I’ve spent the last 20 years helping construction firms find a better way to manage their project documents. After meeting with many small and midsize (SMB) contractors, I have found that while they are painfully aware they need some level of document management, they continue trying to solve this challenge by assembling a personal mix of different tools—often, in an ad-hoc fashion. However, these tools most often are not designed for the complexities of managing construction project documentation.
There are many potential pitfalls that come with a hodgepodge document management approach. Have you considered there may be better and more strategic way of addressing common challenges? Read on.
Is This You?
I get it. You don’t want to spend a lot of money on document management. For you, the easiest course of action is to stick with the various point solutions you already have in place, such as email, network drives, cloud-based storage systems and FTP sites. However, this approach brings with it some clear challenges—not to mention frustrations.
For instance, you may be using Microsoft Outlook to communicate with your project team. While it’s a familiar tool, Outlook has its shortcomings when it comes to tracking and finding project information. How many minutes a day do you spend searching through your email looking for that one item you just know is out there? Too many, I’m sure.
Or maybe you are using your network drives for document storage. The project drive or “P-drive” has been used for decades to store project documentation, but how easy is it to track your document versions? Where’s your audit trail? How do you handle multiple file types per document when you need to manage the Microsoft Word and PDF versions?
It’s also possible you’re leveraging cloud-based storage tools to manage your documents. But while they seem convenient and easy-to-use, they have limitations and weren’t designed to handle the unique requirements of construction projects.
There is no shortage of excellent, easy-to-use point solutions for performing tasks like processing punch lists or generating daily reports. However, the single-focus approach is fraught with many inherent weaknesses. Information ends up being siloed within the tool and is difficult or even impossible to connect to all the other relevant project information.
Teams can only be successful when they can make timely and accurate decisions. That won’t happen if they don’t have access to all the relevant project information.
It’s quite understandable why your business might be content with this type of document management system. First, you think it’s the most economical way of doing things, and second, it doesn’t take a lot of training.
I’ll address the cost issue a little later, but in terms of training, let’s face it—most people know how to use Microsoft Outlook and similar tools. And, if they don’t, each individual tool is simple enough that it requires only minimal training.
Third, as an SMB, you are looking for quick adoption. Time is of the essence, and you’d rather not spend it learning new tools and how they work. Your team doesn’t have time for that either. What you really want is to ensure you are gaining valuable insights from your tools and using your chosen solutions quickly.
Is the Old Way Holding You Back?
If you’re an SMB, the above situation probably sounds familiar to you—a non-interoperable, siloed and piecemeal approach to completing project work.
While each tool you’ve adopted may be easy to use and fairly inexpensive, it may be costing you in other ways you haven’t considered. Here are some of the many inefficiencies associated with an ad-hoc, point-solutions-based approach:
1. Documentation Capture & Access
Where is the information coming from? Quite possibly, it’s originating from many different sources. And, once you have a way of capturing the documents from all those sources, you face the issue of how to locate them later on.
When searching for information, you need to be able to find it quickly. A 2018 FMI Industry Report, Construction Disconnected, revealed that, on average, construction professionals lose more than five hours per week looking for project information. Of course, the worst-case scenario is that at the end of that search, you can’t find the information at all.
Perhaps you’ve felt that wave of panic set in as you spend hours searching for a piece of information in Outlook, a network drive or somewhere in the cloud. Can’t find it at all? Now you have to reproduce it from scratch on the fly.
So, what’s the solution? Well, there are ways to automate the capture of documents and their descriptors to make them easier to find.
For instance, imagine an architect has submitted a set of updated plans for the first floor of a building. You need to get those into your system so you can access and distribute them to the wider project team. However, it’s not enough to just capture the documents themselves. You’ll need to capture the document details like drawing title, version, date, author and more, to help you locate them later on.
What if you can save time by essentially “scraping” information off that file? Maybe that information is embedded in the file name or the title block or saved as document attributes in a DWG or PDF file. Regardless of where the information is stored, a system capable of scraping the document attributes can save hours, or even days, of document importing time while assuring the right information has been collected to make it easy to locate.
With a piecemeal system, you may be able to capture information quickly—but if you must hand enter all those searchable document attributes, you’re wasting a lot of valuable time.
2. Project Team Collaboration
So, let’s say you’ve now found a way to get your documents into the system and can also find them quickly—that’s progress. But you need to share these with the greater team to successfully execute your project.
As a contractor, you exchange information with people inside and outside your organization, including the project owner, architects, engineers and subcontractors. And a typical project can involve many companies. As a general contractor, a big part of your job is to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
For instance, you’ll find you are frequently working with your project teams to complete such things as RFIs and submittals. Without a system that allows you to manage those processes as various documents work their way through your project teams, things will either get missed or lost, and projects will be late.
A piecemeal solution doesn’t allow you to track and keep all that information moving quickly and flowing through the system. Every contractor is managing RFIs and submittals, but problems occur when there’s no system in place to catalogue and control them.
Inefficiencies can also arise in the handover/closeout process when using a legacy document management tool. Imagine you need to pull together all the final plans, specs, RFIs, submittals—everything that’s been done on that project—to create the end package.
With a traditional system that’s been cobbled together, this could take days to complete, simply because you’re left searching through dozens of emails and your trusty P-drive. Or, you’re looking through your FTP, hoping something didn’t get deleted.
3. Access to Field Information
Project work doesn’t take place solely on-site, nor does it happen exclusively in the office. Information needs to be accessed and exchanged between the two. How do you initiate a request like a punch list or commissioning from the office to the field to get it handled? Then, from the field, how do you get the results collected, consolidated and distributed to the rest of the team? The process gets even more complicated when you consider that more than one person is handling the job. With a lot of information coming from multiple sources, there’s a higher probability of something getting lost in the shuffle.
And are you able to analyze your project’s performance? You want to see what your RFI throughput is.
How do you do that when all this data sits in different systems or lacks fundamental audit trails? If there aren’t certain performance metrics built in, it can be quite challenging to analyze. Sure, you can probably get reports, but you won’t be able to evaluate the data in such a way to ensure you’re doing your work better the next day.
As you can see, there are numerous inefficiencies attached to a patchwork set of document management tools, including the difficulty of capturing information and finding it once it’s stored. There’s also the problem of distribution, plus managing assignments and process workflows, not to mention the lack of accountability with no audit trails or history.
Benefits of Improved Information Collaboration
So now you know where you could be going wrong when it comes to managing your project documents. The good news is, there’s a much better way of doing things. With the right integrated, interoperable solution you can manage your project documents through a single source of truth.
With a robust document management tool, you’re able to capture project data quickly and analyze the information. You can organize it into a single repository so it’s easier to find, or even search for documents much like you’d perform a Google search, based on attributes. You can also search for them organizationally, as people still like to put their data into folders.
By managing your documents under a single source of truth, the distribution of documents to the extended team is performed much more quickly and simply, and you’re able to leverage transmittal and packaging distribution tools. This assures new and updated documents are easily, and even automatically, distributed to all appropriate project team members. The best solutions also have browser or mobile interfaces, so recipients can access and view documents wherever they need them.
With an integrated, interoperable document management solution, you gain the ability to link and create relationships between different project items such as emails to RFIs, tasks to photos, vendors to project phases and photos to documents. Today’s most innovative tools include document drive functionality that streamlines the uploading, downloading, tracking and viewing of the project documents and photos mentioned above.
And you know all those contracts, line-item deliverables associated with tracking vendor documents and data? Before you choose a solution, be sure it includes a vendor data module to manage the vast quantities of deliverables associated with vendor contracts. These important features help ensure you’re making more accurate and timely decisions about your project.
A centralized document repository also allows you to manage project team members and companies much more efficiently. Chances are today, you are managing them in Outlook or a cloud-based tool because you are distributing to people, emailing people and assigning them tasks. Do you really want to do that multiple times?
Manage Your Risk Factors
With a collaborative document management and control solution, you can communicate across all your project teams and share items in a controlled, web-based environment that provides full auditability and tracking. If you have a system with an audit trail, you’ll know when an email and/or a document was opened and viewed, thus minimizing the potential for costly litigation.
Here is a common scenario: Let’s say as the contractor, you claim you sent an email that outlines some changes that needed to be made in a project plan. The subcontractor claims they never received it. Now, it’s your word against theirs. From there, it moves to change orders and the potential for legal action.
With a single source of truth, everything that’s ever happened in the project has been tracked. When you clicked on the email sent, that information was recorded. I know you at least viewed it because I can see that you opened it and when. Now, the potential for litigation falls away.
Through a single source of truth, you’ve protected yourself against having to pay for that change order in the future. Having a repository that not only tracks what’s in the email, but what’s been done and when—that’s a core capability.
A single source of truth gives you a complete view of everything that’s happened across the board. In terms of reporting and analysis, a document management system not only allows you to aggregate all your information, it also provides the tools necessary to analyze and visualize your project data so you can make smarter decisions. You can be proactive in taking your next steps rather than reactive.
Lastly, managing all your project documentation through a single source of truth streamlines the process of creating your turnover deliverables. This is accomplished by allowing the turnover team to archive selected project information and distribute it on a DVD, USB or other removable hard disk. The resulting archive provides a completely independent, read-only snapshot of project data. You eliminate countless days spent collecting data from multiple sources and even more time trying to consolidate that data into a deliverable turnover.
You’ll See Results
The case for employing a digital document management solution is sound, but maybe you’re wondering, “What’s my return on investment (ROI)?”
Think of the amount of time you spend searching, creating and re-entering data. Consider this your cost of process. Add on top of that the cost of all the tools you are using.
With a collaborative document management solution, you significantly drive down your cost of process by increasing efficiency 30 to 40%. While the cost of your tools may go up, you’ll lower your overall cost by improving your process. That savings is the true ROI that comes with adopting a better document management solution.
Ready to Take the Leap?
Let’s say you’re ready to take the leap toward better document management, but you’re curious how long it will take to get a system like this up and running. In most cases it won’t take any longer than your old piecemeal system. In fact, in some cases it will take less time because you’re bringing in a system that’s designed from your point of view. You should be up and running in a few days and be fully functional in only a few weeks.
Training for most end users can be done in about half a day. After a few days of getting the system implemented, you’re all set to go. In fact, no additional time and effort are needed to be operational using this type of solution versus what you have now. In terms of ROI, a product like this should pay for itself in less than a year.
Now is the time to reconsider the way your business is managing project documents. By implementing a collaborative document management and controls solution, you’ll reduce the amount of communications failures and increase collaboration across project teams. You’ll spend less time re-entering data—and more time delivering profitable projects.
Want to see what your future projects could look like? Contact InEight to request a free demo and see how it’s helping companies transform their estimating, document management and project planning processes.