Thinking Inside the Box

Despite the general proliferation of digital information management systems and cloud-based storage solutions in recent years, for many construction companies hard copy remains by far the most popular – and practical – way of working. In a study released by the IDC in 2012, Melissa Webster found that “the need to print documents so they can be used where it’s difficult to take a PC was a leading reason why paper remains prevalent [within some organisations].”[1] Nowhere is this statement truer than in the construction industry, where paper is often the sole format capable of meeting requirements in terms of the physical size of planning documents and their suitability for multi-party collaboration.

But despite its practical importance, paper can often create for construction companies a series of costly organisational pitfalls, including impractical filing systems, misplaced records and the subsequent need to source or re-creation them, and haphazard archiving. Webster’s study found that workers who handled paper documents spent 7% of their workweek dealing with problems and time-consuming tasks unique to hard copies. When taking into account the time spent searching for documents that were never found, the figure rose to 11.6%. If those documents then had to be re-created, this took the total amount of wasted time to 15.6% of the workweek.[2] While an efficiency concern in itself for the reasons noted above, in construction environments with a large number of involved parties this busywork can produce a ripple effect that pushes back schedules and adversely impacts productivity.

An associated issue is worksite project units having reduced ease of access (sometimes known as a lack of neutrality) to a “single point of truth” that is updated in real time. Over the course of a project, a variety of participants will require access to the same information assets. In these situations, while paper formats allow for improved in-person collaboration and project visualisation, they can reduce the ability of work units to function independently. A parallel problem can arise in network environments when data is hosted entirely by a single (usually the best-resourced) project participant. While providing better access-equity than paper, online information management environments can create a bottleneck through the disorganised provision of administrative privileges or the security concerns of the hosting party.

Modern information management firms specialise in creating highly organised information environments that reduce or entirely eliminate the traditional inefficiencies experienced by the construction industry. To help worksites improve their information management, records management partners will audit in-house archives for content, then directly index the files, store them until they are needed, and physically or electronically deliver them on demand. Alternatively, information management firms can help construction companies assess if digitisation is likely to improve efficiency. If so, paper documents can be digitised using existing indexing conventions for rapid, real-time searching and retrieval through intuitive systems that deliver assets in any format, on any device. Digital solutions can also help make information equally available to all project participants.

After transitioning to an external information management solution, construction companies should notice an immediate improvement to efficiency through better organisation and accessibility. Because they have only pertinent documents on hand at any time, worksites using third-party archiving solutions are less cluttered, reducing the risk of document mishandling. This positive impact on efficiency has a flow-on effect across all parties involved in a project as each becomes more able to fulfill their responsibilities in a timely manner. To the extent a digital solution is engaged, data access over the full range of mobile devices means information portability is enhanced, allowing staff to access and transmit important documents on the go, in a format of their choosing.

Using an external cloud-based system also enhances information neutrality so that work units can operate more independently, drawing data from a real-time system rather than from disparate sources that may themselves be working on an information delay.        In addition, the best storage and retrieval solutions minimise the challenges of transitioning by being entirely customisable, removing the need for any significant staff retraining. Overall, this means a dramatic improvement in the way time is spent across all sections of the business – and a subsequent increase in productivity. Find out more in Grace’s FREE in-depth information management report for government agencies – available exclusively at www.grace.com.au/information/construction

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[1] Webster, M., “Bridging the Information Worker Productivity Gap: New Challenges and Opportunities for IT” at [http://www.idc.com] (September 2012). p. 19.[2] Ibid. p. 8, Table 2.