It’s harder on paper: Why digitising documents and drawings in the construction industry is no longer optional

25 September 2023 | 15 Shares

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Sponsored by Fonn

In the hustle and bustle of our lives, it’s easy to accumulate stacks of paper documents, drawings and Post-it notes in various nooks and crannies. But working in this kind of environment is not sustainable in the long term, particularly when competitors are rapidly digitising their operations. Important letters can get lost, deadlines can be missed and critical project planning information can end up buried beneath the chaos. This may lead to costly errors, delays and, ultimately, frustrated clients.

It is important to consider moving as much paper documentation into the digital realm as possible to ensure your business remains efficient and competitive. In 2019, the EU Building Information Modelling (BIM) Task Group described the construction industry as “one of the least digitised in Europe”. David Lawrence, the Vice President of Construction at Fonn, a unified construction management software provider, understands why many construction businesses are reluctant to upload their documentation to the cloud.

“It’s often a case of them being afraid of change,” he said, “It’s an industry built on tradition, and anything unknown could have a significant impact on the business.

“The industry operates on a very small margin and any impact could cause the business to suffer long-term consequences of poor planning and/or execution.”

However, resistance to change – for example, when it comes to document management – can also have poor consequences. Mr Lawrence said: “Working with out-of-date documents is widespread in construction. Everyone in construction is familiar with a project where the wrong drawing was used and the project became delayed, over budget or a PR disaster.

“Typically, 15 per cent of the project budget could be lost through poor document management. Factors like out-of-date drawings, reliance on hard copies and just the time spent managing the documents can significantly impact the project.”

But simply shifting towards a digital system which creates a ‘single source of truth’ can reduce delays caused by confusion over information.

“Having a dedicated document controller – one person in control of the information flow – often means that people are not second-guessing the status of a document,” said Mr Lawrence.

Storing documentation and drawings in the cloud can also help improve security, as hard copies can easily go missing and the data they contain become lost permanently.

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Mr Lawrence said: “Unless you are storing hard copies in a secure location with regimented checks, cloud storage is nearly always a better solution. Permissions and access can be much easier to control, and if there is a breach, it’s often easier to work out what went wrong.”

Fonn’s Drawings and Document Management tool stores all your business’s documents and drawings in the cloud. This means that the latest versions are constantly available and accessible to staff wherever they are, even without an internet connection. The software can even be accessed via smartphones and tablets, making for easy project-related communication between staff.

New files and folders can be uploaded with a simple drag and drop, and users can add annotations, signatures, measurements and comments. All project participants, who can be added and removed at any time, will be automatically notified of any changes or additions, ensuring that everyone remains up-to-date.

Mr Lawrence added: “Fonn has best reporting tool in the industry for capturing site observations and photos. This allows everyone on the project to record key issues and events, rather than collect data long after it occurred.

“We can add the clients’ forms to Fonn so they can perform site inspections, audits and sign-off sheets. No printer, no paper, no ink, just digital documentation that’s super easy to fill out on site.

“Safety document distribution is also much easier with a platform like Fonn. We track users on site each day, so we can always look to see who might have been on site when an issue has occurred, making it easier to gather all of the information need.

Companies running multiple concurrent projects often have to liaise with hundreds of stakeholders, like architects, PMs, and suppliers. When new iterations of documents and drawings emerge, the complexity of managing these projects and effective collaboration can escalate rapidly.

“Attempting to communicate with multiple stakeholders using various methods can become a data-heavy process, where users need to compile emails, paperwork, call logs, forms, etc.,” said Mr Lawrence.

“With a cloud-based project management platform, all the hard work is done for you. Everything is date and time stamped, and often a report can be generated in one click to share all the information with internal and external parties.”

Fonn’s solution can assist with regulatory compliance, for example, the standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for construction and environmental management. Failing to adhere to these and other regulatory requirements can result in legal liabilities, financial penalties and project delays.

Mr Lawrence said: “ISO standards often rely on the company using well-defined processes and procedures. These can be done when using a manual system, but seldom are.

“Tools like Fonn make this process much easier to manage, and the audit trail often ticks a huge box and makes the assessor’s job so much easier.”

Read more about Fonn here