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

Posted by Steven Gentles on Apr 25, 2017 3:05:12 PM

This is Part 2 of a 3 part blog (if you missed Document Control Software - What Are You Trying to Control Part 1, check it out). To quickly recap: every document control software vendor has a different take on what document control is (see my blog What is Document Control for my take). We’ll have a look at the numerous control elements that you should consider and see how they tie into the document lifecycle:


Controlling Document Release

Once the engineers are done (content has been authored, reviewed and approved), the document is ready for release. The document control team (if you have one) will make sure that headers, footers, drawing blocks, cover sheets, signatures, stamps and a pile of other administrative details have been addressed during document processing prior to release (usually by saving it to a network drive with tight user access controls). After release, your document controllers will communicate this to people who need to use the information.

Document control software can do a lot to help automate and control the release process (which saves time, money and more):

  • If integrated with Word, AutoCad or other applications, metadata from the document control software can automatically populate document headers, footers and drawing blocks.
  • A digital signature feature is integrated with some products, or the product is designed to work well with third party apps that take care of this. Check out this Digital Signatures Streamline Engineering Processes blog in Civil & Structural Engineering for an overview of the technology. Some professional engineering associations will mandate requirements, and others (like APEGA if you’re in Alberta - see this page on Document Authentication and Digital Signatures) will specify approved digital signature vendors like Notarius (check out their blogs for some useful information)
  • Some products have sophisticated and configurable document lifecycle driven user access control features that automatically change the document security settings to reflect its new lifecycle state. This pretty much guarantees that user access control is correctly setup always.
  • Some products automatically notify all users who have access to the documents. Some products take this a step further and notify any user who has EVER accessed the document in the past. This reduces the risk of the misapplication of an old, stale revision.

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Controlling Archival & Deletion


Paper based engineering documents that are no longer needed to maintain, operate or support the product they defined, are either boxed up and hauled off to some mountain cave for archival, or destroyed (or spread around your office and ‘landfilled’ on shelves, filing cabinets and desks).

The decision to archive and not destroy is driven by one of the following:

  • Legislation – just like your tax returns, some jurisdictions may specify retention periods for engineering documentation (for example, check out the Alberta Boiler Safety Association records management program)
  • Litigation – if any legal actions are in progress (or pending) against your company, you need to protect documents and information that are relevant (check out this interesting article about Spoilation and what transgressions can mean to your business)
  • Engineers are information hoarders

The NSPE provides some useful guidance information regarding document retention and deletion – check out these NSPE guidelines and this complementary NSPE white paper: Document Retention Guidelines - A Risk Management Approach. Also, check your professional association for more guidance (for example, if you’re in Alberta, have a look section 4 of this Practice Standard for Authenticating Professional Documents).

Whatever the driver, the main objective of archiving documents is to preserve and declutter without destroying. With a clean and tidy information environment, your team will spend less time looking for the information they need (see my blog Calculating Project Control Software ROI? Start With Search for more on this).

If document archival and deletion of electronic files and documents are challenges you’re looking to address, document control software can help:

  • Controlled Deletion – just like access control (see Part 1 of this blog), the software you choose should allow you to configure it to define who can delete what based on the document lifecycle. For example, engineers should be able to delete all drawings that are in work, but should not be able to delete RFI’s regardless of lifecycle state.
  • Controlled Archival – when archiving documents, some software will move electronic files to a separate, segregated database and limit access. Others will simply limit and control access based on the ‘Archive’ lifecycle and let the users who have access filter out archived documents through their settings. As an engineer, I prefer this approach because the information I need is always readily accessible.
  • Retention Control – some software provides functionality allowing users to schedule document retention reviews (a precursor to deletion).

In addition to electronic documents and files, most engineering projects have some Physical Media (paper, USB keys, etc) that require control throughout their lifecycle – including deletion and archive (see this blog). If this is important to you, consider document control software that gives you the ability to track and record where physical media is (if archived) as well as the when-how-who details around its destruction.

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

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Topics: Problem Framing, Solution Framing, Document Control

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