Information management is a sovereign priority for engineering firms wanting to be more profitable and win more work.
The effectiveness of an organisation’s Information Management practices is not absolute, but relative to its level of alignment to the organisation’s chosen mode of operation (Sheriff . A , 2012).
Data is now the world's most valuable resource
All project and client information can be decisively analysed and mobilised as an asset. Firms who take a more strategic approach to prioritising information management have the ability to unlock the value in the data and future proof their business by making sure their experience is never commoditised and creating a competitive advantage when tendering for work
Taking a more holistic view to information involves balancing emerging technology, changes in process and the competency of the people within your firm to mobilise information in an advantageous way.
When an asset is subject to continual updates, information will be difficult to find when it is needed most
This holistic view can unearth the inefficiencies and challenges of information management within the engineering industries:
1. Having ready access to accurate, complete, high-quality information about a project or physical asset
Think about your firm for a second, you’ve probably got years worth of information stored in boxes or locally on people’s desktop. This has probably come form a multitude of contractors using their own collaborative tools and without a strategic approach to information management.
When you add in the complexity of any hard copy documents, multiple versions of the same document and things like a Basis of Design (BOD) without the context of what’s gone into creating that BOD, using this valuable information on future work with becomes tedious and highly inefficient
2. Knowledge Unification
The result of this is a gap emerges between accessible information and knowledge held. The challenge is then compounded even if there is a wealth of accessible information, because it is often not stored in a single location or platform. Without unification, the quantity of knowledge held proliferates - on individual devices, local versions of shared documents - making it unclear which versions represents the current set of knowledge
For brownfield projects with reams of historical data, work these challenges are incredibly detrimental.
Firms managing these projects without access to a central source of information are likely to miss some vital pieces of information due to an ad-hoc approach to information management.
If you look at your peers in the industry something I’m sure you’ll agree with is engineering firms are not necessarily known for being progressive, right?
The challenge this presents is there are a host of firms out there using best practices which are several years old. Using ineffective systems can hinder the growth of a company, most make the decision based on cost and replicating these old practices instead of looking a new, innovative and more efficient means to deliver an outcome.
This means mid-sized firms are likely to seek things on as needed basis which is a reactive approach to problem solving rather than a pragmatic yet proactive approach engineers are capable of
If firms are unable to efficiently access legacy data or more recent work, it burdens a firm's ability to deliver any greenfields projects within a required time frame.
When you consider the nature of early stage FEED or design work, this often has a lot of moving parts with new information coming to light which can drastically alter your inputs and the outcome, recognising and capturing this information early is integral to the success of the project and protecting the reputation of the company.
In this flurry of activity, vital project information can slip through the cracks too easily between multiple people, devices and updates to documents which are contractual or scope-related, financial or design documents, as an example. If this information is not managed from the start, an inability to leverage existing data means a firm could potentially miss out on future projects in favour of continually trying to find or replicate old work.
Long-term, without actively taking steps to improve or optimise the content life cycle - from creation through to communication and reuse - these inefficiencies will continue to compound and as client demands rise they will be less willing to put up with these inefficiencies. Conversely, by alleviating these you create a competitive advantage and can provide unique differentiation in flooded markets
When people engage you for a project they do so because of your experience and what you’ve previously delivered. By recognising and leveraging the inputs to the outcomes which has lead to your success you create a moat between you and your competition, you remove reliance on an individual so if they leave you don’t lose all the valuable outcomes they’ve achieved.
All of this can only be achieved with the right strategy and more importantly the right tools, if you review the current state of your firm you’ll likely recognise there are areas around using historical data which could be improved.
The temptation upon this recognition is to put things in the “too hard basket” but with the upside being so significant it’s something which is worth at least exploring.
One of the biggest risks you face in implementing new processes or systems lies in doing so without fully knowing the needs of your firm
Without a proper internal review or guidance from experienced leaders in this space you run the risk of going the wrong way enthusiastically which can be just as detrimental as an apathy to change.
Widening your scope to consider how information management across your company can become the asset it should be
If you’re interested in learning more then download our free Information Management Workshop template to bring your team together:
SHERIFF, A. ... et al, 2012. Information management in UK-based architecture and engineering organizations: drivers, constraining factors, and barriers. Journal of Management in Engineering, 28 (2), pp. 170 - 180.