Document Management Systems Have Evolved - Here's How To Identify What Your Firm Needs

Posted by Rob Shropshire on September 12, 2019

Document management system

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I’ve spent the last 7 years of my career supporting clients in the built environment with their document, email and drawing management. And over the years, I’ve seen the need for efficiency and capability around document management increase dramatically. I feel several industry trends are at the root of the change:

1. An Increase In The Volume Of Data & A Need To Keep In Control

The most obvious change is the volume of data that is now being exchanged between project teams. In 2019, the majority of businesses are moving to become paperless, at least as much as possible. Firms are starting to appreciate the value of electronic record keeping as a value-add for clients, by building a knowledge base in which to serve their customers better. And in addition to making small savings on paper, there’s a realisation that by implementing more sustainable working practices they reduce the risk of important documentation going missing, where the costs can be a lot greater.

 

"Firms are starting to appreciate the value of electronic record keeping as a value-add for clients, by building a knowledge base in which to serve their customers better."

 

Many businesses used to use shared drives to keep a record of their documentation, using public folders to share communications and excel sheets to track what they had sent and to whom. Most now realise this wasn’t the best approach – with two main issues being poor search functionality and staff not remembering to save documents or emails into the right location.

2. Collaborative Working Has Become More Important

The other major change is the amount of collaboration that is now required as project teams work together to deliver more value for the client and its intended end user. As projects now adopt BIM principles (What Is BIM?), businesses increasingly work from a central model, all working together, providing feedback, exchanging information, centralising document approval processes and managing formal communications in one platform.

collaborative working

3. The Willingness To Invest In Purpose Built Technology Has Increased

In my 7 years working with customers, I have seen more and more organisations invest in purpose-built solutions. I recently sat in on a breakfast session with Roger Sandell, a Partner at Ridge & Partners LLP, where he discussed their implementation of Deltek Project Information Management, and the fact that they have not archived one document since their roll-out of the solution circa 2006. Their ability to interrogate one database to find every email, document or drawing associated with a person organisation or project, allows them to respond faster, protect themselves in the event of a dispute and save fee earners time.

The benefits of an integrated document management system are well known and proven, but you would be surprised at the amount of businesses I speak to that have no formal processes or software in place to deal with, what is essentially their product. These businesses miss out on the time savings many of our clients enjoy, sticking with the status quo and waiting for something to go wrong.


 

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Deciding On The Right Solution – What Are Clients Asking For?

Among the variety of different tools out there to help manage some of the above, there also seems to be a wide variety of user cases for a document management system and sometimes it is difficult for the businesses I speak to, to decide what type of solution they need. Sometimes they are after a business wide document management system and sometimes they are looking for something to support a particular project.

It is always a challenge for me to diagnose what they are specifically after, but over the years there are certain things clients would ask which would lean to one or the other, or perhaps both! I have outlined some of them below:

Requirements Revealing A Need For A Business-Wide Document Management System:

1. We need a central place to store all of our business templates to achieve consistency in terms of what goes out of the door. 

2.  We need a central security controlled repository to manage information about HR, policies and procedures, client correspondence etc. 

3.  We need to maintain and manage project information holistically across the whole of the business; we need good records of whatever we are issuing irrespective of which document management system the contractor/client has chosen. 

4.  We struggle with managing our information using Windows Explorer and need automatic version control, auditability, and better searching capabilities. 

5.  I need to make sure that if someone is away or leaves the business, all of that information is stored in a central system so that other team members can pick up projects quickly. 

6.  The project is not large enough to warrant a CDE/Extranet and we need mechanisms to maintain a central drawing register, numbering schemes, and be able to issue things out to external clients without using email/Dropbox. 

7.  I need to be able to answer simple questions such as ‘what was the last email sent to a client on my team?’

architecture drawing management

Requirements That Can Be Met With A CDE/Extranet:

1. We need to be able to invite the whole of the supply chain onto a cloud-based platform in order to collaborate on a particular project and integrate all of the various pieces of information right from design through to managing the asset after construction. 

2. We are a client or contractor and are responsible for providing tools that the whole of the project team can use - this gives us comfort that all of the communications relating to that project are in one place. 

3.  We are collaborating on a central model where multiple people are adding information to it, and we need to track these changes and also manage approval processes. 

4.  We can build in specific project numbering schemes and standards for that particular project so that we can make sure that everyone on the project is adhering to them. 

5.  Having one platform to exchange information on the project will help us save time and provide one source of the truth.

Whilst there are often similarities between the two types of solutions, it is worth considering what the user cases are for investing in a document management system. A lot of the clients we work with will actually have both, using a CDE or Extranet does not mean you don’t need your own internal system to manage documentation and vice versa, as they are both very different propositions.

 

"Using a CDE or Extranet does not mean you don’t need your own internal system to manage documentation and vice versa."

 

Looking To The Future

One of the main issues the industry now faces is that a lot of these business wide document management systems do not really integrate with the CDE or Extranets, which means project teams are doing things twice to make sure they have good records, especially if they are not the owners of the Extranet/CDE - and this makes it harder to justify having both, despite them serving different purposes.

On site information management

Deltek’s latest module, Collaboration, now gives customers the ability to create a project in their own system and then spin up a collaboration space in the Cloud to enable collaboration with the entire Project team. Furthermore, data can be synced with that space from their internal system, and it is also possible to send data back from the system into the customer’s internal system, to ensure that they are not doing things twice. 

 

[Webinar] PIM For Dummies

Master email, document & drawing management.

Watch Now