Gleeds' new web service, PhotoHub, significantly enhances the client's ability to get the building it bargained for.
Smile please! Cameras are finding their way on to more and more construction sites. Television documentaries such as Raising the Roof and Cutting Edge have taken construction into people’s living rooms. Now, a new service using digital photography will take the construction site into the project manager’s and developer’s offices.

The service, from Gleeds Technology, will allow developers and project managers to track projects from anywhere around the world without having to set foot on site. Big Brother will be watching, so contractors will have to sharpen up their act.

Called PhotoHub, the facility uses digital photography and web technology to create a secure, web-based store of photographs and images. The idea of putting images of a project on the Internet is not new. What is new is that posting photographs will soon become a contractual obligation.

Gleeds foresees contracts that contain clauses requiring contractors to take regular digital photographs of site progress and then post them on the web site. This means developers and project managers can check on work from the comfort of their offices. For instance, a steelwork contractor might be asked to take photographs of certain joint details to prove that they are being done to a satisfactory level.

David McAll, managing director of Gleeds Technology, says: “The scheme should help developers manage their time and budgets more cost-effectively.” For a single project, developers can rent space on the hub for £130 a month, for a minimum of three months.

The technology behind the scheme has been kept simple to ensure that it can be used anywhere in the world – access to the Internet and suitable browser software are the basic requirements, and McAll says the system will work on 95% of browsers. If the photographs are taken with a digital camera, the images can simply be downloaded directly to a computer and posted straight to the library over the Internet.

Security of the photo-library is maintained using two levels of password. The first is given to the site team, called ProjectMakers; this allows them to add photographs to the library and to administer the site. The second level is for ProjectUsers, such as project managers, which is “view only” access.

A user can keep tabs on a host of different projects around the world by allocating each its own folder in the library. Sub-folders can then be used to divide the projects by, for example, placing the structural photographs in a single folder.

The system is also suitable for monitoring maintenance contractors. One local authority employed the system for just that purpose in a trial run. Without visiting the site, the council and the maintenance contractor were able to discuss a particular property’s maintenance needs.

The local authority uploaded digital images of all its properties to the site, enabling both parties to view the same images and discuss the project’s requirements over the telephone. An external shot of the property was used to ensure that they were talking about the same building, and sub-folders with images of particular areas of the building were called up to discuss their particular requirements. For example, if a window frame needed attention, a sub-folder could be created containing an image of the window.

In the future, McAll thinks the system will be particularly useful for surveying in the insurance sector, to view records of insurance damage and repair. Firms with large property portfolios will also be able to bring up images of the buildings they own, simply by clicking on a folder containing all properties listed in a particular area.