Best Practices in Document Management
One of the biggest challenges many architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) businesses face is how to manage the abundance of project emails, documents and drawings required for every project. Time, energy and effort spent on documents is time not spent managing client relationships, delivering innovative solutions and securing that next project. So, you need to ensure your document management is as effective and efficient as possible, without compromising quality standards.
But is your document management effective? Likely not. IDC found that document-related work accounted for 21.3% of lost productivity. So how can you make sure you aren’t a simple statistic? By making it easier for your employees to manage documents consistently and reliably, and you can do it with very little work by utilising an integrated document management system (or DMS) specifically designed for your project-based business.
Single View into Project Documents
Many of us are accustomed to working within database-driven storage systems, whether or not we realise it. Online music streaming services, for example, allow us to search for our favourite song by artist, title or album using only one or two keywords. This is accomplished through capturing metadata (AKA, data about data) for each song in your library.
Let’s apply that same logic to document management. Imagine having a single lens – a single place of truth – for all of your project documentation. Every document and drawing serves a specific purpose on a project or enquiry. A database framework helps capture the metadata for each email, document and drawing and ensures they are associated with the relevant project.
Let’s explore the benefits of a database-driven document management system or DMS.
Easily Capture Information
The first step in creating that ‘one place of truth’ is to ensure that project teams are consistently capturing or storing project information. From emails that are historically ‘stuck’ in a user’s inbox to the requests for information (RFIs) and change orders (COs), it is critical that the entire project team has access to the latest and greatest information so they can keep projects moving on schedule.
Additionally, it’s not only the personnel sitting behind computers that are creating and storing information. Employees who are working on site are also capturing valuable information that should be stored alongside the rest of the project information so the broader project team has visibility. As such, an effective DMS – particularly for AEC businesses – should make it easy to record items such as site observations, defects and inspections directly from mobile devices.
Benefit from Organised Information
Now that all documentation is visible and accessible from within this ‘one place of truth’, that information is now searchable making it easier to find what you need when you need it.
In today’s world, searching is part of our daily lives. Whether it is seeking information on the web, finding a favorite song from a playlist, or locating a particular photograph in a phone’s gallery, searching is a natural part of how we operate in both our professional and personal lives. We just type in a keyword or a characteristic and everything we want is at our fingertips. That’s how document management should work, allowing users to find information logically and intuitively. This searching capability should also extend to your site teams as well, allowing them to find and access key documentation from their mobile devices.
In addition, control functions are a critical part of effectively managing documents. Not only should a DMS ensure there is a single version of any given document, but also it should eliminate the risk of updates being lost by locking documents that are being updated until those edits are complete and committed. This provides all users with the confidence that they are always working with the latest version of documents, something that is critical when the documents are driving business decisions.
5 Steps to Success for AEC firms
Harness the DMS Power
Now that your project information has been captured and organised, you now can harness the power of your document management system to drive and simplify standard processes and workflows that will save your teams time.
Workflow builds on the controls we discussed earlier and can be thought of as the engine that ensures those version-managed documents are always in the right place at the right time. For example, a change order needs to be routed through pre-determined workflow for review and approval from both internal and external parties. Instead of tracking the progress of these approvals via a spreadsheet, for example, these processes and workflows should be integrated into a formal DMS so that it can do the heavy lifting. The DMS can automate that process, all while keeping a robust audit trail of who has read what and when along the way for ultimate accountability amongst the team.
Powerful workflow engines implemented in the right way free up resources to focus on higher-value work while reducing the time it takes to get documents in the hands of the stakeholders who need them. It also reduces the time needed to complete reviews and approvals.
Notification tools also can prove useful as it alerts users to new and relevant content that has been published. This is especially is useful when a user is required to offer comment or approval on a particular document. This must be suitably targeted though, not alerting everyone about everything or else you’ll lose the benefit of this feature. Notifications should be role based and relevant.
When your teams are feeding on site data into your central DMS, teams can use this valuable information to help spot trends. Those trends allow you to identify project weaknesses, improve defect resolution processes and identify patterns taking place on the project site. In the end, this can help your company closeout projects more quickly while increasing the quality of output.
Your DMS should be able to implement simple role-based (vs. individual-based) security, allowing control over read and write access to various areas of the system. The benefits of this is two-fold.
First, when onboarding a new employee, it is easy to tick a few boxes indicating what their role is and what level of access is required as a result. Second, taking this measure ensures that the right team members have access to the right information while keeping sensitive documents secure.
Extend Beyond the Project
An effective DMS will extend beyond project-related information and communications into other areas of the business such as human resources, information technology and marketing. By having this overarching DMS containing all of your business-related information, you can begin to move from document management into knowledge management. Policy and procedure documentation should be stored and managed here so that employees have a rich resource at their fingertips to help them follow company protocols, empowering them to be productive and helping them save time finding what they need.
Effective document management will result in a better way to run your business from generating and responding to requests for information, through every step of the negotiation, contracting, delivery and closeout phases of projects. Effective document management will make your business more profitable and reduce risk
About the Author
Linda Dininger spent over 20 years creating marketing content for architecture, engineering, and construction firms. She also is a former Deltek Vision user and has implemented a CRM solution that transformed the way the business development group managed their contacts and pipeline. Now as product marketing for Deltek Project Information Management (PIM), Linda combines her knowledge of the AEC industry with the power that proactive information management can provide companies.
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