Leigh Jasper

In discussing the “information-centric organization,” the research firm Gartner notes the new value placed on information assets and the people who manage them. To realize that value, employees and partnering organizations must have immediate access to information when and where they need it. This is especially true on construction and engineering projects involving many different organizations, each with their own processes and work flows. In just 18 months, even a relatively small $200-million project can generate hundreds of thousands of documents that typically flow among more than 250 participants from 40 organizations.

Slow and incomplete information flow forces project participants to use outdated documents, which can cause project delays, partner conflicts and potential lawsuits that add risk and expense. As a result, “information flow” is now a key driver of return on investment. The document controller, once considered a paper pusher, is becoming a high-profile manager who plays a strategic role in his or her company’s success.

A document controller’s task used to be fairly simple: maintain the latest version of a document and send it to a distribution list. Recently, the job has become increasingly complex and technical, requiring an advanced understanding of project life cycles and work flows, knowledge of various document submission and delivery methods, and familiarity with industry standards, such as the ISO15489 records-management guidelines.

With an increased focus on the value of information assets, document controllers now need new skills to oversee information through the life cycle of each project. They must establish and deploy standard information and process management procedures across dozens of companies working on each project. In this way, document controllers can directly affect the availability and accuracy of the information stakeholders need.

Efficient Orchestration

While information volume and work-flow complexity create challenges, new tools are allowing the document controller to orchestrate with more efficiency the flow of critical information among stakeholders in multiparty projects. Independently managed online collaboration tools can empower document controllers to drive a project’s return on investment.

The industry is seeing results from this strategy. For example, using an online project collaboration platform for construction work flows, one contractor has reduced to eight minutes from 25 minutes the typical per-document processing and review time for an $800-million office and retail project. The savings from document control alone amounted to more than $2 million.

A few years ago, the decision-making process on an average construction project averaged 4.6 days per step. By 2010, collaboration tools reduced the document-approval work flow by 28%, to 3.3 days. Efficiency gains result from processes that synchronize a project’s team members and agile technology. For instance, companies involved in the most efficient projects (the top quartile) take on average just 3.9 days to make a critical work-flow decision.

As companies correlate information flow with ROI, document controllers will find themselves with much greater responsibility, respect and influence. They will ensure that technology systems meet the specific demands of each project and its participants. They will coordinate with document controllers at partnering companies and develop programs to drive adoption of standard processes for information management across the company and its projects.

Finally, through access to integrated, cross-project reports and audits of project data, document controllers can provide the information needed to achieve legal and regulatory compliance goals.

In the second decade of this century, the industry is witnessing innovations in the way information is managed. This sea change is occurring because hosted technology is playing a large role in making information systems transparent, enabling secure, seamless access to the information flow.

We may soon find the document controller is actually an “information flow manager” who has led us to these important changes.