This is Part 3 of a 3 part blog (here is Document Control Software - What Are You Trying to Control Part 1 and Document Control Software - What Are You Trying to Control Part 2 if you missed them). 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:
Project Change Control
I’m talking about hard core engineering change management here – not the stuff that organizational speakers drone on about. Controlling changes to engineering information boils down to these things:
- Knowing precisely what will be impacted by a proposed change
- Understanding the financial costs to change them
- Understanding the post change financial benefits
- Putting the numbers in front of a person who thinks with a finance head for approval
Controlling change boils down to controlling costs.
Controlling cost boils down to knowing EXACTLY what will be impacted by the change before you make it.
Change control is 100% process - the best software out there will not fix your broken processes. But if your change control process is sound, document control software can help immensely with your impact analysis. The key features to look for are:
- Strong multifaceted document search features
- The ability to create flat and hierarchical relationships between information in the system (answers the question: what other documents does this document refer to?)
- The ability to see ‘Where Used’ (answers the question: what other documents refer to this document?)
A future blog (or two) dedicated to engineering change management is in the works – check back soon.
In the meantime, check out this Engineering Change Management Wikipedia page for a good overview. You'll also find more useful information, on the Institute of Configuration Management and Configuration Management Process Improvement Center websites for more useful information.
Controlling Project Communication
Email is the project communication tool of choice for most projects. If you’re like most, your email tool is probably an unstructured warehouse (landfill?) of everything under the sun – including important documents and files. The main problems with email are:
- If you’re not on the TO, CC or BCC list, you WILL miss out on important project discussions
- If you’re moving a lot of documents around using email, you WILL waste lots of time determining exactly what version you sent to a colleague.
I don’t think email will ever go away. But lots of document control software has embedded communication, workflow and notification features that reduce (if not eliminate) your reliance on email for the important communications. And that’s a good thing. Look for features like:
- Document Centric Discussion Boards – collection points for searchable Posts and Comments with the ability to tag others and bring them into the conversation (think Reddit). Some software also has the ability to tag other documents in the system or upload attachments. If preserving a design history is important to your engineering project (and what project isn’t) you’ll find this to be an indispensable feature.
- Chat (Message) – If integrated with the discussion board, there will be no information leakage when people are on their mobile devices. Text messages (with attachments – handy for as-built records when doing site visits, etc) will be appended to the discussion board.
- Workflow Automation – The objective of any workflow feature is to process documents according to your business process. You probably do this today using email to provide the instructions (please review) to a group of people along with a file attachment. You will need to manually track where you’re at in the process so you can take care of the next steps. Workflow automates document processing. With the right software, you’ll be able to build out complex serial and parallel flows, provide instructions, set due dates, escalation rules and so on. And see exactly where documents are in the process and where they are in trouble (stuck) through a project dashboard.
- Notifications – automated notifications that can be tailored to meet individual needs is a must. For example, if a document that you have viewed in the past has been superseded, and a new release is available, you may want to know. Ditto for posts/comments/messages to documents of interest or workflow steps that are due.
Controlling Document Distribution
Once engineering documents have been released, they need to be distributed to consumers (for this blog we’re just talking about electronic files).
For people outside your company, you probably distribute released documents via email (with attachments), FTP or maybe you’ll snail mail a USB stick or DVD (with a document transmittal listing exactly what was provided).
For people inside your company, you’ll probably load released documents up on an access controlled network drive/folder and let everyone know what documents have been released and where to find them.
Document distribution really boils down to:
- Making consumers aware that they exist
- Providing a means of access
- Recording what was provided (to outsiders)
Document control software with the right features will address the awareness element through a notification engine and the access element through rule based access control (see blog Document Control Software - What Are You Trying to Control Part 1). There are a range of software options out there that streamline the creation of a document transmittal – some focus exclusively on this challenge alone.
Consider choosing software that can quickly convert outsiders into insiders – it’s the simplest way to streamline the document transmittal and distribution process. With cloud based software like Tina5s, creating a user account for someone from another company and setting up appropriate rule based access control is trivial and results in optimum and automated control
77% of Americans own smartphones – up from 35% in 2011 (check out this PEW report for more interesting facts and figures). Given these trends (keep yourself future proof), it’s a no brainer to choose document control software that works on desktops as well as smart phones and other mobile devices.
Do you want your team to have access to project documents and files on their personal devices? What happens if a device is stolen?
Mobility is important. Choose document control software with the following essential Mobile Device Management (MDM) features:
- Ability to control devices that are allowed to access documents and files
- Ability to ‘wipe’ the device of documents and files if it’s stolen or lost
Controlling System Access
Users will only be able to access documents and files if you’ve set up an account for them AND it’s active. When they leave your company, you’ll need to inactivate their account – clearly, these are essential system access control features.
Nobody has quite figured out how to eliminate passwords yet (maybe next year? Check out this interesting Techcrunch article Reimagining the Ecosystem for Identity Verification). Until someone does, multi-factor authentication (MFA) is the way to go for keeping the bad guys out. Don't even consider document control software that either has no MFA or cannot be integrated with a third party MFA application. The strongest password ever will be worthless if you (or one of your users) get sucked in by a well-executed spear phishing attack (check out this informative article by techtarget).
Document control software means different things to different people (and software vendors). Over this 3 part blog experience, I think I’ve pretty much covered all the bases – let me know if you think I missed anything. If you’re in the market for document control software, make sure you understand exactly what you want to control. This will help you arrive at a short list of vendors who are selling exactly what you need.
Tina5s is engineering document management and control software in the cloud. Control to us means everything I discussed in this blog series. Here's a quick recap of the ground we've covered:
Blog Series Summary
- Controlling Quality Assurance Forms (Templates)
- Controlling Numbers (Document Numbering System)
- Controlling File Access (User Access Control)
- Controlling Document Versioning (Author thru Approval)
- Controlling Release
- Controlling Archival
- Controlling Deletion
- Controlling Change (Revisions)
- Controlling Communication
- Controlling Distribution (Transmittals Plus)
- Controlling Devices
- Controlling System Access