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On-line pitfalls

Rainer Massarsch gave us a fascinating glimpse of how the internet may affect our future (Talking Point, Ground Engineering, September 2000).Exciting stuff, but in my view there are some major dangers.

Dr Massarsch cited an example of a foundation contractor in Australia seeking pile testing services: 'Using an internet service provider, the project manager requests offers for planning, monitoring and evaluating a dynamic pile test programme.

He then selects a consultant from a list of on-line bids which are rated by the independent service provider, based on price, general competence and past experience.'

I have several concerns about this. I think it is important to use the term 'on-line proposal' rather than bid, because the latter usually means competition based on price alone - a highly undesirable trend when selecting professional services.

But my greatest concern relates to the rating and selection process. Who is this all-powerful 'independent service provider'? Does he or she have the necessary skills for rating the on-line proposals?

Rating among proposals on the basis of 'general competence and past experience' requires sound technical and professional knowledge, wisdom, judgement and sometimes personal presentations or interviews.

Perhaps the procedure could be acceptable for such sub-professional tasks as pile testing, if (and only if ) the testing methods can be standardised. But if used for real geotechnical engineering services it will surely lead to a downturn in our professionalism and therefore in the quality of our work product.

By all means let us use the internet for the exchange of information, but I believe that it is very unwise for us to encourage its use for the rating and/or selection of geotechnical engineering services.

John Dunnicliff, geotechnical instrumentation consultant, Devon Rainer Massarsch replies:

I agree with John Dunnicliff that choosing a qualified consultant (or supplier of products and services, for that matter) is often difficult.

However, emerging information technology opens new possibilities, which may help to answer his question, 'who is entitled to judge the competence of an expert?'

Traditional ways of choosing consultants will also dominate foundation engineering in the future. However, new concepts are being developed which take advantage of the possibilities of electronic information exchange (interactive database systems accessible from the internet).

Internet service agencies such as Smarter Work ( already provide an interactive database, where the client can choose from several 'rated'bidders. The rating process is rather sophisticated and builds on the response of both(! ) parties after a project has been completed.

The client rates his degree of satisfaction in terms of price, time and quality etc and, in the same way, the provider

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