Construction document management is about so much more than documents. It’s integral to nearly every aspect of project management, including scheduling, contracts, contractor relationships, finance, and even project handoff. Effective communication of plans and changes depends on it, as well as audits and timely payment.
As any seasoned professional will attest, the industry is awash in documents and the volume continues to swell. Inability to effectively locate, securely share, and validate that all parties are working from the most current versions heightens risk in an industry that already has more than its share to manage.
The good news is that, today, document management can be almost completely digitized, eliminating the mountain of paper and the complexity and risk that accompanies it. The not-so-welcome news is that even with automation, documents can still be hard to find and manage because most systems are not purpose-built for the rigors of the construction industry.
Here are some of the ways construction document management can go astray and what your organization should consider when looking for a solution.
Working from the wrong version of a document costs companies a lot of money; playing lost-and-found with documents costs a lot of time. Crude searching of folders on file servers and manual comparison of document versions is tedious, dependent on human memory, and prone to error.
However, a folderless document control system with full metadata search capabilities can do the remembering for you and eliminate the likelihood of folder or document duplication or misplacement that risks team members using outdated information.
True construction document management is more than just storing files on a server. A file server can’t organize approval processes, and every pause to backtrack for approval is another inch of quicksand in the project path.
A system making smart use of document metadata can enable a user to easily put documents into a predefined, but user-configurable, workflow and then lock them down, so they aren’t changed in the middle of the process.
In addition, the system should be able to tag documents for handover as the project progresses, simplifying that final step. At the end of the project, this handover tagging can be used to place all relevant documents into a single reference catalog with a user interface showing what was included with links to simplify review.
True document control requires that all players are using the same system. If all stakeholders on a project aren’t on the same system, recovery of documents can become extremely laborious and time consuming.
What's more, it can be nearly impossible to effectively audit changes and reconstruct key events. Document history can be lost and important documents can go missing, causing increased financial risk and the possibility of litigation.
Keeping every player’s documents in a single, unified system will smooth and accelerate project handover while providing a comprehensive and auditable history to support future management of the asset.
Effective collaboration is fundamental to a successful project. Many of today’s solutions, however, are built on hub-and-spoke architectures that work to impede trust between stakeholders, and trust is an essential ingredient for successful collaboration.
These solutions often allow the funding general contractor or owner to have administrative access to all documents regardless of the wishes of the other stakeholders. Project teams require a level playing field built on a foundation of universal fairness.
A single collaborative system is both ideal and achievable by providing all stakeholders control over their data, with no stakeholder holding an advantage over another.
Most traditional document management systems default to leaving all folders wide open, requiring one organization to take on the risk and responsibility of correctly provisioning and administering access permissions.
It's easy to make a mistake that could provide one party with access to other parties’ content that it shouldn’t have, potentially leading, at best, to embarrassment, and, at worst, to legal and contractual issues, financial damages, and project delays.
With a document management solution built to foster universal fairness, such as Oracle Aconex, each organization has its own private workspace that's configured into the system automatically and can't be broken. Each organization owns and controls its own data in its workspace and controls its own permissions and access for staff.
Further, all access rights are transparent to the publisher. This approach fosters stronger trust and collaboration.
Process is paramount, and the value of document management extends far beyond the simple tasks of digitizing, uploading, and storing what used to be paper documents. The best solutions enable effective document control processes while allowing teams easy access to reliably correct information.
Project teams should be able to see the entire history of their work—what changes were made along the way, who made them and when—with all artifacts accessible in the same system to show the entire decision tree and work progress from start to finish.
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