19 June 2009
The paper chase is over – what now?
Issuing documents is simple — you print off a set of drawings, tick some boxes on a photocopied sheet, write a covering letter and put it in the post… or so it used to be.
The death knell of paper filing was heralded by the growth of personal computing. The use of cad, word processing and desktop publishing irrevocably split the repository of project information between paper and digital formats. Portable digital media, such as CDs, and the explosion in email correspondence further fragmented the storage of information and the recording of its distribution. The advent of FTP transmittal, usendit and external project extranets has been the final nail in the coffin for many office protocols on the internal management of document issue.
If only it could be as simple as it used to be. But there again, searching for the release history of a document to a specific recipient was a tedious process even when the issue sheet was migrated to Excel.
Project extranet products such as cadweb.net, biwtech.com, aconex. com, and 4projects.com have all reached a maturity over the last decade. Such extranet project management solutions inherently achieve the goals of comprehensive document management. Document issue auditing and search ability are givens.
However, the very fact that they are usually project specific can result in a weakness in relying upon them. They are often implemented some way down the line of a project’s evolution. Architects are still left maintaining their own systems for pre-contract work and potentially migrating from one implementation to another with each new project.
Achieving a comprehensive internal document management system which an office uses in all its projects at all stages remains an attractive proposition.
Office Sharepoint Server is Microsoft’s pan-industry offering in the field of document management, available at http://sharepoint.microsoft.com, but to configure it for use in an architects’ practice is probably beyond the scope of most small to mid-sized architects practices.
Workspace is Union Square's, Windows-only, web-browser-based practice management tool. Specifically designed for architects, it includes a comprehensive document issue and receipt recording system that works across email, computer files and scanned-in paper documents.
The standard product has been developed with larger practices in mind, but as of last month it is also offering Workspace "mini" (www.unionsquaresoftware.com/mini).
Provided as a standard template targeted at the needs of architectural practices of 25 people or more, it is able to provide not only document management but timesheets, an intranet, contact, project and HR databases. Its management of issue and receipt of all types of document is thorough and allows the smaller practice to benefit from clear procedures and built-in BS1192 compliance.
Issuing information may never again be as simple as ticking boxes on photocopied sheets but document management systems are a big step in the right direction.
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