Document Control Software – What Do You Want to Control (Part I)?

Posted by Steven Gentles on Apr 21, 2017 2:18:38 PM

Every document control software vendor has a different take on what document control is (see my blog What is Document Control for my take). In this 3 part blog, we’ll have a look at the numerous control elements that you should consider and see how they tie into the document lifecycle:

Document Control Software - Document Lifecycle.jpg

The green boxes are usually the Document Control domain and the yellow boxes are the domain of the Engineers. The blue box is the domain of your Quality Management System (if you have one). Large engineering businesses that create engineering information will cover all the boxes and a small construction company that just consumes information will be focused on the Controlled Distribution box.

Controlling Quality Assurance Forms (Templates)

When authoring brand new engineering reports, drawings and standards and more, they should all be created from controlled quality assurance forms (or templates) so that the latest and greatest are used always. When it’s time for release, your Document Control team (or you) may have to waste time transposing your content to the current template. Note that the copy of the Nimbus 2000 loads analysis report you’ve had on your computer desktop for 2 years is an UNCONTROLLED document – don’t delete its contents and use it as a template unless you know that nothing has changed. See my blog What is Document Control for more about the difference between controlled and uncontrolled documents.

If you’re struggling with template control issues, make sure your document control software vendor has the features you need to address.

Controlling Numbers (Document Numbering System)

What if there was one family on the planet that had a singular and unique last name? This would mean that everyone who shares that last name is related. If everyone in the family has a different first name then the combination of the first and last name will uniquely and unambiguously identify each individual. Document numbers are the equivalent of family last names and revision labels (i.e. Rev A, IFC, etc) are analogous to the first names. The pairing uniquely identifies the document.

Chaos can erupt if two very different documents have identical document numbers and revision labels. Look for software that disallows this (or at least flags you if this situation emerges) and can be easily configured to reflect your document numbering system. Also, look for software that allows you to explore the family tree (er, document tree) which shows how all revisions of the same document number relate to one another. This is important if you’re an engineering company that is supporting a product whose design is periodically evolving.

Controlling File Access (User Access Control)

File access on the Network Drive is typically controlled by IT by limiting access at the drive or folder level (or both). Access control settings are very limited in terms of defining what exactly the user can and can’t do, are usually managed at a group level and have no ability to be defined in the context of where a document is in its life cycle – should the shop floor be able to access engineering documents that are in work, but not yet released (nope)?


During demos, have a close look at how your document control software vendors will address user access control over the full range of the document lifecycle that is relevant to your business/project:

  • Most will have the ability to grant access to individual documents by user or group
  • Most will give you the tools to control access directly with no IT support
  • Some will allow you to set up global access controls based on file categories
  • Few will allow you to configure security to define exactly what can and can’t be done by who based on where the document is at in its lifecycle

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Controlling Document Versioning (Author thru Approval)

The content of your engineering project documents and files will obviously morph and change all the way up to the release point. When I worked as an engineer using network drives and Windows file folders, I’d preserve versions of my work at various points along the way – initial design review, preliminary design review, squad check, etc. This habit saved my bacon more than once when my most recent work was inadvertently over-written by a colleague (who had access to the folder I was working out of).

Most document control software solutions focused on authoring challenges automatically preserve version snapshots and address inadvertent file overwrites through a file lock feature (only the person who has locked the file can make edits). The version snapshot should be linked to the revision that was released.

Blog Series Summary

In Document Control Software - What Are You Trying to Control Part 1, I cover:

  • Controlling Quality Assurance Forms (Templates)
  • Controlling Numbers (Document Numbering System)
  • Controlling File Access (User Access Control)
  • Controlling Document Versioning (Author thru Approval)

In Document Control Software - What Are You Trying to Control Part 2, I cover:

  • Controlling Release
  • Controlling Archival
  • Controlling Deletion

In Document Control Software - What Are You Trying to Control Part 3, I cover:

  • Controlling Change (Revisions)
  • Controlling Communication
  • Controlling Distribution (Transmittals Plus)
  • Controlling Devices
  • Controlling System Access

If you’d like to see Tina5s in action:          Request a Demo


Topics: Problem Framing, Solution Framing, Document Control

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