Commissioning in a digital world: navigating new systems to find real value

By Tarik Haroon | September 25, 2019

Pre-commissioning and commissioning can be detrimentally expensive and significantly delay your project schedule if not done right. Time and effort resulting from lost or incomplete checklists, corrupted tracking spreadsheets, multiple deficiency registers, and more, can cost millions of dollars in lost time, delayed revenue, and loss of investor confidence.

For those familiar with large projects (of over $500 million), you know that management of the construction, pre-commissioning, and commissioning processes can result in shipping containers full of paperwork! In response, the industry’s turning to sophisticated completions software to optimize the delivery of projects and improve cost/schedule certainty.

At Hatch we’ve been doing our homework–and over the last decade we’ve been implementing, testing, reviewing, and analyzing multiple systems and trying to make sense of the benefits and shortcomings across diverse industries. We’ve found that there’s an abundance of these systems on the market, many with the same core features. So, what’s new? While some projects and industries are still adopting these software options for the first time, using customized completions software doesn’t inherently result in a successful digital delivery of a project. Once you get past the mass-marketed enticement of tablets in the field and paperless delivery, the question you should be asking is: where is the real value being added to my project?

The potential value proposition of a digital solution is that the time associated with looking for, updating, or presenting information can be substantially reduced, allowing you to respond to real-time data and avert additional project costs or potential delays. But having a completions system doesn’t necessarily guarantee project success.

So why isn’t this working for everyone? 

A completion system won’t ensure that commissioning has been planned properly. The tool simply facilitates management. Technical expertise is still required to determine the sequences, define systems, develop budgets and schedules, and manage data. Experienced users that also have technical execution experience can manipulate many of these completion systems to more comprehensively develop the overall commissioning plan.

A completions system won’t guarantee better testing quality.The system will simply ensure commissioning checklists are completed in their entirety. Unfortunately, completing checklists quickly without properly reading or understanding each item is still prevalent in our industry–often due to underqualified or overloaded resources, or completions system checklists that are unnecessarily long or irrelevant.

A completions system won’t automatically save time and recover the project scheduleIf used properly with correctly configured checklists, the system can save the project substantial time, largely because finding and correcting issues identified during early testing will allow a smoother ramp-up process. However, overly arduous checklists can impede the commissioning process while substantially increasing the cost. Imagine having a motor checklist that takes 50% longer than otherwise required. If you have hundreds of motors on your project, you’ve extended the motor commissioning process by 50% overall (or require 50% more resources).

A completions management system won’t automatically provide accurate information. It’s simply a database for managing information. We often find that projects which struggle are maintaining their completions system retroactively, because field resources are not actively completing checklists as they are completing the tests. This results in the Commissioning Manager needing to make project decisions reactively based on incomplete data.

What can I do to make sure my project succeeds?

Do your homework. The fundamental matter to consider is the value proposition of using any potential completions system (or module therein) on your project. Projects have various data management needs. It’s therefore important that the delivery model matches the project requirements.

Ensure cost-effective, efficient delivery. Right-sizing your field team, optimizing your checklists, and streamlining your commissioning process all contribute to the successful outcome of your project. A well set-up completions system can facilitate a cost-effective and efficient commissioning project by empowering the Commissioning Manager with the required information to make proactive planning and execution decisions.

Engage great people who make a difference. Regardless of your digital delivery model, the outcome of your commissioning project is still directly tied to the skill and experience of those executing the work. By engaging great people, you can ensure that your project is set up (whether internally or externally) by users that understand the project’s needs and not just the technical configuration of the software–long before any boots hit the ground.

Leading-edge digital integration is a complex and multi-layered subject to tackle. The value of digitally integrating your commissioning software with adjoining systems such as document management, invoicing, scheduling, and more, warrants its own dedicated thought piece. Stay tuned for an advanced blog on digital delivery solutions.