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Connected Document Management

November 19, 2021
By Peg Landry

Construction teams generate hundreds of documents throughout the life of a project and these documents need to be carefully managed and tracked. Design packages, schedules, cost reports, quality, safety and compliance documents, and specifications are all subject to change. In addition, the paper trail (ASIs, Addenda, Change Orders, etc.) initiating and authorizing changes also needs to be tracked.

Ensuring that the construction team is working from the most current information is critical to the success of the project. But this is not an easy task. Document management workflows are often disconnected or disjointed due to manual administrative processes and siloed systems. As a result, these disconnected workflows can result in schedule delays, quality issues, expensive rework, and budget overruns.

What is Document Management?

Document management in the construction industry refers to the processes, policies, and systems used to manage all of the documentation for the project. Thoughout the project life cycle, this documentation is crucial to ensuring that construction meets all requirements and standards.

Although there may still be filing cabinets filled with documents in many offices, it is much more common for project teams to use a document management system. The problem occurs when each party on the project has their own system. Project teams maintaining two or more disconnected document management systems can run into several problems. Systems can easily get out of sync causing confusion on which document is the right document. Also, manual uploads and downloads of information delays information from getting out in a timely manner. There’s also bound to be some human errors that surface as well.

Document Management Challenges

Effective document management and control is about ensuring that everyone on the project is working from the correct set of documents and is receiving information in a timely manner. A drawing update issued to the construction team a day after they have already completed that section of the build may result in rework. Or contractors working from an old or unapproved version of a document may have even more dire consequences.

Getting Out of Sync

Design and contractor teams often use different systems to manage all of this documentation. Trying to keep hundreds of documents with multiple versions between multiple systems in sync is a monumental task.

The “document of record” is the current and approved version of a sheet, drawing, or document. But whose “document of record” is THE “document of record”? If the systems stay in sync it’s not a problem. But manual processes and methods for moving information between systems increases the chance of files getting out of sync.

Files may be stored in a variety of different places even within the same firm. And the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help matters. Employees forced out of the office found creative ways to share information. As a result, documents are stored in more places. The project team may even be unaware that these documents exist.

Timing is Everything

Challenges arise regarding version control and getting information out to the field in a timely manner.

Architects updating or revising models need to synchronize with the systems used to distribute information out the field. And time is of the essence. Updating this information across mobile devices in the field remains a challenge.

In a recent study conducted by Newforma and Dodge Data, Project Information Management 2021, over half of the respondents indicate that information is not getting to team members in a timely manner. Survey findings reveal that manual uploading and downloading files between systems is introducing delays.

Most survey respondents also report that the most common method for sharing information is through File Transfer Protocol (FTP), consumer-grade file transfer software, or email. These methods of file sharing have limitations and can often contribute to communication delays.

Keeping Track of Who Has What

Another major document management challenge is keeping track of who received each version and document issuance. Audit trails of who received what, and when, will aid difficult conversations that may arise when potential delays occur. A system that provides download tracking logs to external team members can also reduce the amount of time spent discussing the issue, leaving more time to fix it and move forward.

Connected Document Management

Start by centralizing the processes for how information is shared.

Centralizing the way information is shared is different than requiring all parties to use the same system. There’s a big difference. A centralized process for sharing information provides full transparency. It also streamlines workflows by eliminating multiple transfers or movement of data (copying files from one folder to another). Cutting down the number of manual steps reduces errors and saves time. It’s also more reliable. The project team knows how information is going to be shared – it’s no longer a guessing game.

A centralized view of project documents also provides a way to view all other related information. For example, providing the context and supporting documentation on why a change is required will help build trust with all members of the team.

Leverage software for governance & controls.

Governance and controls ensure that all documents have been properly reviewed, approved, and authorized for use by the appropriate parties. In addition, controls include who has access to documents, and at what point in the workflow.

Project teams who are required to adhere to specific standards such as ISO 19650, must be able to demonstrate that their systems and processes comply. This is where automation comes into play. It’s a lot easier for the software to keep track of what’s going on than a human – at least consistently. Software can enforce naming conventions, manage revisions, track issuances, and provide a complete audit trail.

Automate document control workflows.

In Newforma’s recent study with Dodge Data and Analytics, 75% of survey respondents cite manual administrative tasks as a major challenge. They also indicated that this is impacting project performance.

Current revisions of documents can be automatically synced to the record copy document of record keeps everyone up to date. For example, Newforma has an add-in for Autodesk Revit, Newforma Project Information Link, that enables the design team to automatically download sheets from Revit to create record documents, and also automatically synchronizes revisions. Single documents or hundreds of sheets can be automatically created and updated without manual intervention. Once the links are created, you can synchronize information back and forth between Newforma Project Center and Revit. The drawing files, DWGs, are published alongside the PDFs, saving time and effort in preparing multiple file types for transmittal and issue.

Automating the workflow out to the field is also a major step forward to improve document management and document control. Many times, updates are emailed out to team members and these updates can be easily missed in the Inbox. Email is also not a good choice for large file sizes. Newforma’s Project Information Link also enables sheets generated from Autodesk Revit to be downloaded to Newforma’s Plans mobile apps so that field teams have access to the most current version of sheets from their iPad or iPhone.

Getting in Sync

Project teams can get their document management in sync by exploring ways to automate processes, and systems for managing project documents. Automating the management of record documents and associated revisions and providing a centralized way to share that information is a starting point.