In the era of globalization, EPC companies from all industries are able to engage in projects across geographical or regional borders and exploit opportunities in markets worldwide. But with these new opportunities come new challenges: instead of two or three local companies, several companies from different parts of the world are involved and employees from different branches now work together on project that may take several years. Needless to say, these increasingly complex structures lead during the course of a project to increasing amounts of information and documents of any type. This paper will take a closer look at challenges of large EPC projects and their solutions.
Due to frequent email traffic, large portions of project-related documents are generated in the form of unstructured information. This unstructured information, internal and external information exchange, discussions, agreements and contracts, both in digital and in paper form, can usually be found in various locations within the company such as within the corporate network, but also on local computers or in a filing cabinet. Important documents are misplaced or accidentally deleted and relevant emails disappear in colleagues’ mailboxes. Consequently, employees cannot access all information, either because they are unable to find documents in time or because they were not aware of certain information in the first place or because they currently have no access to the corporate network.
For documents - mostly technical drawings – which are the result of collaboration between several parties, companies usually have contractually fixed schedules and process requirements with suppliers and customers. In turn, the management of drawings, which forms the foundation of any EPC project, is regulated in a clear and, for all parties, binding way. Deadlines for the transmittal of documents play a crucial role in the project and deadline overruns are punishable by various and mostly costly penalties.
To have all information, important data and correspondence available and at hand when needed presents a challenge. The Project Manager as well as team members must always have access to information and be able to get an overview of the current situation. Furthermore, negotiated deadlines and correspondence related to technical documents must be traceable in order to avoid any misunderstandings and improve collaboration and teamwork.
How can this be achieved when confronted with the growing flood of documents, records and correspondence as well as the increasing number of team members? The solution is simple: a central repository that is accessible to all team members and has a clear structure.
The main focus lies on the basic features of a document management system (DMS). An information management system complements the maintenance of centralized records, to include the editing and revision of technical drawings. Such a system provides space to store technical drawings, to pursue revisions and, in addition, to maintain all relevant information on technical documents such as the document owner, the document status, or the responsible department and show any relations between documents and correspondence.
The requirements for a system that can meet these described challenges and offer the above described functions are the following: All team members must be able to access all important centrally maintained data and documents from their own location. To ensure confidentiality, they only have access to the documents and information for which they were assigned the necessary access rights. Furthermore, it is easily comprehendible and traceable who modified a document, what changes were performed and when the modification was executed.
To capture all important data, the application allows the storage of all unstructured information, such as specifications, minutes of meeting, contracts, training materials or document and correspondence templates, based on clearly defined project and company specifications. The project team can easily and quickly retrieve the recorded documents from the system, even if the members are not aware of the existence of all stored information.
All documents generated in the course of a project are recorded in the system. In the process, it is important that the respective metadata, especially the contractually agreed delivery dates and the involved parties are maintained. The information maintained with metadata allows for traceability and compliance with delivery dates as well as enabling the project manager to maintain project overview. In order to support a controlled and secure internal document and revision management, an internal approval processes should be implemented. This also ensures that a team member can send a document to the customer only after successful authorization.
One of the key points is the integration of correspondence. In this regard, team members should be able to write important emails directly from the system, store and centrally manage all relevant correspondence of partners and clients. The focus lies on document-related correspondence, such as sending of technical documents to customers, their replies or the various comments of the recipients. If documents and related correspondence are linked within the system team members can quickly access all important information and ensure on-time delivery – an issue that is often underestimated in daily project work. Furthermore, there is also the option to display other important correspondence and their relations.
Of course, the system outlined so far is only as good and efficient as the users who work with it. Only those documents, records and correspondence which are created or stored within the system can be accessed and maintain by the team members and work on the progress of the project. Therefore, it is important that the system is user-friendly, intuitive, and that its advantages are obvious for everybody.
All project participants will receive a general and a personal overview of the project status, future tasks and set deadlines. On the basis of processes regulated within the system, the team is able to create and manage technical documents more purposefully and faster and also ensure a timely distribution. The central communication supports and promotes teamwork and provides an improved information base. These properties allow each project member to work much more efficiently and save time and costs.
Other important advantages are the controlled data protection and data security, thus the resulting increase in data quality. The systems integrated safety concepts help to analyze processes, simplify and implement them consistently. In addition, bottlenecks are avoided and all involved departments integrated.
Clearly defined access rights offer the basis for a uniform standard for data security and protection. Once documents and correspondence is stored in the system, it is available to authorized team members from anywhere and anytime. Because data transmission is encrypted, unauthorized persons cannot gain easy access. Due to the clearly defined user rights and roles, data that is captured in the system cannot be erased or modified after being sent to partners or customers.
In the market, some systems are available that correspond to the above described requirements, either partially or completely. A good example is PIRS (Project Information Retrieval System). This application puts a high emphasis on the integration of all project-relevant information and correspondence, especially document related correspondence.
The system integrates all the technical documents in a specific form template within which the user can maintain all metadata. Transmittal Slips used for the distribution of one or multiple documents, allow the controlled delivery of technical documents.
Customer responses received in different inboxes of team members, can be integrated as comments, so that all involved team members can pursue the progress. PIRS detects all changes in document status and allows for an easy overview of the current project status as well as access to all data sent and received.
Through an individually customizable interface PIRS achieves great user-friendliness and supports intuitive handling. Each user can customize the display of documents and correspondence according to their own preferences. Since it is a web-based application, team members can access their data anytime, anywhere using their computers or mobile devices.