Third-party verification services: Construction industry leaders respond

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    Ontario Construction Report staff writer

    Ontario Construction Report reached out to a cross-section of architectural, engineering and construction businesses with a brief email inviting comments about third-party verification services. We received more than a dozen emails and calls in two days, all expressing concerns about the services and their impact on their businesses.

    Among the responses, this letter from Gayle Suderman, director, human resources and safety for The Chant Group of Companies, Aurora, Ontario, reflects the concerns expressed by the others.

    Meanwhile, in a follow-up email, Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA)  president Clive Thurston said the OGCA board will discuss the third-party verification services issue. “Very concerned,” he wrote. “Not just contractors  – ECAO (Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario) and MCAO (Mechanical Contractors Association of Ontario) also back our opposition and concern,” Thurston wrote. (See related story.)

    Dear Mr. Buckshon:

    Thank you for your email to our president, Mr. Ted Chant, regarding your request for feedback on third  party verification services.  In this case, I am pleased to provide you with some feedback on ISNetworld (ISN). There are a few areas that I would specifically like to address.

    In our circumstance, we only have one client who requires ISN verification.  When we were first informed of our client’s requirement, we were also told by ISN that many other clients would, most likely, be requiring this same service. For a small company, it is important to assess each financial decision and base that decision on the potential for revenue. When presented with the “everyone is going to require this soon” argument, it became difficult to say “no.” In addition, when we first contacted ISN, we were told that the overall requirements would be customized, based on the size of our company and the types of services we provide our clients. In the end, our decision to join ISN was deemed to be “worth it”, considering that our client gave us no other option.  Now in our second year with ISN, we still have only one client who requires the service.

    I should emphasize again that we are a small company.  We have less than 30 employees. We are primarily engineering and project management. We do not provide clients with any labour staff, and, we provide a limited menu of construction and engineering services. Luckily, we had previously been part of Certificate of Recognition (CoR) programs outside of Ontario, so we had a foundation already established for our health and safety program. We were surprised, however, at how little consideration there seemed to be towards the size of our company and the specific nature of the services we provide.  We were forced to develop (and submit) work procedures for tasks that we will never perform.

    Those work procedures now sit in our safety documentation, completely useless. When we sent messages to ISN to explain the issue, we were told that the requirements were “hardwired” and although we could request some exemptions (and did), many did not, in fact, seem to be negotiable – whether they directly affected what we did – or not.

    The amount of work required at the initial set-up was extremely time consuming, more suited to a company with multiple resources able to dedicate time to the initial set up. With only one person in the company able to dedicate time to the task of set-up, it took approximately three weeks to fully complete all of the requirements. The electronic feedback from ISN (especially when wording was not exactly as required) was frustrating and confusing, and, only after several calls to their customer service line were we able to have the process completed. When we had a question regarding why specific wording was required – even if it was not within our scope of work – we were informed that the client would have to authorize an exemption. Requests for exemptions were submitted (and some denied) by someone else within the ISN system. When we attempted to reach out to the client for clarity, ISN informed us that they did not know who we would need to speak to.

    When forced to navigate the restructured safety prequalification department with the client, we were informed that it is ISN, in fact, who needs to resolve the issues, not the client. And around we go. Since being forced to use ISN, we now have an arms-length relationship with our client, whereas in previous years, our strength with the client was in our ability to reach out to the client and adapt our services to their needs.    Our client always knew what our services were and only asked us to provide relevant safety information. We happily complied, and, have always had a spotless safety record with the client. As importantly, our track record with all activities with this client have been, in all ways, exemplary.

    I should clarify, prior to signing on with ISN we had several contracts in succession, however, since signing on with ISN we have yet to have one. Our rating with ISN is, however, extremely high – almost 100 per cent. It would seem that for as much as we feel a separation from the rapport we once enjoyed with our client, similarly, the client may also have an unclear perspective on the pool of service providers they have to choose from.  It’s hard to know, because ISN is a barrier between us and our client.  As it stands now, I’m not sure that the client even knows who we are. We are lost in the digital “To-Do’s” of ISN. In the end, we are forced to develop safety policies and work plans that we will never use in the type of work we perform and have thrown up figurative hands in frustration, resigned to submitting these work plans simply to get a green checkmark in the required categories.

    A regular annoyance is the incessant emails entitled  “To-Do List Summary.” In most cases, this “To-Do List” is a series of meetings and other types of promotional seminars facilitated by ISN.   The actual “To-Do List” items – those being the ones that we actually must provide information on – get lost in the twice or thrice weekly “To-Do List” promotional emails that land in my email in-box.

    In theory, a service that provides a standard prequalification system is not a bad idea. The problem is the lack of standardization across the country. There are so many different prequalification systems and requirements. In the case of ISN, however, there seem to be a limited amount of companies that are willing to pay the astronomical fees they charge to maintain this service. To that end, the few large companies that have the resources to hire ISN to manage their prequalification services force companies to maintain the endless requirements of ISN in addition to other verification processes used by other companies.

    We are held hostage, unable to obtain work with this client unless we submit to the endless requests and read the innumerable pointless emails we receive from ISN, but have no idea what impact this actually has with the client. It is possible that for larger companies, with significantly greater work packages with the client, may see a greater benefit in using the ISN service. For small companies such as ours, however, the ROI is becoming less and less favorable. The only entity that seems to be benefitting is ISN.

    Although somewhat lengthy, I trust that this gives you an overview of our experience with ISN.

    Respectfully,

    Gayle Suderman

    Director, human resources and safety

    The Chant Group of Companies, Aurora, Ontario

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