Document Version Control 101: Everything You Need to Know
If you’re not prioritizing comprehensive document version control, you’re compromising the effectiveness of your engineering tools and operations – and it could be costing your business money and efficiency.
Why? Without effective version control, your employees and decision-makers can wind up acting on information that is out-of-date, incomplete, or missing across individuals and departments – and this can lead to major financial and efficiency concerns.
And this problem is more common than you might expect, particularly in organizations that operate with manual or legacy systems. Here’s how to ensure effective version control to uphold the integrity of documents, increase productivity and make good use out of your relevant data.
The History of Document Version Control
Outdated Document Version Control Practices Had Consequences
The process of document storage and version control has gone through quite a few evolutions in recent decades. Originally, documents were updated and stored manually using pen, paper and filing cabinets. It was straightforward and simple but messy and inconsistent. Formatting varied depending on the document and the user, the process was prone to human error and companies often faced incomplete or hard-to-find information.
Then there were the first online document storage systems: complex systems that were often hard to update and faced issues like low user adoption, poor integrations and difficulty uploading and storing files. In some ways, these made the document storage and version control even more difficult. Some information was still on paper, some was in the system correctly, some was partially uploaded but incorrectly formatted – the list goes on.
In all instances, the inefficiency and inconsistency often led to significant consequences, including:
- An incomplete understanding of the as-built environment
- Decreased employee efficiency
- Inaccurate drafts and document versions across team members and devices
- Difficulty maintaining regulatory compliance
- Compromised productivity and safety
- Low data integrity
The Birth of Modern Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS)
Then, robust electronic document management systems (EDMS) began to emerge. These systems offer more precise document management in an easy-to-use, well-integrated and highly adopted system.
Overall, a modern EDMS will:
- Provide a single source of truth for all of your important information and documents
- Ensure that every document change is properly tracked and managed
- Help you maintain compliance with all regulatory bodies
- Increase team effectiveness
- Streamline collaboration between departments
- Improve team efficiency and productivity
That said, this will only work if your EDM system is highly adopted, easy to access, simple to integrate – and conducive to effective document version control.
Measurable Benefits of Document Version Control
Automatic document version control and auditing helps ensure that all versions and drafts of a document are accurately recorded and managed across team members and devices. This type of content management can lead to marked benefits, including:
A Historical Understanding of Documents
The right version control system will allow you to easily access a previous version of your documents and projects, which can help guard your important information in the case of computer crashes, mistakes, or data loss. It can also allow you to see who edited particular documents and when, which can help your team better track and manage file changes.
More Efficient, Concurrent Work
Effective document version control software allows multiple people to work simultaneously on a current version of a document or project without a document going out-of-date or edits interfering with another person’s work. One team member can also access a working copy for document revision across locations and devices.
This version management prevents team members from working on out-of-date or multiple versions while decreasing delays that would come with only one person working on a document at a time.
Easy Regulatory Compliance
Without access to up-to-date engineering drawings and documents, utilities professionals can often struggle to collaborate within their department and with other departments. Additionally, they can also encounter increased difficulty remaining compliant with regulatory bodies.
Document version control resolves this concern by helping team members organize important compliance information and letting them easily access relevant documentation.
Various stakeholders, contractors and engineers involved in a project can make it difficult to uphold the integrity of the engineering data at hand. Without document control software or an EDMS, it’s also difficult to search for documents and drawings – in fact, on average, maintenance, engineers, and operations teams spend roughly 2 hours a day searching for accurate and up-to-date engineering information.
Using an EDMS with document version control, all users having access to up-to-date, accurate information – which ultimately helps maximize productivity, save time, increase safety and ensure data integrity.
Common Barriers to Maintaining Document Version Control
Just because document version control has benefits doesn’t mean that it’s easy to execute. Many businesses today run into common roadblocks when trying to effectively execute document version control:
No Mobile Capabilities
Mobile, multi-site and remote capabilities are essential to effective document version control – and, more broadly, to effective multi-site operations. This is particularly important in a post-coronavirus context. That said, many companies run on systems that are:
- Not device agnostic
- Poorly integrated
- Not connected via Wi-Fi or the cloud
- Restricted to on premise installation
This makes mobile agility impossible, which can ultimately hinder effective version control and its benefits.
In many industries, including utilities and manufacturing, companies are often used to working with disconnected and largely manual legacy systems. Though many don’t see this as a concern because it’s “how they’ve always done things,” these legacy systems can become a particular hindrance in the context of COVID-19 and given the modern onslaught of data that most businesses have faced in recent years. They can also make effective document management nearly impossible.
Inconsistent EDMS Adoption
Adoption itself can be a major barrier to effective document version control – and it’s a common concern, particularly if:
- An EDMS system is not intuitive
- Technicians and other intended users do not see the value of the system
- There is incomplete or inconsistent training
- The system is not device agnostic or mobile-friendly
And poor adoption can render a system ineffective, since it causes the very out-of-date, incomplete and inconsistent document information that EDMS systems are deployed to avoid.
Difficulty Creating Effective Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)
In order for document version control to work, your business must establish clear standard operating procedures (SOPs) that will govern your version control practices. This helps ensure consistency when it comes to inputting information, obtaining approvals and finalizing documentation. Effective SOPs can also help easily obtain ISO certification.
That said, many businesses don’t have well-developed SOPs or clear workflow processes, which can ultimately create inefficiencies and inconsistent process outcomes.
Tips to Overcoming Issues and Ensuring Accurate Document Version Control
Hire an Administrator
A dedicated EDMS administrator can help you maintain your documents and your EDMS system after implementation. This individual can be responsible for:
- Document development and long-term document management
- Consistently upgrading your EDMS
- Determining and managing your metrics and KPIs
- Developing, managing and distributing data-driven reports
- Ensuring that relevant personnel have access to ongoing, advanced systems training
- Maintaining compliance with regulatory bodies
This person can also help your organization avoid the mistakes listed above, which can ultimately save money and increase your operational effectiveness.
Keep Document History
If you want to execute document version control effectively, it’s important that you keep a clear document history outlining any changes you made, when they were made and who made them. This versioning capability can help you gain transparency about your current version while also allowing you to revert back to previous document versions whenever necessary.
Similarly, the right EDMS will allow you to “check out” an electronic document, thereby providing revision control locking it against further edits. This can help safeguard documents against unapproved changes while preventing unnecessary revisions and the development of inaccurate versions.
Deploy Team Member Controls
All of your documents should have clear controls when it comes to who can access them, who can edit them and what edits each team member can make. For example, an important safety document should only be edited by qualified personnel.
In the same vein, you can also enable notifications so key team members are alerted when changes are made (I.e., when a document is edited or approved).
Create Set Workflows
Meridian can ensure that the right people know when and how to accomplish a task, even if multiple team members or departments need to access a specific document. For example, during a motor assembly project, various engineers might have to review the integrity of the motor designs and updated wiring. Meanwhile, someone from fabrication might have to ensure that the right machinery is available to complete the project.
Workflows in Meridian can inform all relevant users of their responsibilities while automating key tasks like:
- Applying a watermark to let users know the status or version of a document
- Creating a PDF for each new file or document
- Adding a print stamp that automatically appears when the document is printed
- Adding an electronic signature when required
That way, organizations can keep their master data up to date while coordinating their change processes in isolated work areas with workflows. This can not only ensure data validation but also provide a full audit trail for regulatory compliance.
Make Documents Accessible Across Devices
If you want to make version control work, ditch the legacy systems and opt for an easy-to-integrate, modern EDMs that allows you to access and edit documents from a computer, tablet or mobile phone.
Check Your Document Security
Make sure that your system has security features in place like encryption to ensure that your documents are always safe and private. Also, make sure that you have a proper back-up system – possibly in the cloud – to avoid data loss or system crashes.
Connect to your CMMS or CAD Software
Connect to relevant systems so you can access and reference important documents. For example, maintenance and operations departments often store the majority of their asset-related information in a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).
You can connect Meridian’s EDMS to your CMMS to break down information silos, develop comprehensive insights, increase document security and make sure your asset information is accurate throughout the asset lifecycle.
Similarly, you can use Meridian to store, manage, render and visualize the 2D and 3D content from your other CAD software systems. You can also develop references and relationships between your documents so you can easily organize and locate your CAD documents, such as piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs). More specifically, within Meridian EDM software, you can have all document references readily available, including project copies, equipment tags and functional locations.
This can sync all relevant information, providing the visibility you need to effectively use drawings and carry out a task.
Ensure Contractors Have Access
Finally, it’s important to make sure that all teams involved in your projects – including external contractors – have access to the information they need. This not only ensures that field changes are accurately conveyed, but also streamlines communication when there are many projects happening at once.
Using Meridian, you can accomplish this by easily sending documents to contractors to view, update or augment as necessary. Additionally, the tool allows for automatic validation of CAD software file references and a full audit log of all actions so you can always maintain accountability and visibility into changes.
Want to learn more about document version control and other capabilities in Meridian EDMS? Schedule a demo.