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Techie Trials and Paper Tigers


By Simon Hope

Life is great, things progress, and every day a shiny new techno-toy arrives to make our work easier … or so we are all told.

The enthusiastic cry is that we are heading for a paperless society. Offices are now (in theory) operating paperless systems. What wonderful news for trees!

How did we all manage before the advent of the personal computer and its little cousins, the cell phone and the tablet? (To me, a tablet is still that thing that the doctor prescribes, but these damn things I cannot swallow!)

Manual Labor

Computers and computer literacy are interesting concepts. As with a lot of electrical appliances, the instructions seem to have been written by a machine, so that normal human beings cannot understand them.

Interestingly, if you give one of these toys to the average 6-year-old, he or she will have it up and running in minutes without a glance at the manual (if there is a manual).

Paper v Computer

This indicates that we now have a generation of genetic mutants who “do computers.” Will the next generation be internally Wifi-ready or at home in “the cloud”’ without the need for any hardware? The mind boggles.

Tools of the Trade

But back to “Computers v Paper” (keeping in mind that the “v” is an abbreviation of the Latin versus, meaning against, in the combative meaning of the word).

What I am banging on about is how those dueling tools relate to what most of us are doing.

Most times, people are using computers to do their paperwork and administrative duties. On the whole, this is fine for the bulk of us two-finger typists, but where it tends to fall down is when people want to try and cut corners to get things done quicker.

In the good ole BC (Before Computers) era, everything was done the hard way. Inspection forms were completed in long hand and in triplicate, using self-carbon copying pads. This ensured that each and every report was unique.

Documents would be similarly beaten out on a Remington or other tripe writer, with errors deleted by XXXXX or Snopake.

Ctrl-V for Victory

How times have changed!

The magic of computers has made everyone an author and an expert. The advent of Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V (better known as “copy and paste”) has allowed a deluge of uncontrolled and unchecked rubbish to be let loose into the world.

Paper v Computer
Washington State University

Nowhere is this more evident than in the production of so-called Quality Documents where one can generate reams of inspection reports that look absolutely wonderful but are in essence absolute rubbish—the “author” having taken a file on his machine and changed a few minor details to produce a new document, which then receives the same treatment to produce a third. This continues ad infinitum.

Procedural documents are also too often mindlessly fed through the copy-and-paste machine. Documents are often copied wholesale and messed about with just about enough to claim that they are unique.

The trouble, invariably, is that they are not read through thoroughly and errors are overlooked until too late. Meanwhile, the plagiarist who probably hasn’t got a clue about what he or she has produced will have walked away with a fat fee from someone else’s hard work.

Come the Reckoning

This is fine until such a time as when the structure addressed in all of these reports fails terminally and the matter ends up in court.

If the half-baked incompetents who produced these cut-and-paste stamps of approval think they can flannel their way out of trouble at that point, they are seriously mistaken!

Any expert brought in to analyze the Quality Assurance package will rapidly pick up on the copy-and-paste offspring, through tells such as the same batch numbers all through the project.

Temperatures and conditions more in line with Christmas than June tend to be dead giveaways, as does forgetting to change the date or the last client’s name.

End of defense. Guilty as charged of deception and possible fraud.

The Write Stuff

Handwritten reports (or at least reports done on the computer and backed up with a handwritten notebook) will always have a better chance of standing up to scrutiny.

People are more likely to believe from handwritten notes that the readings were taken, especially if there is evidence of grubby marks, overspray and other detritus from a job site.

The sooner that people realize that computers are not the way forward but are only a tool that can help, the better for ourselves, our profession, and our industry. Remember, rubbish in = rubbish out—no matter how neat and tidy it looks.


Simon Hope

Three decades as a self-employed coating consultant for the oil majors, military, offshore contractors and coating manufacturers—plus stints in shipping, power generation and other industries—have provided plenty of fodder for Simon Hope’s sharp observations. He welcomes “a healthy or unhealthy debate” on any coating topic, adding: “I never cease to be amazed at the messes that individuals manage to achieve—and, having reached rock bottom, seem to think that dynamiting is the way forwards.”



Tagged categories: Information technology; Laws and litigation; Quality assurance; Quality control; Quality Control

Comment from Eugene Doerr, III, (8/12/2013, 10:21 AM)

As a practicing attorney, I can tell you that unless there is good reason to believe that something in a computer generated report was filled out incorrectly or simply copied and pasted from another report, it will stand up with little or no questioning. Computer generated reports will not be under any greater scrutiny than handwritten reports. In fact, with terrible handwriting, much valuable information could be lost.

Comment from Ross Boyd, (8/12/2013, 2:33 PM)

I am currently reading this blog on my tablet as I am sure countless others are. Since this was a web blog distributed only to web subscribers, I immediately question whether or not this article was actually written by Simon Hope or was a cut and paste from another article someone else had previously written. A cheat is a cheat whether it be on paper or digitally. This blog could just as easily been written about the dangers of the eraser. You blasted kids with your tablets and internet! Keep your ball out of my yard!

Comment from Simon Hope, (8/21/2013, 4:05 AM)

As always, things are done tongue in cheek to precipitate commentary and get healthy discussion going, Ross I did ’write’ this on a PC and am now responding from a PC using that great old british invention the! I can safely say that the article was not plagarised as is so common and was all my own work; Ctrl C and Ctrl V did not star! What irritates is the blatant use of PCs to create massive volumes of mindless garbage by people trying to impress by sheer bulk rather than useful, meaningful content. I see far too much rubbish proudly presented by copy and paste experts that does not stand up to close scrutiny and regularly does not bear any relation to the actual job in hand, this worries me and I feel that it lets this and many other industries down!

Comment from David Grinter, (8/21/2013, 6:45 AM)

I completely agree with Simon, that all too often reports are filled with the same repetitive comments, obviously copied and pasted from one area to another over and over again. More often than not they are of little, if any value, but are invaluable if your main objective is to produce volume rather than precision. A report which runs into volumes is not necessarily a good one !. If a comment or observation is worth recording then record it, accurately, and link it to the specific part of the report for which it was intended. I as a technical manager for a paint company, have over the years, had the thankless task of reading all too many of these reports from coatings inspectors from all over the world, and unfortunately there have been not that many that stand out as being well written or technically correct / accurate.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (8/22/2013, 8:06 AM)

Some of the reason for the copy/paste mentality of reports is the overly elaborate or complex nature of the template which some inspection companies seem to love. Yes, we need details like batch numbers and DFTs - but the most important part of the report to me as an owner's representative is the narrative. Describe for me what happened that day. Did you see something that didn't meet spec? How was it addressed?

Comment from Simon Hope, (8/27/2013, 4:12 AM)

Thank you David, at least you understand the rationale behind the topic! You more than most will appreciate that correctly filled in and tabulated reports can simplify the process of determining the root cause of a failure and can completely avoid or save thousands in court costs when reports are properly presented. Tom, likewise I agree, there is a need t oproduce a unified format of report and as you say,'less is more' information contained only needs to relate to QA/QC issues, other than the basic info such as prevailing ambient conditions, batch numbers, W&DFTs,achieved standards and methods of operation. Reams of drivel in the comments box only dilute the important and relevant items that may play a part in any abnormality, the copy and paste brigade put the same mindless rubbish in daily but invariably miss the important observation as the chances are they weren't even there to see what was going on...cynical? You better believe it!!

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