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Cost is an important consideration for developers and property owners when it comes to choosing a contractor; therefore, staying cost competitive is an important consideration for contractors.

After all, the ability to control costs directly impacts a contractor’s ability to win contracts and to deliver them profitably. For this reason, cloud-based construction document management is often touted as a cost-control measure. It’s true that the simple savings on reprographics and printing alone can be significant. But if simply avoiding printing costs is a reason for switching from paper-based processes, the company may not feel that the benefits outweigh the investment. Whether it’s due to security concerns or simply because the team has “always done it that way,” many contractors continue to run jobsites the old-fashioned way.

Here are six ways cloud-based document management will reshape construction in 2017 and beyond.

1. Up-to-date plans

Every contractor and subcontractor knows that out-of-date plans and specifications are a leading cause of rework on the jobsite. On sites that rely on paper, each morning the work crews collect the latest version of the relevant drawings and specifications from the jobsite trailer and get to work, assuming that any relevant updates have been made correctly. The superintendent walks the site with the master plans in hand, making notes and making sure everything goes according to plan.

Meanwhile, the trade contractors may have questions or identify issues related to the current site conditions, and need to communicate those details back up the chain. At the end of the day, the questions, issues and notes are compiled and any changes needed are communicated. Hopefully, the questions and issues can be resolved and new updated documents are issued quickly and distributed to the team. If, by chance, even one subcontractor ends up operating off an outdated or incorrect copy of the plans, rework is inevitable.

With cloud-based construction document management, the process runs more smoothly. Everyone on the jobsite automatically has access to the latest version, and any comments made to the document set are sent out automatically to everyone who needs the new information. This dramatically reduces rework and improves construction speed.

2. Version-to-version redline continuity

All day long, the superintendent walks the jobsite redlining his or her copy of the documents, both with personal notes to review later, and with more general notes to share with other members of the team.

In a paper environment, these notes are unlikely to survive to the next version of the documents, especially any that he or she wrote for private use. Unless the superintendent takes the time to sit down and transfer the notes meticulously to the new version, all that valuable site information can be lost.

In a digital environment, a superintendent can make notes directly on the documents and carry them over automatically when the document is updated. Likewise, he or she can make notes visible to any project team members who need to see them, and those too will carry over. When an issue has been resolved, those comments can be closed and removed from future versions of the documents, yet maintained as a record in earlier versions.

3. Hyperlinked files

On a traditional paper-based jobsite, subcontractors and other project team members each have a roll of project drawings that they work from, usually relevant only to their own portion of the job.  For instance, a subcontractor responsible for a particular system such as HVAC may only carry around the files relevant to that trade. However, sometimes it becomes necessary to understand something about the architectural or structural details in order to ensure the system is installed correctly.

In the paper environment, the subcontractor walks to the construction trailer to consult the other drawings and to make the necessary notes, then back to the construction site to begin the work. When added up over the course of a construction project, time spent walking back and forth to locate the correct files becomes significant.

In a digital environment, files can be hyperlinked within one another so that a subcontractor looking at the plans for the HVAC can easily click through within those plans to view the plans for the architectural and structural details. The best cloud-based document management tools will automatically identify and interpret call-out hyperlinks in plans and create the hyperlinks. Instead of clicking through pages, users can drill down right into the information needed to add even more context to a drawing, add markups and even attach a document, such as an RFI, to the markup.

Hyperlinking also can lead to better quality work, as it eliminates the subcontractor’s need to make a decision between saving time and gaining clarification on a related document.

4. Better security

One reason some companies opt to continue with paper documentation is that they’re concerned about security. After all, if users know where the project documents are physically, they can take measures to ensure they remain private. In a digital environment, the threat of unauthorized individuals accessing documents may seem more real.

The truth is that digital project files, when properly handled, can be more secure than paper. Digital file controls allow the user to put the right information in the hands of the right people, based on permission settings that users control. Permissions can be updated and individuals, roles or companies can easily be added and removed throughout the project life cycle.

As for theft prevention, today’s cloud security technology has advanced beyond the technology of previous years. Consider that the National Security Agency trusts digital file management to store building plans for secure areas, and that this same technology gives even small and mid-sized construction companies access to the same level of security.

5. Anytime-anywhere access

Having a design team in China and a construction team in New York is no problem with digital document management. But the benefits of anytime-anywhere access go well beyond the design phase. For a 1,400-employee construction firm in the Netherlands, anytime-anywhere access on the jobsite meant that construction teams could collaborate and create systems to get the job done faster and better. The contractor added photos and checklists that it developed onsite, which helped teams at other locations work more efficiently. Meanwhile, they eliminated the need for teams to run back and forth to the field trailer for updates.

6. Environmental impact

There was a big push many years ago for paperless jobsites. Proponents talked about the waste in construction that’s attributable to materials and found that paper was a significant contributor. While a completely paperless site never truly came to pass, the fact is that cloud-based construction document management does significantly reduce paper waste and therefore the project's environmental footprint. With government agencies and businesses increasingly seeking out green and environmentally friendly building materials and methods, a construction company’s commitment to reducing paper waste remains a competitive advantage.

Taken together, these six benefits of digital document management on the construction site produce a compelling business case for making the switch. Fortunately, cloud-based construction document management technology has reached a level of maturity that makes it easy for even small construction companies to get into the game and start realizing cost and time efficiencies.

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