What’s Happening to the Documents?

In today’s challenging environment of plummeting revenues, rising costs, and the imperative to do more with less, I find myself increasingly concerned about the documents, and those individuals we have entrusted with their care. I’m not talking about the emails, faxes, memos and other expendable fodder of daily business, but rather about the controlled documents, those critical P&ID’s, isometrics, procedures and plan drawings upon which companies, facilities and ultimately our jobs depend. What’s happening to these documents?

We’ve all read recently about the changing fates of the engineers, welders, roustabouts and rig hands who make up the bulk of our industry, but what’s happened to the already overworked document control specialists, those librarians of our tribal knowledge? Having experienced several downturns in the oil and gas industry I know from experience they get swept away just like the rest of us. Management knows they are an easy segment to cut. After all, they are low paid and expendable, and in the process many competent vault experts are lost.

But projects go on, maintenance continues, equipment breaks and repairs need to be made. All of this work still requires documents, reams and reams of documents, and they need to be managed, controlled, distributed and maintained. Are there enough document specialists left on site to perform the work? What is happening to all the documents that aren’t being updated? Billions of dollars in critical infrastructure depend on how well and how accurately our controlled documents are managed, and tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars are wasted on projects from mismanaged documents. This includes the upfront costs of locating, verifying and assembling the most recent set of documents, and the hidden costs of correcting for misaligned parts, circumventing unexpected obstacles and replacing the wrong equipment. These costs diminish with the increasing quality of the project documents.

Documents are the sheet music upon which the instruments of industry are played. They are the maps down whose roads our processes flow. They are our recipes, our library, our collective memory and our DNA. They must be kept accurate because our industry and our lives depend on them. Therefore, they should be treated with the same levels of respect and attention that the operators and maintenance crews give to their equipment. As the price of crude oil continues to drop, facility managers should weigh the long-term economic considerations and safety consequences against their short-term financial needs when evaluating their document control strategies.