A smashing idea

British Glass explores the benefits of a new web-based system that has revolutionised reporting data on energy and production

Introduced by government in 2001, the Climate Change Levy was intended to encourage businesses to reduce their fuel consumption and associated CO2 emissions by increasing fuel costs. The CCL, therefore, acts as a business tax on energy use, which adds an incremental cost to each unit of fuel consumed (for example 0.15p/kWh of natural gas used), thereby stimulating energy-efficiency activities in the business community.

Some energy-intensive businesses can receive an 80% rebate on the tax in return for entering a voluntary energy-saving agreement with government – a Climate Change Agreement. The agreements are managed centrally via sector associations, like British Glass – the trade confederation of the UK Glass Industry.

Member companies of British Glass are among 6,000 UK companies that have entered into CCAs to tackle climate change and to reduce CO2 emissions. The agreements run for ten years and contain company and glass sector level energy-efficiency targets. Success in meeting them will help the UK meet its international obligations and is key to retaining the 80% tax rebate on the CCL.

In order to secure continuation of the levy rebate, glass companies have agreed under their CCAs to report energy and production data to government in the guise of Defra, via British Glass, to demonstrate the energy efficiency targets in ‘milestone years’ have been met. This data capture and management process represents a considerable task, with many potential pitfalls.

Determinants that can hinder the efficient and robust collection and reporting of data include time-consuming manual processes such as chasing late submissions, human error in data entry and transfer, inconsistent and incomplete submissions, poor data traceability and/or accessibility and even changes of personnel.
Such factors can lead to many management hours being spent operating the data collection process, repeated error correction, and time delays, and can lead to inaccuracies. This may also result in sector associations being unable to quickly and robustly translate the raw data collected from companies into reliable management information and to provide the essential reports based on this information.

Building the system

Recognising, as well as having first-hand experience of, the difficulties and pitfalls associated with data collection for the glass sector CCA led Gordon Watts, CCA manager, to contemplate developing an IT solution to replace the organisation’s robust but largely manual system. Watts intended to find a way to make such data collection easier for member companies and British Glass alike.

As a result, British Glass chose Wetherby-based web development company NetConstruct as its partner to help build a web-based system that would revolutionise the way data from glass manufacturers was collected, collated and reported. The result was DataCollecta: CCNA – a new, web-based tool specifically built to allow member companies to submit their data via a dedicated website, which was built specifically for data capture and reporting by CCA sector associations and their members. The system offers real business benefits in saved management time and resource to both member glass companies and British Glass.

Functionally specified by Watts using his (and British Glass’) real world experience, together with NetConstruct’s state-of-the-art technology, has produced a system that has dovetailed seamlessly into the existing British Glass infrastructure. As a result, the system is both easy to use, greatly reduces the risk of data-handling errors, offers much improved data security and traceability, and allows captured data to be quickly and easily reported and converted into management information.

Watts says: “Capturing data online is providing our members with huge benefits in terms of convenience and efficiency and has sped up what was previously a time-consuming job. The new system has also sped up the process of getting the data required to Defra in critical reporting periods.”

Technical features

Key technical features of the system include:

  • separate administrator and user interfaces;
  • automated email prompts to system users to ensure an efficient and timely process;
  • a simple ‘traffic light’ system to indicate the status of individual data requests;
  • auto completion of certain data fields with company information held in an administrator managed company profile;
  • copying of certain relatively stable data (for example, meter numbers) between submissions, with the requirement that it must either be confirmed or updated;
  • real-time validation of data input, for completeness, reasonableness and continuity, reducing the risk of human error and the need for corrective actions;
  • embedded help files always available to help new and existing users;
  • simple and quick data collation and reporting functionality to interface with other business systems;
  • access via username and password ensuring that data is completely secure between different users; and
  • encrypted data transfer through secure socket layer technology, to provide a high level of data security.
  • Working with NetConstruct provided British Glass with access to considerable expertise in web technologies and data collection applications. DataCollecta: CCNA has been built to be incorporated into a wide variety of technology architectures, protocols and procedures. The system can also be customised to meet other data collecting challenges – British Glass is currently considering applying the system to the collection and reporting of health and safety and glass recycling data. In essence, the system is suitable for any routine data collection task from a medium to large user population.

    Demonstrating the system

    The use by members and British Glass of the system has indeed proved robust and popular as witness two of similar comments received by the organisation:
    “The new web database method of collection has made the process of submitting and collecting data much more efficient for all concerned. Participant feedback on the system has been provided to British Glass, which has usefully incorporated this into the development work with NetConstruct, and I expect this will continue into the future in order to take this project further still.”

    “I have found it easy to get to grips with the new system. Anyone who has filled in a web form or used Excel will find it intuitive. I particularly appreciate the sense check function, which ensures typos are almost impossible to make – which is crucial with such important data.”

    Indeed, it has proved so successful that on October 21, 2004, British Glass and NetConstruct showcased the system at a seminar held at the British Glass headquarters in Sheffield. The system was demonstrated to Defra officials, other trade associations, including the British Ceramic Confederation and the Scotch Whisky Association, and representatives from the European trade association for glass manufacturers, CPIV.

    Watts explains: “The new system has radically changed and improved the way we collect and report emissions data from our companies and made the process easier for our members. It greatly reduces the risk of data errors and provides both British Glass and its members, with huge benefits in terms of convenience and efficiency.

    “Any organisation that collects data from a wide membership will be familiar with the problems. We wanted to share best practice with other trade organisations involved in CCL agreements and also our partner trade organisations in Europe.”

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