Quality process documentation in large projects

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ISO standards, regulatory and legal requirements result in box loads of paper. So whats new there? Document management systems can cope, cant they? Yes, in a single organisation certainly; in a partnershipquite possibly. But in large, complex projects involving many changing players at remote sites, many DMS systems may be hard pushed to cope.

Quality process documentation management (QPDM) is the management of all documents related to the quality assurance process. What this means in large projects is not just specially applied ISO standards, but also regulatory and legal requirements resulting in huge quantities of paper to be scanned and indexed for later retrieval. So whats new here?

Well indeed, many companies are digitising their documents and processes and making this work for them, but many more are not, for various reasons. However, there is a diverse sector where the need is more apparent than most, in particular large project construction:

-aerospaceaircraft, weapons systems, space vehicles and satellite systems

-marineboth onshore; marina/ port construction; and offshoreships and offshore drilling and exploration platforms

-power generation--construction of dams, power generation plants of all types

-large building projectssuch as major factory construction and office buildings, etc.

Making the case

Why do the above examples merit consideration as special cases? All involve a central contractor or consortium, but inevitably include an array of sub-contractors, suppliers and consultants for everything from an explosive bolt to an environmental impact study. Each may have its own regulatory documentation requirementsbe they from a civil /federal aviation authority, a government environmental policy laid out in law, or the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Authority. Indeed, for large projects the contributing documents may come from the four corners of the world. Also the time required and the cost of audits makes these kinds of projects special cases. But, perhaps most importantly is the riskto the consortium, to their clients and government and regulatory bodiestoo should anything go wrong.

Sarbanes Oxley has generated a great deal of copy and it is hoped that financial record keeping will benefit from changes that have followed. But perhaps less attention has been paid to tracking, accountability and the risk of serious failure in construction. We have seen problems with the space shuttle in recent years and the subsequent damage to NASAs image and budget allocations. We have seen collapses of structures during earthquakes, and the consequent tightening of building code requirements in the USA. There have been high profile problems with de-commissioning marine installations, like oil exploration platforms and obsolete tanker vessels.

Perhaps these and many others would have been less painful if the full details were more readily available. Some may even have been prevented had less effort been required to find documentation during audits, making correlations easier, and allowing discrepancies to be seen and fixed before the consequences were felt.

What is needed; how can this be achieved?

As with any DMS system there is a need for a central repository built and owned by the chief contractor or project management partner. This needs to be combined with adequate security and tracked access; modification logs (etc.), a common future-proof data format, and a sophisticated indexing system. But the requirements that mark QPDMS as different in large projects are the need for highly distributed access into the repository and a simple means to scan and import documents into it. Sounds simple but systems need to adapt in order to support a heterogeneous import structure, from agents that are a part of the central DMS and from those that are not. Using CORBA (common object request broker architecture) may be one ideal solution, allowing remote agents to interface to the central system. But perhaps something simpler may suffice, implementing security and monitoring access, updates and modifications centrally using existing technologies.

So what are the solutions available to address the problem, and what is currently lacking?

Some have adopted document management systems. But many lack a good document scanning, import or indexing front-end. Others lack a remote access portal. But few have a means of breaking out access to the central repository over the internet, between transient locations and agents requiring a simple, easily deployed internet based interface.

Answering the challenge

VisionShape has been in the business of developing technology that is platform independent answering and providing solutions for the remote importation of documents: Applications for mass digitisation lightweight systems for web-based access and scanning and object oriented tools to build networked and CORBA interfaced remote scanning. We see an opportunity for channel partners and VARs to work towards integrated solutions that can be deployed to answer this challenge.

Sarbanes Oxley speaks to the risk to an organisation in financial record keeping. How long before we see similar physical catastrophes and loss of life, image and money forcing organisations, and consortia that come after, with hindsight, to make changes to quality process documentation? The stakes are high and the lessons are there to be learned already. Surely the benefits are there to be realised without needing legislation to make it happen. The technology exists, the systems are in existence having the essential capabilities. All that is required is putting these together, and the will to do it.

VisionShape has built a set of solution building blocks that can be applied to a wide variety of applications, for document scanning, indexing and access. There are experts in the field of document management, repository, security and retrieval. But, for the features that will really make the system work, and enable it to function seamlessly rather than as a side process in such construction applications, VisionShape offers a one-stop-shop and single point of contact to end users and to VAR partners looking to expand on existing systems and build new innovative document management systems.

Andrew Budds is regional sales manager for VisionShape, a wholly owned subsidiary of Peripheral Dynamics Inc. the company designs optical scanner software and software toolkits for production document imaging, for forms processing, and for developers of document imaging or capture solutions.

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