Controlled documents are “living” entities that define products, describe processes, and depict infrastructures. They are the DNA upon which all large industrial facilities are built. These documents will change over time, and as a result their revisions are managed so that the current version is always available to users. Companies with large numbers of controlled documents use integrated document management systems to manage the processing of these documents.
Controlled document management systems are necessary to insure safety, manage change and reduce costs. But how is the quality of these systems evaluated? What makes one system “good” and another not? Quality is always a subjective comparison of physical and aesthetic attributes against a baseline of established values and standards. These can vary between different industries and cultures. In addition, consumers, manufacturers and support staff can all use different references to define the quality of the same product.
Philip Crosby, author of “Quality is Free” (1980) defined quality as “conformance to specifications”. The closer something approaches its defined requirements, the higher its perceived quality. Another approach to defining quality came from Joseph Juran. He was one of a number of management theorists who worked in Japan in the 1950s. Juran defined quality as “fitness for use”. ISO 9000, the international standard for quality management states that quality is the degree to which a commodity meets the requirements of the customer at the start of its life.
When comparing controlled document management software applications or evaluating your current document management system, consider the following eight features for evaluating the overall quality:
Standards provide a tangible baseline of requirements against which the quality of a document management system can be measured. Different industries use different standards; food processing, pharmaceuticals, nuclear, oil refining, government, military, municipal, etc. A quality controlled document management system will conform to company directives, industry requirements and government regulations. The in-house workflow processes for managing controlled documents should themselves be documented. Audits, which compare the document management process against these established standards, are the best way to evaluate the quality of the process. A high-quality document control program will generate few audit recommendations.
The integrity & history of the controlled documents must be maintained and protected at all times. Trust in the accuracy of a document’s content is a direct measure of its quality; the higher the perceived trust, the higher the quality. User trust is maintained through proper attention and adherence to document workflow policies, controlling who can change content, management of change processes, and computer network security.
All users must have immediate and easy access to the latest version of any document they have the rights to view. Documents must be easily searchable by multiple meta-data fields and be clearly viewable on any device. Secure barriers must be available and easy to place between selected documents and unauthorized individuals. Editors must only edit copies of the master documents in secure private workspaces where only they have the rights to make changes. Likewise reviewers and approvers must have access to their own versions of the documents in their own workspaces.
The design of the user interface determines the quality of the user experience; the more positive the experience, the higher the perceived quality. The user interface should be simple to use, comfortable to view, easy to understand, straightforward to navigate through and consistent across the application.
Large industrial facilities have overlapping projects which use the same documents for different purposes. Documents should be available for check-out and editing across multiple projects. The system should allow documents to be easily consolidated across projects and checked back in as a master document.
Reducing the amount of time and the number of operations it takes to perform a task increases the quality of the system. Evaluate your workflow standards and the document management software to look for ways to minimize the number of operations required to process documents. For example, instead of walking paper documents between reviewers for redlines, use software that performs this task automatically via email, and use a distributed review method instead of a linear review.
Industrial documents are not a stand-alone commodity. Their content can be used by other asset management processes in different departments. The ability to search for and find embedded content in documents through other applications is important. This improves the user’s experience and thereby enhances the quality of the document control system.
Managing documents involves communicating between individuals and groups. Easy, open, and automated communication is important. The appropriate notification of key individuals at the appropriate time in the process and the ability to provide follow-up reminders to these people improves the efficiency and quality of the system. Communication should be accurate and consistent. The document control system should also be flexible enough to keep pace with changing communications technology.
While there are more features that influence the quality of a controlled document management system, these are the primary ones to consider. If you are considering a quality controlled document management system, consider E*Doc, the high-quality document management solution from AIS Software. E*Doc is created specifically for industrial process facilities where large numbers of controlled documents need to be managed quickly, accurately and efficiently.