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April 22, 2024

Outsourcing Submittals, O&M Manuals and Close-out Documentation

Q: Are any NSCA members successful in outsourcing their submittals, O&M manuals and close-out documentation? We seem to be so inefficient at this and find ourselves scrambling at the end to produce them and rush to not delay final payment.

A: I’m not aware of anyone outsourcing this and I’m not really sure if I would recommend it… here’s why.

• Each project (and design) is different and the time it would take to explain to an outside company the variations of each project would seem to be a duplication of effort and quite costly.
• The discussion on farming out the CAD work, drawings, submittals and close-out materials has come up before, mostly driven by how frustrating this work is for the design and engineering folks who want to move on to the next project.
• I’m hearing more complaints about this as the specs call for complete sets of operating and maintenance manuals on every component in the system and with them being printed in many languages, each can have up to 50 pages. In some cases, a ridiculous amount of binders, drawings and owner’s manuals are required and never looked at again. One government agency still requires 12 sets of hard copy binders and D size drawings.

Outsourcing would also seem to be extremely difficult as every job is unique and each specifying engineer, consultant or agency has their own standards and procedures.

• We are seeing more acceptance of providing a digital or electronic version only of the information. PDF files are the most widely accepted version at this time. Once saved in a digital format, providing instructions for duplication can be more easily relayed to the support staff and take up less time in engineering.
• Another approach would be to use construction engineering program students or interns that will be with you for long periods of time. They can become a documentation specialist and learn a lot about the construction process.
• To avoid paying overtime at the end of the project, make it a priority to use any idle time between projects to review and catch up on any needed project documentation.

Our most successful members have a process and supporting culture of discipline ingrained within their company. The process requires the project managers and lead technicians get started on the documentation at the beginning of the project and keep it updated as the job progresses. They’ve found that by doing this they can improve accuracy and dramatically cut down on scrambling around at the end in order to meet the payment deadlines. It seems counter to what an “as-built” is, but tracking the changes, segmenting systems, updating progress as you go makes a lot of sense. Especially on jobs lasting over a few months, these incremental updates can be very effective. Assigning specific tasks and timeframes for documentation to the project managers and their assistants can avoid that project that gets neglected until the very end.

You hear a lot about “green initiatives” in the industry, but not enough yet about going green in the submittals, O&M manuals, drawings, etc. As a long term approach, I recommend you sell this concept to your local design community and at the same time reduce the number of hardcopy binders you produce at the end of each project. CW

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