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What’s Better, Electronic or Paper Construction Documentation?

Let’s talk a bit about electronic versus paper construction documentation.

The reality is an astonishing amount of what we do today, particularly to someone like me who has been working on construction projects for 30 years, is done electronically. We have not eliminated paper, but certainly the amount of paper we consume, strictly for managing our project, has been dramatically reduced.

Why Electronic Construction Documentation is Different

The big difference when it comes to electronic documents is really storage. How do we keep track of information in a useful and sensible way so that we can retrieve the right thing quickly? Those of you familiar with the days of paper files know that with a lot of work, organization, procedure, and insisting people do the right thing, you could build a pretty comprehensive paper file. And it was relatively easy to access and come up with the appropriate information. Typically, we asked our support staff to help us accomplish that.

In an electronic world, a lot of that organizational structure really falls upon individuals. It also falls on developing protocols and agreements as to how we are going to store the documentation (in joint storage locations on the same servers for example). And then, of course, the question always becomes, “What am I going to share with whom?”

Security of electronic information is also an issue. With paper documentation, you have to worry about fire or someone grabbing a folder and not bringing it back.

But when you are using electronic documentation, the number of concerns increases. Do you have proper back up? Is it off site? Is it secure? Is it accessible?

As time goes on, we are going to see more and more of what we are beginning to see in the scheduling world. If you are a user of the P6 Enterprise software, you know this to be true. We are going to see documents stored in the same location and shared extensively. Then we are relying on security protocols to keep people in and out of places we do or do not want them to be.

Questions To Help You Make Your Decision

The bottom line is with each type of information, you should ask:

  • Is this going to be easier to retrieve on paper or electronically?
  • Whatever we choose, are we confident that our internal systems will allow us to pull out exactly what we want when we need it?

It’s important that we put in place systems that allow us to rapidly retrieve project information. We need that so we can use it to accomplish our goals and objectives, which is the timely, cost-effective, and high-quality completion of our projects.

Scott Lowe is a Principal of TRAUNER and is an expert in the areas of in the areas of critical path method scheduling, construction claim preparation and evaluation, and specification writing. He can be reached at scott.lowe@traunerconsulting.com.

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