Stemming the Paperwork Flood

By it's very name the Internet means speed and efficiency. But can that be incorporated into document and project management processes in order to stem the inevitable paperwork flood that mammoth construction projects generate?

[From iSource Business, April 2001] Building 12 hydroelectric power plants to tame the waters that flow through Brazil and Colombia was simple. Controlling the flood of paperwork that went along with that task was the hard part.

The blueprints. The job specification sheets. The work orders. The memos between managers or engineers. The surveys. The reports. The requests for changes. The printouts taken to meetings with clients.

Having spent years as a major worldwide player in the construction, installation and maintenance of massive electrical systems, ALSTOM Power is intimately familiar with this situation. So when the company started the South American projects earlier this year, executives decided they needed something to help stem the paper flood. They realized they couldn't stop the torrential rush, but they could at least build a dam to control it so it could be better managed, more easily accessed and more simply examined.

"Our projects are very long in years  two, three, sometimes four years long, says Enzo Maimone, superintendent of hydro projects for ALSTOM Power. Sometimes we have to recollect an issue that was handled two or three years ago. It's very hard to find paper files, to find the minutes of meetings where we talked about the project to our client or minutes of discussions with one of our suppliers.

So Maimone turned to SiteScape, a software program that uses a Web site to keep up with a project's paperwork. Engineers, managers and administrative people can quickly search for a specific document, be it a specifications sheet, supplier's receipt or adjustment claim. Once a document is entered into the system, it's there for good, which eliminates the onerous task of shuffling through gargantuan mounds of papers stuck in boxes that are shoved into the dusty storage room in the back of the building.

I liked its ability to help us manage documents, Maimone says. On jobs like these there are a lot of papers and lot of documents that are coming back and forth.

In ALSTOM's case it was crucial to have a centralized location for information since the hydro plants  which range in cost from $10 million to $75 million  are spread far and wide throughout the hinterlands of Brazil and Colombia. SiteScape's search engine, through its point-and-click Web site, allows ALSTOM employees to instantly access the information they need. That saves time, Maimone says, and time, of course, is money.

The Power of Efficiency

ALSTOM, which has about 140,000 employees in 70 countries and divisions for rapid-rail systems and shipbuilding, spent about $20,000 for the entire SiteScape project. The software cost $10,000, and $5,000 more hired an independent consultant in Sao Paulo, Brazil to get the system up and running. In case of glitches, for the next two years the consultant, Alvaro Carmago of Engineer Procurement and Construction Management, is on a monthly retainer of $200.

For that rather tiny investment, Maimone hopes to save about $300,000 over the next three years by streamlining the efficiency of project managers and engineers. We hope to reduce our engineering and project management activities by 10 percent per year over the next three years, he says.

Even the installation of the software, developed several years ago by Compaq/AltaVista and purchased by SiteScape Inc. in 1999, was easy, he says. Simplicity of use was one of its major draws in the beginning.We bought it in May of 2000 and it was up and running by July, he says. I'm fully satisfied. It's working quite well and delivering what I expected out of it.

Actually, it's delivering even more, he admits.

As an added bonus, something Maimone says he wasn't even looking for when he purchased it, the software helps manage the workflow for each section of each project, ensuring that design steps are completed in the proper order and under the proper specifications. That way, no step is overlooked and the quality of the end product  whether it's a turbine or computerized control system  is assured.

You can be sure that part of your process is under control and going in a structured way, Maimone says. You can control the design process.

If you follow the procedure you can be certain that your product has superior quality, says consultant Carmago.

SiteScape can also alert ALSTOM when a step has been overlooked or is not completed. It can be customized to halt the process until the steps are finished or, in a less severe method, it can send a tickler message to a project manager or engineer saying that a step has been skipped or has not been completed in a set time frame.

It assures me that the verification milestones and the critical analysis milestones are being done in a timely fashion, Maimone says. All of this is documented, the history is in the system  who checked it when, who received this information from a supplier and put it in the system.

With its documentation management, the software also makes it possible to keep an eye on the ongoing gremlin in the workflow process: specification adjustments. On most projects it's a given that changes are going to be made to the original plans. On jobs as large as ALSTOM's, these changes, and the price adjustments that go along with them, are in danger of being lost in the paper shuffle, which is an obvious revenue loss. With the new system, however, those adjustments are cataloged.

When you are buying hydro systems for a plant you aren't buying something that's ready, like a car where you go to a car salesman and they have a finished product, Carmago says.

If you don't make documentation of everything, it's very, very easy for you to lose control, Carmago adds. If you have everything registered on your enabler's site, it's very easy to review all the changes done by the engineers. Consequently, the process of creating a document claiming for price adjustment becomes an easy task.

If there is a glitch in the SiteScape system, it's a rather minor one, Maimone says. The software speaks the TCL computer language, a language not widely spoken in Brazil.