IT Focus: Spreading the word

Tim Taylor, McLaren Software, Glasgow, UK.

A failure to appreciate the scope of Document Management can jeopardize the effective implementation of complicated projects. Many power plant operators are missing the significant advantages of being able to link their DM systems across engineering disciplines and it is their bottom line that can suffer as a result.

Engineering content has specific characteristics. It covers complex specifications including drawings, data sheets, calculations, geophysical data, analysis results and financial projections. The construction of a power plant can incorporate tens of thousands of drawings and involve many different engineering disciplines, which means that the most up-to-date information needs to be readily available to all parties.

These documents often have complex inter-relationships. For example, the ownership of documents often transfers between many companies at different project milestones, requiring co-ordination across systems. In addition, documents are contractually binding and tied to payment. It is critical that the validity and history of the documents can be trusted. Very high volumes of documents are generated and are subject to stringent change control. The speed and accuracy of this change control is critical to the bottom line of all collaborating companies.

Linking engineering document management with other key processes maximises the value of information.
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In the design, specification and planning of power plants, many organizations are failing to link engineering content and Document Management (DM) systems with wider business processes, making the tracking, retrieval and association of vital content unnecessarily complicated. Different departments have differing views over exactly what DM is and this means that the organization as a whole is not in a position to realise the full benefits that an enterprise DM system can offer.

In a commercial sense, under-use of DM systems can reduce competitive advantage and undermine effective business process management. Increased competition in the power industry has meant that plants now have to look at new ways to save money, improve their performance and reduce downtime.

Linking processes

Whilst an engineer may view DM as the control of drawings in a CAD environment, the work that they do has a direct impact on those responsible for contract negotiation, payment or invoicing at project milestones and project management. In far too many instances the ability to control and link the business processes that deliver content to other systems is missing.

In an engineering environment, deliverable drawings are subject to complex rules and regulations, and often have to be reworked several times before they can be submitted as complete and payment received.

Project managers need to know the status of these deliverables at all times so that they can identify bottlenecks and allocate resources appropriately. This is by no means a straightforward task and managers need to know how painful it can be to get this information on demand, yet it is a request that will be made time and time again.

For example, a contract manager might need to make a claim for extra work and, as such, would ask the project engineers to pull together all relevant documentation and correspondence for a particular project. The claim could centre on proving that requested changes were made following the review of initial design work. Such instances are commonplace, but can be time consuming and costly in terms of lost productivity.

The more effective integration of engineering content and DM with other business processes leads to reduced costs, improved productivity and could ultimately have a positive impact on project completion times. The ability to meet and exceed project milestones and deadlines is becoming a major selling proposition for engineering projects across the board.

All the information required to do this is usually available, but it can be very difficult to obtain quickly and efficiently when it should all be available to the project or contracts manager at the push of a button.

Tunnel vision

The failure to look at the wider picture, or departmental ‘tunnel vision’, is all too common in many businesses and in many cases the notion of linking engineering content with wider automated business processes is overlooked. Enterprise DM platforms permit this function but, by failing to activate the functionality, departments are losing the ability to control and link the business processes that deliver content to their entire organization.

To put it in context, a structural engineer may reach a billable milestone through the delivery of a CAD drawing to the customer without the finance department being alerted. With no link between these departments the invoicing process would not be triggered and, despite the fact that a contractual milestone had been met, payment would be unnecessarily delayed. Likewise, it is equally possible that the finance department could be chasing for payment based on a predicted schedule of stage completion before the work has actually been finalised.

The issue here is not the current state of DM applications but how content can be more effectively managed in the future. A power plant that has the ability to organize the effective use of its engineering and related content across the business, instead of limiting it to a departmental level has a major advantage, building stronger business processes through a shared infrastructure.

Company-wide document and drawing management can support many of the tasks and business processes needed to operate effectively in a complex global environment. By adopting an enterprise approach to the management of engineering drawings, documents and other content, owner operators of power plants and associated assets can maximise intellectual property and manage risk.

Companies like Southern Company (see side bar) are starting to look at tighter engineering document control to better manage information across their organisation.

Maximising engineering

The importance of managing engineering documents and drawings effectively cannot be underestimated. In a typical project, the value of engineering content is tied up in business rules and processes, specifications, designs and drawings, proposals and tenders.

By linking engineering DM systems with the wider business processes, organizations are able to free up the movement of this information across departments. With the greater control afforded through the adoption of this approach, businesses are able to harness and maximise the value of engineering content throughout the organization.

This is of particular benefit to those organizations operating in regulated markets as an integrated approach aids the maintenance and proof of compliance with industry demands. Processes, audit trails, environmental considerations, safety and quality control can all be demonstrated with greater ease and speed.

Further to the earlier example of the engineer, let’s consider the way in which project payments are administered. As with any large project, deliverables and milestones are agreed with contractors at the start of each project, which are directly linked to the release of project payments. For the payment to be signed-off, the generating company needs to know that each milestone has been successfully completed. The ability to link engineering and other business processes together has a positive impact on successful project execution, ensuring the necessary content and process steps are completed across the enterprise before payment is released. As these payments can be prior to, during or post construction, it is vital that the relevant parties can illustrate that their work has been completed in order that payments are made and the project is kept on schedule.

Manage risk

A DM solution that helps power generation companies to control the flow of data internally and between itself, contractors and third parties can add value in line with business processes. By the same token, companies that are not adopting this approach are putting themselves at risk by exercising inadequate control over transmittals, correspondence and contracts. This can lead to the appearance of gaps in procedures and potentially to plant downtime.

Part of risk management is identifying the potential weaknesses within an organisation and removing the threat. Plants should view anytime that they are not able to exercise control over projects or business processes as downtime and seek to minimise or eradicate such occurrences.

The move towards collaborative working has already highlighted how the sharing of information can provide real business benefits and the astute organisation should be thinking of taking this one stage further by integrating its internal systems. By failing to act on this now, businesses are perpetuating departmental tunnel vision and it is their bottom line that will suffer as a result. Effective DM solutions can play a significant role in co-ordinating a power plant’s ongoing maintenance.

Enterprise software

Southern Company, one of the largest producers of electricity in the United States with 39 000 MW of generating capacity, has chosen McLaren’s Enterprise Engineer software to consolidate the management of its engineering drawings, documents and transmittals within its transmission substation and lines engineering groups.

Once deployed, the software will enable Southern Company to achieve its goal of consolidating its document management systems onto a single platform and user-interface with centralized storage. The new system will facilitate the on-going management of almost two million documents and drawings for 1600 end-users, as well as controlling and automating the business processes that use this content.

Southern Company Transmission is currently maintaining multiple document management systems and has the need to consolidate those systems onto one platform, to better manage the flow of information. By consolidating on McLaren’s ‘Documentum’ platform, Southern Company Transmission will be able to address 90 per cent of its engineering document management requirements out-of-the-box. In addition, it will allow the company to support business process changes through user configuration, which makes initial deployment faster and ongoing change easier.

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