Using Web-Based Collaboration to Improve Vendor Document Management
On any mining project, it is crucial to manage the flow of information between organizations in an efficient way. One of the processes that involves the greatest amount of information changing hands, and that is vital to keeping a project on schedule, is vendor document management. This involves the collection of the contractually-binding documentation from firms engaged in the supply of equipment and components.
During a project, the number of vendors required to submit reports, drawings, datasheets, warranties and specifications may reach the hundreds, which can result in the generation of thousands of items related to either installation or ongoing maintenance.
For the contractor, or any firm procuring complex components on a project, managing, tracking and reporting on these items has traditionally been a time-consuming process, involving spreadsheets, databases, email, internal document control software and many man hours.
Although companies have made the best of these tools, the manual input required makes the process arduous and resource-intensive. The result for contractors is often an inefficient capture of documentation, time lost chasing supplier responses and difficulty providing timely and accurate reports. At the same time, asset owners can find it difficult to track the progress of packages and to receive a complete set of documentation at handover.
These are challenges that organizations cannot afford to ignore, as the impact on projects can be delays, crucial deadlines or contractual obligations not being met, and increased risk during operation.
Why Companies Struggle
When managing vendor documentation, some of the main challenges for contractors can be:
- Receiving the documentation on time;
- Getting documents reviewed and approved on time;
- Ensuring that documentation is complete, and
- Ensuring that the client is kept informed of progress.
The volume of documentation created, combined with the limitations of existing tools and processes, can make this extremely difficult.
Companies often invest heavily in implementing document tracking software, with dedicated personnel to keep the review and approval processes running to schedule. The most commonly used solutions tend to be internal systems created by engineering contractors that are often database-driven and heavily customized – on Microsoft Access or similar.
Web-based collaboration systems enable contractors to handle large volumes of documentation in an organized and very efficient way.
A typical process with these systems is that the document control team logs the arrival of information, captures it electronically in a central database and then disseminates it to the relevant engineering disciplines. Alongside this is a multi-step review process with the asset owner, and back-and-forth communication with the package vendors. Conventionally, a matrix is kept of personnel names against document type, and document controllers use this to decide who receives a document before notifying them by email.
On larger projects in particular, this manual involvement soon becomes un-scalable, inefficient and prone to human error. The result is that managing vendor documentation is often a difficult, protracted, resource-draining process that can add to project costs and adversely impact schedule.
An increasing number of mining engineering contractors are using a web-based project collaboration system, which is widely used in the construction industry, to manage vendor documentation. The systems allow all the organizations engaged on a project to manage their documents and correspondence using a single, project-based platform. This enables internal and external team members to instantly access, review, distribute and archive their data at any time.
Collaboration technology provider Aconex recently released a product, Supplier Documents, that has been built specifically for managing vendor documentation. Integrated within the Aconex collaboration system, the product provides a set of tools that automates the submission and review of documents from vendors.
The core benefit of using a web-based collaboration tool is that the same system is used across the project team, making tracking and reporting easier. At any time, the owner, contractor or suppliers can log into the system to manage their vendor documentation.
Web-based collaboration systems enable contractors to handle large volumes of documentation and quickly identify overdue items. It also gives asset owners better visibility of progress and, at handover, a complete archive of project data that can be exported into internal systems. The result is improved information capture, better management of complex projects, and greater control for all parties.
* Doug Rubingh is VP Mining & Energy at Aconex, provider of web-based collaboration to the engineering and construction industries.
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