Surrey-based company called Building Software.

Why the accolade? Because Building Software has found a solution to one of the toughest problems facing the construction industry: how to measure and benchmark performance against the DETR's key performance indicators.

Launched in May, the indicators are set to become the means by which construction's stars and the also-rans are identified. There are 10 indicators measuring cost, time, productivity and safety, and the data is presented in graph form and compared with an industry benchmark. To create the benchmarks, the DETR collated data from its own research, the Construction Clients Forum, the RICS and firms' financial results.

Clients are keen to see the KPI data used to create league tables of contractors and consultants, but the difficulty is that the indicators are tricky to calculate. Which is where Building Software comes in. The company has come up with a software package that allows firms to create their own supplier benchmarks, and Crane was so impressed with the program that he adopted it at his own contracting firm, Christiani & Nielsen.

Called Contrack, the software was not originally designed as a performance-measuring package but as a database for supply-chain management. Building Software, which was set up four years ago by ex-Mowlem staff including former chief executive John Marshall, realised the software's potential when the Egan report was published last summer. As the Movement for Innovation initiative developed, partnering the supply chain became one of the four target areas for improvement. So, at this point, company director Simon Pinkney and his colleagues took the bull by the horns and extended Contrack to include a performance tool.

The tool is broken down into three parts: scorecard, survey and benchmarking.

Scorecard holds data on architects or other design consultants, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers or clients. Users fill in the categories they want to benchmark. So, under the "design" category, they could define criteria such as quality, cost and efficiency. They then set targets for each to see how a particular architect measures up.

The software can also break down a project into packages and benchmark, for example, how specialist trade contractors fare on packages of a project, and so create subcontractor league tables.

Pinkney says: "Scorecard can even be attributed to an individual, for example, a project manager, to see if performance differs if the job is done by someone else."

The second part of the tool, survey, is a questionnaire on the supplier's performance that is filled in by the user. The questions are developed with the user and can cover anything from health and safety procedures to environmental issues.

The data collected under scorecard and survey is then integrated into the benchmarking tool and converted into graphs to show the results. The benchmarks can be shown by company, project, phase of project or trade package. There is an almost infinite number of configurations for representing the data collected. For instance, all the architects contracted by the user can be compared to see how they fare on design, or a specialist brick contractor's record on finishing on time across all its projects that year can be illustrated. Individual firms' scores can also be plotted against the DETR's standard industry data.

Collating all these measurements makes the system sound complicated to use, but Crane says this is not the case. "If I can use it, I'm pretty sure others can," he says. But Pinkney admits that it takes time to set up the configurations to which users will want to program the software.

For those who are less confident about using the system, Building Software runs training sessions. These are not cheap, at £600 a day, but, as Pinkney says: "There is no point buying software if you don't know how to use it."

The sessions are usually held over two days, with a half-day dedicated to the complicated process of setting the criteria to be measured. Pinkney says he carries out the training half a day at a time, to allow information to sink in. The trainees can go away and practise what they learned in the morning and then present the trainer with any problems the next day.

The Contrack software can be leased for £50 a week, payable quarterly, which covers up to four users. Alternatively, licences can be bought at £750 a copy, with a minimum of 10 licences. As the number of licences increases, the rate becomes cheaper.

There is also an annual maintenance fee of 15% of the licence cost, which includes free upgrades on the tools available on the system. The licences being upgraded now will include the performance tool.

Apart from Christiani & Nielsen, Contrack is also being used by a variety of supply-chain members or partners, such as Ruberoid Building Products, Kone Lifts and Norwich Union Investment Management.

As the Movement for Innovation gathers pace and demonstration projects increase, so does the need for performance indicators. The movement board has recommended KPIs for sustainability and site welfare. The need for software that takes the elbow grease out of the process will increase, along with the momentum for measuring performance.

Crane congratulates Building Software for following the Egan implementation initiative and taking advantage of an opportunity to create a software system that eases the process. "I didn't go to them and say: 'Can you develop software for us?' They said: 'We've been watching carefully and we have developed a software package.'"

Crane throws down the gauntlet for other software houses to follow suit. "I think there is a tremendous opportunity for software houses to pick up on things coming out of the Movement for Innovation," he says.

Building Software can be contacted on 01372-450040

Keeping Contrack

  • Allows all firms in the supply chain to measure performance
  • Easy to use – after some training
  • Users can find it difficult to decide what to benchmark for each consultant or trade contractor
  • Training is not cheap, at £600 a day