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Updated 24/9/01

A case study from APT on system installation at Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians - see membership systems page.

During the recession of the early 1990's the construction trade was particularly badly effected. UCATT, as the primary Trade Union for construction workers, was hit by falling membership at the same time as the introduction of new legislation increased their administrative burden.

During 1995 a reorganisation reduced the staff at their General Office and highlighted the need to replace their old mainframe based computer systems with modern PC based systems. The nature of the construction industry presents UCATT with unusually complex problems in the administration of their membership and collection of subscriptions. Most members pay by means of deduction from their pay, a process known as Check Off. Employers forward payment to the Union for all of the members that they employ, usually on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. UCATT then need to process those payments so that the individual member's record is updated with the amounts received on their behalf.

ucatt logoThis situation is not unusual amongst Trade Unions and is also similar to the requirements of other organisations for the processing of payroll giving and the payment of subscriptions by employers. What makes UCATT unique is the diversity of payments and the degree of movement of the workforce. Some employers have a stable workforce and pay regularly using computerised systems, others have a constantly moving flow of employees and sub-contractors, many have no systems of their own and pay irregularly with no details of the members involved or with hand written lists. It is not unusual for envelopes of cash to be received with membership numbers scribbled on the back.

In this environment the Union needed software that would allow a handful of staff to process payments quickly and accurately against a database of over a hundred thousand members. Barry Ingleton, the Membership and Subscriptions Manager, had many ideas as to how a system could satisfy their requirements but was unable to find any software that did what was required. In September 1995 UCATT signed a contract with APT Solutions for the supply of APT's STRATUM membership system and the development of new facilities to satisfy the Check Off requirements. The contract was unusual in that APT agreed to supply a system for a fixed price without a detailed specification being agreed. This was possible because APT were able to understand the issues that UCATT faced and so the contract was based on providing a solution to those problems rather than on the supply of a specific solution.

During the last months of 1995 the software was designed and written. A prototyping approach was used with the software evolving through discussion rather than being written to a formal specification. Screen layouts were designed with APT and UCATT staff working together and the final result was ready to go live at the start of 1996.

On the commencement of live running UCATT were able to see an immediate revolution in productivity. Large payments that had previously taken days to reconcile and update were processed on screen in minutes. Whereas previously a backlog of processing was continually building, the new system allowed them to immediately get on terms with the workload and make inroads into the backlog.

Initially there were data issues to resolve, in particular by taking the time at the start to record member's payroll numbers the subsequent processing of payments was greatly improved. Throughout 1996 the system recorded over six and a half million subscription transactions.

In addition to the processing of Check Off payments the system has also helped UCATT in other areas, the ability to write and produce reports has greatly improved the flow of information. The Union has also been able to innovate in some areas such as the running of recruitment drives to encourage membership and the monitoring of the success of recruitment exercises.