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Third Party Inspection Reporting

Third-Party Inspection Reporting: The Ins and Outs

This is a special post from Jill Cotton with Inspection Reports Online.

There’s no question about it: the process of reporting the results from a fire protection system inspection is a pain in the “you-know-what.” The current system and practices around receiving, maintaining, filing and following up on paper-based Inspection Reports is time consuming, disorganized and anything but cost effective. Service Providers (SP), Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and Property Owners (PO) each have their own system of handling Inspection Reports, and making changes to these systems can introduce significant anxiety. It has become a game of who does what and how.

“As a property owner and management company, we are looking for an efficient program to assist us in tracking and filing all our reports,” said Brian Dolan, Owner of Dolan and Murphy in Aurora, Illinois. “It is important for us because we use multiple Service Providers, have multiple locations and need one ‘place’ to receive everything.”

How can we find such a program and ease the pain and frustration?

Third-Party Reporting (TPR) offers a solution to ease the pain and frustration for each end user: SPs, AHJs and POs. Exploring all options can be a time-consuming process, but with a little planning upfront you’ll be able to make the best use of your valuable time and come to the right decision.

Cost

The initial cost to use a TPR System should be zero. If companies are software based, this zero-upfront-cost state may not be possible because Traditional software companies require licensing, upgrade and annual maintenance fees. On top of those fees, the purchase of handheld devices that only read specific software is required.

The most cost-effective TPR companies to work with are those that work with your level of reporting, offer simple solutions such pay-as-you-use options without contract obligations, and that don’t have any particular software or hardware requirements. TPR providers that work in this manner can save a company hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per year.

While there is a need for internal upgrades to keep up with the changing codes and technological advances, costs can be minimal to none, especially on the AHJ end.

Connections or Associations

There are solution providers, both software- and non-software-based, that either have no specific background in the industry, or are still associated with an actual service company. What are the pros and/or cons to both?

One advantage to using a TPR company that does not have a legacy of affiliation with the fire protection industry is that it most likely offers more than just fire and life safety reports. This allows POs to truly manage many types of reports. But due diligence is required to make sure that these providers offer competitive prices, comply with fire and life safety codes, and are easy to work with on a one-on-one basis.

Using a TPR system that is associated with a service company can be beneficial. Such providers typically already have a large customer base and know the needs of those customers. Their knowledge of the fire and life safety industry typically surpasses that of companies offering similar TPR services. The downside of working with such a company is the chance of its market growing due to its increased access to competitor information and customer bases, as well as new property owners.

TPRs that have backgrounds in the fire and life safety industry, but are no longer connected to or associated with any service companies, should be considered. Such companies should still be actively involved in associations like NFPA and NAFED in order to keep their industry knowledge fresh for the benefit of their users.

Use of Technology

With “cloud computing” becoming increasingly popular, more and more third-party service providers are offering their services online in a strictly web-based manner that allows access from any device with internet access. This model, which works well in the business-to-consumer world, also works for the Fire and Life Safety industry.

There are no special computer skills needed to understand cloud-based systems. For the end users, the sharing ability allows everything to happen through a web interface (website). This type of architecture is already allowing many companies to get away from the traditional reliance on software programs.

“We don’t want a system that is difficult to use or costs us a lot of money,” said Dolan, whose company has in fact adopted a web-based system that allows it to track deficiencies and connects with Service Providers and Authorities without compromising relationships. “We see the benefits of using a web-based system because of the low cost and the effectiveness of receiving and managing our reports. We know in the long run, we can be more productive.”

No matter what type of system is chosen, the key is to make sure that it’s simple and does the job effectively and efficiently. An abundance of bells and whistles may be a sign that costs will increase down the road.

Understand the Three-Way Relationships

Third-party inspection reporting is not a two-way street between Service Provider and PO, or Provider and Authority. This is a three-way journey in which Provider, Owner and Authority are all involved. While some SPs allow POs to jump on their website to view reports and email .pdf forms to AHJs, this still doesn’t solve the issue at hand: everyone still has to print, file, copy and use their own computer’s space to store these reports. Where is the consistency?

A Third-Party Reporting System should connect all three users, making it easy to reach out to one another, view reports, share notes, file and follow up on deficiencies. If reports are interactive, all of the necessary information should be available. Owners should “control” the information based on their company (i.e., location information). Providers should “control” the reporting process and have authority to tag a report for deficiencies, or those that have been cleared, and an Authority should “control” the final outcome.

Relationships are important, especially between Provider and Owner. TPR systems should not come between these relationships by providing opportunities for bids, or allowing any entity to view any information beyond that which has been mutually shared.

Effectiveness

There are a number of different ways to determine the effectiveness of a TPR System. Does the system allow me (as an AHJ, SP, or PO) to perform my job more easily, in a more timely and cost effective manner? Do the reports meet the requirements of the local, state and federal codes? Does this system work with its users by offering assistance and value my input about my company’s needs?

There are some simple answers to these key questions: try it, give it time, and see if it’s a fit for your company and/or department. Look for key features such as searching, sorting, creating new reports from previous reports, self-populating fields and the ability to work with your actual TPR Company when seeking answers, updating and using the system in general.

“I am looking for a TPR system that is super easy to learn and use. I expect the data to be kept secure and confidential at all times,” says Thomas Hartel, President of Valley Fire Protection Systems in Batavia, Illinois. “Also, the system should be updated at regular intervals as the applications and needs expand.”

Why Now?

Third-Party Reporting isn’t an especially new concept, but there are fairly new ways of implementing these concepts and programs. Newer companies are taking what has been out there and making it more efficient, easier to use and cost effective while removing the pain of reporting.

TPR is allowing companies to “go green” in some instances by eliminating off-site storage of paper files as well as reducing overhead costs. Effective management of deficiencies increases service call revenue for the Service Providers and reduces customer response time. This is a win-win for all entities. Life Safety issues are addressed and the AHJs are seeing a greater increase in compliance.

“The benefits are numerous,” adds Hartel. “Having a powerful database that is updated at least annually (by location) is beneficial to all parties, including Service Providers, Property Owners, Insurance Companies and Local Government.”

Organizations that rely on updated reports that meet the codes of NFPA or other professional associations will add updates to their sites every three years or as standards change. For some organizations, this is a costly endeavor. In most cases, TPR providers will absorb these costs and make changes as needed. With software-based solutions, additional discs are manufactured and sent to all involved parties, making upgrades expensive.

Jim Woodhill can be contacted at jwoodhall@irol-llc.net

 

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • Krys M. July 28, 2011, 3:56 pm

    As a Service Provider I see the huge potential in something like this, especially for small to mid size providers who can’t afford the current software solutions. This is a very new concept and with AHJs looking more into this, I have a feeling it will take off.

    I can see where some Providers are “hesitant,” however, there are no solutions (software) that do connect us to our customers and AHJs without the redundancy of emails and multiple log is to multiple sites.

    Very interesting and a good article that gets the basic idea out there. Thank you for sharing.

  • Mark S August 1, 2011, 10:20 am

    Sounds good but as a AHJ we need to have a hard copy in the file as does the building inspectors for his files. Nothing to stop developing an email list of jurisdictions and email it to the AHJ at the end of the inspection. There are pros and cons to having it only on computers but could be saved electronically and a hard copy in the file.

    It has potential but needs to be tweeked.
    Thanks for the information.

  • Jim S August 2, 2011, 8:28 am

    We already recieve a large number of inspection reports in a pdf format – If a hard copy is needed, we print. The pdf file can be attached to the inspection file for that occupancy.

  • Krys M. August 2, 2011, 2:17 pm

    Response to Mark….
    Good point. Having that paper copy does help but I think the whole goal of going this direction is that you can, as an AHJ or even me, as a Service Provider, can access our reports from anywhere with internet connections. I can be in the field and jump on line. I don’t need to ask someone in the office to pull a report, or wait for one to be faxed.

    I made a list of questions and called. Found out a lot of information I didn’t know about. Just a thought.

  • The other Mark S August 15, 2011, 1:09 pm

    Why do AHJ’s need a hard copy?
    Please enlighten me in this. Hard copy cannot be retrieved from the field it can be misfiled as easing as digital copy. We as an industry need to start thinking into the future. That means better customer service, timely response to issues, and a more fluid work flow. Now I may be wrong in this question but is there a code that I am unaware of that says that AHJ’s need a hard copy? Or is a digital copy just as good?
    Am I for third party reporting? Yes I am. There are many questions that need to be answered but in concept it is a good.
    There is a need for a continued dialog regarding this.

    Be Safe

    • Dave D August 22, 2011, 8:19 am

      Just to be clear, with Third Party reporting, at least with Inspection Reports OnLine, the electronically stored report is always saved and available to view, print, download or email. The data is “secured” and the back-ups have back-ups. We are already in the age of electronics; banks, businesses and even most government agencies have closed the file room doors and traded in paper files for the more efficient, electronic versions.
      I would agree that this important information should not be only electronically store by an AHJ on a local hard drive, there are professional ” storage hosts” that guarantee safe and secure electronic record keeping.

  • Did Some Digging August 22, 2011, 10:50 am

    Want to answer Mark S first…I think part of this is that AHJs don’t have to save the information on their own computers, or make a hard copy. The TPR system acts as a filing cabinet, if you will. You can be in the field and have access to reports in a matter of seconds. It does more than that, but just wanted to respond.

    I think, too, it’s trying to bring some sort of consistency to the way reports are being received, managed and even viewed. I called IROL and found so much more information.

    To the Other Mark S, I agree more dialog. Give a call or read more on the site and you’ll find answers to questions.

  • Mark S August 22, 2011, 3:32 pm

    To explain a little further our local building dept is a little behind the times to say the least. The inspector will not issue a CO unless he has a hard copy of all inspections and reports in his file. This is fine and was done this way forever in the land of hard copies, but give the building a few years of age and a couple of different owners and when someone goes to find the original paperwork it has been sent to the archives or is lost or both when they go to the building dept to find the files. Usually we the local AHJ have copies as we never trash any building files even when they are torn down they go to the archives in the basement of our building. Does this mean it is the only way to go – no, but it works for now until something like what is being discussed can have the kinks worked out and local building depts change the way they think and do business. Who knows it may end up saving money and not costs the city anything to change.
    Thanks for letting me put my 2 cents in.

    Mark

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