Drowning in documents20 October 2003
A failure to appreciate the scope of document management is leading to far too many ineffective implementations of complicated projects in areas such as process manufacturing and structural engineering, says Tim Taylor
THERE IS a unique challenge for organisations delivering large complex programmes of work. Success relies heavily on the controlled and timely transfer of information internally and externally across departments and third parties such as operators, regulatory bodies and general contractors.
Time is a critical factor in the design and construction phase. Engineering prime contractors, for example, are facing
increased build complexity, greater collaboration and punitive
Also, owner-operators are under pressure to extract greater value from assets while reducing operational and capital expenditure.
In addition, the engineering content that is managed in these programmes of work has its own unique attributes and relationships.
Engineering content has specific characteristics. It covers complex specifications including drawings, data sheets, calculations, geophysical data, analysis results and financial projections. These documents often have complex inter-relationships. For example:
It is not uncommon for a drawing to have 50 or more related reference drawings where the specific version needs to be maintained.
The ownership of documents often transfers between
companies at different project milestones, requiring co-ordination across systems.
Documents are contractually binding and tied to payment. It is critical to the business that the validity and history of the documents can be trusted.
Very high volumes of controlled documents are generated for projects and are subject to stringent change control. The speed and accuracy of this change control is critical to the bottom line of all collaborating companies.
Many businesses are failing to link engineering content and document management systems with wider business processes, making the tracking, retrieval and association of vital content
Different departments within an organisation have differing views over exactly what document management is and this means that the company as a whole is not in a position to realise the full benefits that an enterprise document management system can offer.
In many ways, this is a point not too far removed from the statistic highlighted in recent press reports that 80% of the population only uses 20% of its mobile phone’s functionality.
In a commercial sense, under-use of document management systems can reduce competitive advantage and undermine effective business process management.
While an engineer may view document management as the management of drawings in a CAD environment, the work that they do has a direct impact on key business processes such as contract negotiation, payment collection and project management.
In an engineering organisation, deliverable drawings are subject to complex rules and regulations and often have to be reworked
several times before they can be submitted as complete and
Project managers need to know the status of these deliverables at all times so that they can identify bottlenecks and allocate resources appropriately. This is by no means a straightforward task and managers know how painful it can be to get this information on demand, yet it is a request that will be made time and time again.
For example, a contract manager might need to make a claim for extra work and, as such, would ask the project engineers to pull together all relevant documentation and correspondence for a particular project. The claim could centre on proving that requested changes were made following the review of initial design work. Such instances are commonplace, but can be time consuming and costly in terms of lost productivity.
The more effective integration of engineering content and document management with other business processes leads to reduced costs, improved productivity and could ultimately have a positive impact on project completion times.
The ability to meet and exceed expectations on the achievement of project milestones and deadlines is becoming a major selling proposition for engineering projects across the board.
All the information required to do this is usually available, but it can be very difficult to obtain quickly and efficiently. It should all be available to the project manager or the contracts manager at the push of a button.
The failure to look at the wider picture, or departmental ‘tunnel vision’, is all too common in many businesses. Usually in departmental systems there is no ability to include content within wider automated business processes. Enterprise content management platforms permit this function but without it, departments are losing the ability to control and link the business processes that deliver content to their entire organisation and systems.
what could happen...
A typical example of the problems caused by not adopting an
enterprise view of engineering document management would be
The engineering department may deliver a CAD drawing to the customer without the finance department being alerted. Therefore, the invoicing process would not be triggered and, despite the fact that a contractually agreed milestone had been met, payment would be unnecessarily delayed. Likewise, it is equally possible that the finance department could be chasing for payment based on a predicted schedule of stage completion before the work has actually been finalised.
The issue here is not the current state of document management applications, but how content can be more effectively managed in the future. A company that has the ability to organise the effective use of its engineering and related content across the business, instead of limiting it to a departmental level has a major advantage, building stronger business processes through a shared infrastructure.
Enterprise-wide document and drawing management can support many document management tasks and business processes needed by today’s engineers operating in a complex global environment, as figure 1 shows.
By adopting an enterprise approach to the management of engineering drawings, documents and other content, organisations can maximise intellectual property and manage risk.
Maximise intellectual property
The importance of managing intellectual property effectively cannot be underestimated. In a typical project, intellectual property can manifest itself as any of the following:
Business rules and processes.
Designs and drawings.
Proposals and tenders.
By linking the document management systems with wider business processes, organisations are able to free up the movement of intellectual property across departments and the extended enterprise. With the greater control afforded through the adoption of this approach, businesses are able to harness and maximise intellectual property throughout the organisation.
This is of particular benefit to those organisations operating in regulated markets as an integrated approach aids the maintenance and proof of compliance with industry demands. Processes, audit trails, environmental considerations, safety and quality control can all be demonstrated with greater ease and speed.
A document management solution that helps organisations to control the flow of information internally and between itself and third parties, such as contracted engineers or architects and clients, can add real value in line with business processes. By the same token, businesses that are not adopting this approach are putting themselves at risk by exercising inadequate control over transmittals,
correspondence and contracts. In regulated industries, this can lead to the appearance of gaps in procedures and potentially to the suspension of activities.
Part of risk management is identifying the potential weakness within an organisation and removing the threat. Organisations should view any time that they are not able to exercise control over projects or business processes as downtime and seek to minimise or eradicate such occurrences.
Engineering projects are distinguished by their volume of documents and complexity and regularly involve hundreds of individuals in partnered companies, making collaboration in a secure environment essential.
Success in the design, bid and tendering process requires businesses to make decisions and to illustrate the processes behind them at each critical stage of each individual procedure; integrating and managing the required information effectively is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry today.
However, the move towards collaborative working has already highlighted how the sharing of information can provide real business benefits and the astute organisation should be thinking of taking this one stage further by integrating its internal systems. By failing to act on this now businesses are encouraging departmental tunnel vision and it is their bottom line that will suffer as a result.
|Enterprise Wide Document Management Strategies at MWH|
| Utilities engineering consultancy MWH has engineered, constructed, financed and managed some of the largest and most technologically advanced projects in the world. For an organisation that is truly global, easy access to relevant information and the ability to handle complex data enquiries were seen as hugely important, both for project issue response and customer relationship building. |
With over 500 inter-related projects being managed at any one time and 700 users accessing project data, MWH’s document management system was about more than just effective project management, it served a far bigger commercial purpose in helping it leverage its expertise into new contract opportunities. The system responds to the company’s need for instant access to timely, accurate information, but which also offered a sophisticated audit trail to tie-in with MWH’s enterprise-wide risk management strategy.
The document management system enables the drawing office to manage plans, but also ensures non CAD users can view, redline and annotate documents without having the native applications loaded on their machines. Document management at MWH has proved successful because the system has given control back to the end-user, and its configurable nature makes it easy to maintain. This ensures that any platform upgrades are simpler to manage, taking as little as 5% of the effort previously required.