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Technology has brought about a lot of change in construction. However, when it comes to managing construction documents, paper methods are still the norm.

The industry remains driven by drawings, and there haven’t been many advancements in how all that information is managed, despite huge technology leaps in other aspects of construction (e.g., BIM).

One stumbling block for the industry is the litigious nature of construction projects, often characterized by a complex web of players. Contracts are king and documentation is the key to building what has been agreed upon. Sheets, not models, remain the legal document of record. And those thousands upon thousands of sheets are formed and re-formed as projects progress.

To date, many tools and apps have attempted to help migrate the industry away from the paper-based to an all-digital, cloud-enhanced process for managing construction documents. In fact, today it is possible to envision a fully paperless construction project. But a fundamental problem still exists: There is no unified set of document records that can be used to tell the complete story of what happens throughout a construction project that can stand up to scrutiny.

And, during the project, when someone is asked for a current drawing or spec, the answer largely depends on who was asked. The architect’s approval of a drawing, the owner’s approval of pricing and the contractor’s understanding of what should be built are often misaligned and uncoordinated.

Why does this occur? Because construction project teams are using multiple products and processes to manage the formation and gradual sharing of documents and the multiple versions that are shared many, many times and approved by various entities. When documents move between multiple applications--and do not allow for granular access control or private internal review before being released--gaps in the workflow occur that lead to errors, rework and an “us vs. them” mentality.

Further complicating this is the fact that most construction applications are built with specific people (superintendents, project managers, subcontractors, etc.), or specific project phases (design, fabrication, field execution, handover, etc.) in mind. The goals are to help show what has changed and how it impacts that particular person or phase so that tasks can be performed more efficiently. This leads to siloes of documentation, and presents gaps when trying to document the entire history of what happens on a project.

The importance of document control

When paper dominated the construction industry, the role of managing all the paper fell to the person in charge of document control. They had very precise processes and methodologies to manage documents and took pride in their work. As paper has migrated to digital, the responsibility for document control has shifted as well--often to a new employee--and is no longer viewed as high-value work among project teams.

Moving toward the digital, cloud-based era for construction, the expectations and challenges for document control morph into a new expectation set. Demands for anywhere, anytime access to information require faster turnaround of versions. The ability to digitally modify documents in the field has exponentially increased the number of iterations of designs and specifications. And information is stored and shared in multiple repositories (not a single file drawer), creating a need for more consolidation and organization than ever before.

Technology is demanding, and enabling, document control to be shifted from the hands of a single person to the responsibility of an always connected, collaborative team. This requires document management technology that is built with an understanding of construction workflows and the documents that accompany an entire project, combined with a deep understanding of how to best leverage multiple devices.

A unified approach to construction document management

Today, document management technology needs to be built with the project at the center, with seamless connections to and from each project team member. What is needed is a central repository for all project documents, control over when information is released and to whom, and workflows that span design through handover and 2-D to 3-D.

New approaches to solving this problem, such as Autodesk BIM 360 Docs, will help construction project teams prevent the many problems associated with using a myriad of separate, non-interoperable applications for construction documents.

When all documentation for a project is connected in a single, accessible and controlled environment, the ability to tell the end-to-end story around a construction project begins to unfold.

With all the design data--including the thousands of revisions along the way--available in a single system of record, a foundation of unified data will lead to better visibility, accountability and outcomes. And with every member of the construction project team working from the right information, the potential benefits of the digital construction era can be realized.

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