The small print

Keeping track of construction documents is easier when you look at the details that simplify the workflow. Viewpoint asked one of its customers to expand on how they managed documents on their projects

Multiple teams are involved during the lifecycle of a construction project. What one may consider an essential functionality for a software platform, another team may never use. That's why it is important to know what "good" construction software looks like from the perspective of different job titles. This way, you can make an informed decision in choosing a platform that ticks the right boxes for employees across multiple teams.

Document controllers - who must keep track of project plans, blueprints, vendor contracts, drawings, and data backup and security - need software specific to the construction industry to enforce consistency and make documents easy to share between project members.

To see what construction software features are most important to document controllers, we talked to Charlotte Thorburn, document controller at Sons & Co. Thorburn coordinated her company's move towards a Common Data Environment (CDE) to standardise, simplify and scale up how her company managed projects. She outlined for us the six key features that proved most significant as she helped roll out the new system at Sons & Co.

Thorburn explained that document controllers should look for all of these features: a BIM framework, an integrated drawing viewer which allowed markup and revisions and a repeatable, collaborative workflow. It goes without saying that it also needs quick search functionality, and unlimited document storage - current major projects include 100s of thousands of items. She explained further:

A good CDE should be BIM-ready to ensure consistency, quality and compliance. In order to achieve building information modeling (BIM) Level 2, a document controller requires a few critical features: a consistent approach across drawings, and consistent naming conventions, giving users the ability to ensure that all stakeholders can collaborate, and to export the Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) data from these documents.

It may seem simple, but a consistent, logical naming convention saves time and increases overall project organisation. It also allows the team to combine relevant documents to construct a federated model.

Being able to have linked drawings and documents at your fingertips can save significant time and hassle in the field. Being able to see documents in one place, rather than having to leave the system just to see a document in full, was an essential functionality for Thorburn and her team.

Navigating in and out of the system slowed down all users because it required them to download documents and take up space on their computer. This caused another problem, because team members would then rely on their saved documents, instead of the updated source material, which may have added edits or comments. "When the drawings were taken offline," Thorburn says, "we forfeited live visibility of a project and created a break in the project timeline."

Site drawings (DWGs) often go on-site earlier than their corresponding PDFs, so it was vital that these documents could be linked at all times. Document controllers need a system that avoids the need to store DWGs and PDFs in different locations.

When document changes and updates are needed, it should be a simple process, with automatic versioning to keep entire teams informed.

Mark-ups are a common feature of construction projects. When consultants are not able to view, mark-up, or comment on documents online, they have to spend their time downloading, manually adding comments and mark-ups, and then reuploading the amended documents. This causes delays in response - and therefore action - every time a mark-up or comment is added.

Good construction software for document controllers enables consultants to annotate, stamp and sign off drawings digitally without leaving the system. This keeps project momentum high and avoids unnecessary delays.

Document workflows should be easy to understand and intuitive for the user and project. "As a document controller," Thorburn says, "I'm more than aware of the importance of the integration between project drawings and drawings for comment. Lacking a standardised, automated workflow with updates and sign-offs leads to delays as well as confusion over which drawings to work from. It also increases the risk of beginning a build with incorrect drawings - which we definitely do not want to happen!

Sons & Co wanted a standardised workflow in place to prevent items from getting lost in the review section, and to this end they created customisable workflows that connect the review process to the main document repository. This means that all versions of a document are in the same place and all teams are collaborating on the latest version of the drawing or document.

Everyone on the extended project team should be able to find and access the documents they have permissions to within seconds. Project lists can be 200 items long. Not having an efficient search functionality can make tracking down the relevant design review or RFI difficult, to say the least. Even with manual tracking, it was arduous to update the project list, and required a lengthy involvement of the project manager and administrative support.

As document controllers must split their time between these extra admin tasks, this adds up to hours and money over a project. "Construction software with comprehensive search functionality helps our team search and sort RFIs. Each user has a dashboard linking them directly to items assigned to them, doing away with the need for a manual tracker, and the hours spent updating it," Thorburn says.

Running out of document storage space is something a contractor should never have to worry about. Unfortunately, however, there are still too many companies who rely on limited local storage (or even physical storage) and who have yet to fully digitise and move to the cloud.

Document storage has always been a cost burden that document controllers are reluctant to spend money on. Thorburn knew the price of document storage was rising, with larger files for photos and CGIs being stored elsewhere to save money. "To prevent data storage costs from eating into our project profit margins, we resorted to storing things in multiple locations, which made it difficult to find items quickly."

By choosing construction software where the storage cost was allocated per project and stored on the Cloud, she knew the team gained access to unlimited data storage, that everything could be stored in the same place, and that it was secure from both company hardware and software upgrades, computer malfunctions or third-party malfeasance.

As a document controller, Viewpoint for Projects has certainly made life easier for Thorburn.