The web-based RICS Contract Administrator automates and speeds up the production of JCT contract forms, but why do some of its users still print them out and send them?
Amid the recent burst of marketing activity by UK construction SaaS vendors promoting their NEC management capabilities (see links to previous posts below), it is easy to forget that there are other standard forms of construction contract that may need to be managed online. The JCT forms are perhaps the most notable, and I have been looking at a web-based solution from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that can be used to administer processes from a selection of JCT standard contracts.
Online form production
The RICS Contract Administrator application is one of four WorkSmart tools delivered via the RICS isurv online service (the others are a forms service, ProForms; an online environmental system for fit-out projects, SKA rating online assessment; and Survey Writer, used to produce RICS HomeBuyer Reports). Described as “an enlightened approach to contract administration”, the web-based service lets users set up a project in minutes.
Having been given a log-in to the system, I was able to create a project running a particular form of contract (eg: JCT Agreement for Minor Building Works 1998, JCT Design & Build Contract 2005, etc; the drop-down menu listed 16 JCT variants), create user accounts for supply chain members (eg: employer, contractor, architect), brand the forms, complete the standard Contract Data project details (used to pre-populate many of the contract forms), and then start creating, approving and issuing forms under that contract. I did notice, though, that fields for users’ email addresses weren’t mandatory, which I thought was a bit strange for an online system that might be used to issue documents electronically and notify recipients accordingly.
Once a type of JCT contract is chosen, the system automatically selects the correct standard contract administration forms from over 200 templates so you don’t have to decide which is the appropriate form. When a form is selected (eg: an Employer’s Instruction), pre-populated details already entered are indicated in green, while sections that need to be completed are highlighted in red, helping make the system easier for junior or less experienced staff to complete forms accurately.
I asked the RICS how widely the system had been used and was told:
“Take-up of the tool has been mostly by small and medium-sized firms as the larger firms tend to have either integrated systems or applications are being built to specification for certain jobs (eg: for the Olympics). Typical customers for our application are Building Surveyors or BS in local authorities, loss adjusters and RSLs, architects, construction consultants and QSs.”
Electronic communication or paper issue?
I also asked about email issue:
“With regard to issuing contract administration forms once they’ve been completed the system offers the possibility to email forms to contractors, clients, etc. However most of the time people still chose to print hard copies and send them in the post as professionals are still not so sure how legally binding a certificate would be that’s been sent via email. People are traditional in the industry and we only had a few requests to include electronic signatures in our list of features for the software.” [emphasis added]
I am stunned that some professionals seem to retain this preference for paper-based communications and snail-mail. More than ten years ago, when construction collaboration technologies were still relatively new, such attitudes were perhaps understandable, and I (and my marketing counterparts in other vendors) spent considerable time researching the legal issues and seeking expert guidance. In my book, I quoted (pp.108-110) the expert advice of Masons solicitor Ed White (which included specific reference to a JCT contract clause) and of Hammond Suddards Edge, both provided in 2001, regarding contract provisions on electronic communications and their legal admissibility. I can understand professionals’ hesitation about email (indeed RICS’ own 2005 guidance on e-tendering (post), for example, says on p.3 that email “is not recommended at all”), but if all members of a project team have access to a secure, RICS-approved system which retains a full audit trail detailing issue and receipt of contract forms then paper issue should be unnecessary.
This suggests there is still a significant awareness-raising and education process required to inform users, particularly in SMEs, about electronic communication (I expect many of these professionals will quite happily enter into online contracts when they book flights or hotel accommodation or buy other goods or services!).
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