Efficient document management can have a real impact on the profitability of a job. Low cost online collaboration and document management tools can make all the difference, as we explain in more detail in this article.
When everything goes right in a project it’s rarely considered worthy of comment but, when things go wrong, the fan can get very busy redistributing the ordure. Nor is it just about who gets the blame. Errors can also be very costly with retentions from main contractors and disputes with sub-contractors and clients. And then, of course, there is the additional site time required to rectify incorrect work.
“Who’s got the latest version of the drawing?”
Unsurprisingly, the main causes of many such errors include working with the wrong documents – often having an old version and not realising it’s been revised – as well as inefficient time management and poor task co-ordination. Taking document management as an example, it’s ironic that, given the potential benefits of information technology, sharing more information electronically can increase the risk of errors. When documents such as drawings, briefs and specifications are distributed to several people by email, the responses come back in a haphazard fashion from several directions.
At any one time, therefore, there could be several ‘versions of the truth’ with nobody being entirely sure which document is the most recent. The result is that somebody then needs to spend a lot of time checking all the different versions, bringing the changes into a single document. This document is then redistributed and, quite often, people will then disagree with each other’s revisions, so another round of changes occurs – spawning yet another generation of document versions.
How much time could you save?
On larger projects with many hundreds of documents flying around it is clearly worth the client or main contractor investing in an expensive web-based document management system that is accessed by all parties. But where a contractor needs to share information amongst a few people in the company and, perhaps, selected sub-contractors, such a huge investment is simply not viable.
However, thanks to advances in web-based technologies there are alternatives that won’t break the bank on even a very small project. Such systems offer a very high level of functionality because of the technologies involved. For example, these collaboration technologies make it very clear which are the most recent documents, they show a full audit trail of any revisions and also incorporate calendars and task lists to create a full project management system. Crucially, the whole process is very intuitive and requires no special IT skills, training, software or hardware.
As document management is often one of the most challenging areas it’s worth looking at how this side of the system works first.
Stop, collabor8 and innovate
With online collaboration, all of the documents relating to a particular project are posted to a central web-based site. Team members can then view or edit documents from any computer with a web browser, depending on the level of authority they have been allocated by the administrator. These permissions can range from which projects a person is able to access to whether they can edit documents or just view them.
So, for example, an individual might be given permission to view and edit documents in one folder, but only view documents in another folder. They may also be prevented from even being able to see other folders that are on the system, if these don’t concern them. Thus the system can be configured to suit each person’s workload and project involvement.
People with permission to edit can then create revised versions – in the same place but with an automatically generated version number clearly showing which version is which. After all revisions are completed, the project administrator publishes the final versions for everyone to work with.
The system can be used with any kind of document – specifications, drawings, prices, variations or application details, even images or videos. You can also create folders and sub-folders to organise each project in any way that suits.
Just as importantly, the system can be used to share selected documents with clients, which can’t fail to create a good impression.
Given the potential cost of getting it wrong, it’s certainly worth investing a few pounds a month in technologies that will help you get it right. And the fact that streamlined project management will also boost productivity and increase profitability means this is an investment that will more than pay its way.
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