10 Questions to Answer Before Buying Document Control Software

Posted by Steven Gentles on Mar 24, 2017 4:41:31 PM

If you think your cube is small, check out cosmonaut and engineer Nikolai Budarin on the International Space Station authoring a document. Does it need to be controlled? If so, what questions would Nikolai need answers to while exploring document control software?

NASA - Nikolai Budarin at Work In A Sleep Station - Document Control Software.jpg

Q1 - What Does Document Control Mean to You?

What is document control? Everybody has their own ideas - just so we’re on the same page, here’s what document control means to me:

Document control is achieved when specialists, tools and procedures come together so that important documents are always up to date and available to the people who need them (and we always know where they are).

(Check out my blog What is Document Control? for more on the nuances of controlled versus uncontrolled among other things)  


Q2 - What does your company do?

You need to clearly answer this question in the context of how documents move around your company and your ecosystem. Check out the simple diagram below as an example. If your company (let’s call it EngCo) is a pure engineering company (left box) that’s in the business of designing small gas plants, you’ll be authoring engineering information and delivering them by the truckload to construction companies and the owner/operator via transmittals. You’ll also spend a good chunk of time reviewing and commenting on submittal packages from your vendors and responding to a steady stream of RFI Request for Information throughout the project.

Document Flow2 for Hub.jpgOnce you’ve clarified how documents and information are moving around your company and ecosystem, you'll have the context necessary to shortlist the software solutions you are considering.

Q3 - What Top Problems Do You REALLY Need to Solve?

It’s important that you focus on understanding your top problems first before spending too much time exploring software solutions. For example, EngCO’s big problems will be centred on monitoring and tracking engineering authoring activities, submittal review progress, transmittal of documents and RFI process. At this point, you’ll want to dig a little deeper by using a ‘5 Whys’ approach to uncover problem root causes. You’ll probably find that upgrading your tools (software) will not address many root causes. Document control procedures and people (expertise) will likely also bubble up.

Problem prioritization should be guided by improving the bottom line AND customer satisfaction.

Q4 - Electronic or Paper Documents (or Both – or More)?

You need to consider the media of the documents you are going to control. This will most certainly include electronic files of varied formats, but may also include controlled paper copies, aperture cards and maybe even vellum. If you have lots of physical media to control, and you’ve identified this as a major problem (check out my blog on Why Network Drives Kill Engineering Project Management), you’ll need to choose document control software that goes beyond controlling electronic files.

Q5 - The Best Solution or the Perfect Solution?

There is no perfect solution! Which is why it’s important to prioritize the problems you are working to resolve.

Q6 - Will Document Control Software be Enough?

Probably not – for two reasons:

  • Your idea of what document control software is will inevitably be mismatched with every software vendor’s idea (and the chances of finding total alignment are slim). Check out my blog Document Control Software - What Do You Want to Control? Part 1 of this three part blog series for my views on what you need to control. 
  • Once you prioritize your problems and explore root causes you’ll probably conclude that there are deeper issues afoot than just an absence of tool capabilities

Q7 - If Not Enough, What Else?

There’s a CRAZY amount of language clutter out there to wade through – if you’re looking for software solutions (or in my case, competitors), it’s daunting. Here is a quick thumb nail of search terms you can use to get educated:

  • Content Management System (CMS)
  • Electronic Document Management System (EDMS)
  • Electronic File Sharing and Synchronization (EFSS)
  • Document Management System (DMS)
  • Product Lifecyle Management Software (PLM)
  • Product Data Management Software (PDM)
  • Configuration Management Software (CM)
  • Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS)
  • Project Scheduling Software
  • Project Management Software
  • Project Control Software
  • Document Management Software
  • Document Tracking Software
  • Document Workflow Software
  • Document Version Control Software
  • Electronic Records Management Software
  • Revision Control Software
  • Construction Management Software
  • Construction Project Management Software

Again, before losing yourself in websites, white papers (and blogs like this one), make sure you're clear on the problems you want to solve for first. This will help keep you stay oriented and allow you to quickly wade through the clutter.

Q8 - Custom, Off-the-Shelf (or a Hybrid)?

On the face of it, custom solutions are VERY seductive because you can theoretically tailor them to EXACTLY meet your requirements. The problem is your requirements will always be incomplete, contradictory and changing - software development is a wicked problem which is why, for example, 60% of Sharepoint implementations stall, struggle or fail. And when you add up the one time and recurring costs of licenses, hardware and labour to procure, configure, customize and implement a bespoke document management solution, the upfront price and long term support costs (remember: software is never done) are often onerous.

Off-the-shelf software is easy and costs are known and generally way lower than custom solutions. But few off-the-shelf solutions will exactly meet your requirements. If you can solve all your highest priority problems and compromise on the rest, off the shelf is the quickest and easiest path to success.

Some software vendors will sell you an off-the-shelf solution and offer complementary customization services to fill in any gaps. This is a pretty good way to go if you absolutely can’t live without certain features and don’t want to jump into a full blown custom solution.

Deciding which path to go down is really no different than acquiring an automobile. You can:

  • Design and build your own unique custom car
  • Buy a standard car off the lot from a dealer; or
  • Buy your car from a dealer, then heavily modify it with after-market parts

Most of us get by just fine with a standard car that’s fresh off the lot.

Q9 - Cloud SaaS or On-Premise (Traditional)?

Cloud SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) common attributes:

  • Easy: PC and internet connection are all that is required (no IT support)
  • Complementary mobile apps the norm
  • No installed software (again, no IT support required)
  • Constant and automatic upgrades (no choice)
  • No upfront fees
  • Affordable monthly fees
  • Elastic (scale users and fees – like a utility)

On-Premise (Traditional Software) common attributes:

  • Hard: PC, LAN access and server room with hardware and environment required to host (IT support)
  • Mobile apps limited if at all
  • Installed software (on PC and on servers - IT support)
  • Infrequent upgrades (with choice)
  • Sizeable up front licensing costs (over and above probable infrastructure upgrade costs)
  • High annual software maintenance fees
  • Inelastic

Cloud SaaS is leading technology and traditional on-premise technologies are lagging. To keep up, some On-Premise vendors have retained their old technology but morphed their business model by offering a hosted solution and altering the way they charge for their software (i.e. their business model).

Q10 - Got the Gamer Attitude?

VR-HelmVR parachute training simulator-document-control-software.jpg

In the gaming community, successful gamers are not afraid to fail and they quickly try out new tactics and approaches to win. You should have the same attitude when it comes to choosing the document control software that’s right for your company.

The Cloud SaaS software vendors have changed the game by making it quick and easy to sign up and try their software out. And they often provide you with all the support you require to get to a buy decision (all for free). You can be up and running in literally minutes with no obligation with  lots of hand holding and no risk (other than your time). There is no excuse for not taking advantage of this awesome opportunity to learn, check out features and explore how the software you’re assessing will solve your priority problems (or not).

Topics: Productivity, Solution Framing, Document Control

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