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Published: Aug 25 2021

What is the Cost of "Free" Document Management?

Decoding the True Cost of “Free” Document Management Tools and Why Meridian Is Worth the Investment

When it comes to document management tools, there are many “free” content management solutions out there, including SharePoint, Box, share drives and even USB drives. Today, many businesses continue to rely on these tools for their document management needs—either because, “it’s what they’ve always used,” or because they believe they’re saving money by avoiding the costs associated with a robust engineering document management system (EDMS).

This isn’t true, and it’s creating more costs than they might realize.

The reality is that engineering teams that opt for free document management tools are making huge sacrifices when it comes to efficiency, change management, workflow processes and document version control (and that’s just scratching the surface).

This can not only cost money in the long run but also lead to staffing issues and a major skills gap as tenured employees retire—taking their tribal knowledge with them – and new hires look elsewhere for jobs that offer more efficient and modern technologies. Here are the facts and numbers to keep in mind.

Understanding the Capabilities and Limitations of Free Document Management Tools

These Tools Do Work in Certain Organizations and Contexts

Free, generic document management solutions like SharePoint, Box and other share drives are appropriate for businesses that:

  • Are small to mid-sized
  • Require only one department to interact with the documentation
  • Don’t need advanced document management functionalities

That’s because these tools ultimately work like big filing cabinets, allowing users to save and share a file or record that remains largely static – and for small or unregulated entities, this is wholly appropriate. Even at Accruent, we utilize tools like SharePoint to organize our blogs, social media content, sales decks and other internal documentation. In such instances, the tool can:

  • Facilitate sharing across team members and departments.
  • Allow users to discover, follow, and run basic searches for sites, files and people across your company.
  • Provide a space for users to sync and store your files in the cloud so anyone can securely work together.
  • Help users collaborate via mobile device.
  • Provide a space from which users can create pages, document libraries and lists.

The Problem with Free Solutions for Facilities and Engineering Needs

That said, these tools simply don’t have the additional functionality required in the Engineering space (or any other space that needs to establish controls for their documentation).

As we mentioned, the “free” tools work best on static documents or documents with a simple, linear lifecycle. Here’s what that means. Generally, documents move through two phases: the dynamic phase – during which the document is created, approved, updated and finalized— and the static phase, during which the document is unchanged and ultimately archived. Most generic documents go through this process linearly and then remain statically archived (barring the periodic reference or update).

Technical documentation – including things like engineering documents, facility documentation, CAD drawings and technical manuals – is very different. Rather than remaining static, this kind of documentation must be regularly approved, version tracked, controlled and updated to maintain compliance and effectively manage changes. It is almost always dynamic.

What’s more, technical documentation is often:

  • Unstructured, meaning that it doesn’t follow a pre-defined data model
  • Spread across various systems and departments
  • Needed by many departments (for example, when a document is needed in multiple change projects and needed for daily operations and maintenance)
  • Difficult to access and update due to unavailability, unique file types or constant change.

This makes engineering documentation very difficult to manage, access and utilize— even when there are other robust systems in play like a CMMS. Getting this right is nearly impossible if these teams are trying to manage some or all their documentation on a free system.

What's worse, getting this wrong can mean big problems for your operations. Think about it: in production facilities like oil rigs, power plants, or chemical factories, this documentation is crucial for fixing problems and maintaining assets. It must be easy to find, accurate, and reflective of the on-site situation of assets if the team members are to avoid downtime, delays, safety problems and lost revenue. In these cases, not having quick access to accurate, up to date documentation could mean a life-or-death situation.

Because of its poor search and organization capabilities, a generic, free document management tool makes this impossible. As a result, organizations that try to use these tools struggle against consistent pain points, including:

  • Poor work order efficiency
  • Costly downtime
  • Complicated engineering change process
  • Difficulty controlling projects documentation when multiple projects occur within the same documentation sets
  • Inefficiency when it comes to initiating, reviewing and approving SOPs
  • Complex handover for capital projects
  • Lack of transparency between engineering and manufacturing departments
  • A disconnect with other mission-critical tools, including their CMMS

A purpose-built engineering document management system can help.

Quantifying the True Value of Meridian EDMS

Meridian EDMS engineering document management system cost savings

Effectively managing, accessing and utilizing unstructured engineering information requires a robust engineering document management system (EDMS) powered by a purpose-built engineering document management system like Meridian.

That said, even professionals struggling against the limitations of their current system often struggle to quantify and justify the benefits of a dedicated tool. But, we can help you understand the numbers.

Here are some tangible benefits to consider as you begin to understand the ROI for an EDMS solution.

Streamline and Control Document Exchange

The Problem: Uncontrolled Document Exchange

Engineering teams often have challenges with medium-to-large internal projects and with shared inter- company resources on projects. This is because documents are often lost during the back-and-forth internal review cycle, which typically requires work on disparate systems.

For example, an XRef is an "external reference" to another AutoCAD drawing file or component. One file can reference many other files and display them as if they were one. XRefs can be updated, added, or unattached from the main drawing at any time. You can also XRef drawings that XRef other drawings within them (nesting). During the handover process, these files often go missing and the mistake isn’t noticed until it’s needed by maintenance or operations.

This kind of miscommunication can impact efficiency and lead to costly re-work.

The Meridian Solution

Meridian simplifies project document changed using a controlled digital process – both to and from contractors and Company shared services. It also eliminates the need to use uncontrolled or unsanctioned tools such as Dropbox, network drives or email to transfer project and legal documents.

Eliminate Unnecessary IT Costs

The Problem: IT Maintenance, Modifications and Labor Costs Associated With Free or Legacy Systems

Trying to maintain free or legacy systems and make them work is expensive. What’s more, IT often doesn’t have training for this kind of work (and their hands are often tied by the limitations of the systems). This kind of overburdened IT staff can come with high costs.

The Meridian Solution

Meridian’s SaaS offering provides all maintenance, support, upgrades and patches you’ll need. Upgrades are provided quarterly, and all users are actively invited to suggest improvements in the application. Offloading system design and maintenance in this way reduces your internal IT maintenance and labor costs by more than 50% when compared to legacy systems.

Optimize Plant Maintenance Operations

The Problem: Inefficient Execution of Work Orders

With free or legacy systems, technicians and engineers are often stuck searching multiple systems and struggling to find the correct documentation and versions. What’s more, when errors are found, there is no good process for documenting, submitting and initiating engineering changes. This can drastically slow down work order package preparation and lead to:

  • Errors
  • Safety issues
  • Higher costs per work order
  • Undocumented changes and poor document version control
  • Lack of a single source of truth

The Meridian Solution

Meridian provides a single source for all documents with multiple ways to search for all types of critical documents, drawings and associated assets. A user can find docs needed via Tag scan, location, asset name and many other logical identifiers. With a few clicks, maintenance teams will have all the information necessary to complete the job efficiently with less man hours. Users can also easily mark up a doc on their mobile device, make comments and add pictures to submit change requests directly to engineering in Meridian.

With this kind of access to the most up to date documents on any device, organizations can ensure that the maintenance and technician employees can execute work orders more efficiently, reducing errors, unnecessary trips, and prep time when executing work-orders. This leads to a reduction in the time and associated labor costs of preparing and delivering on Work Orders following current SOPs, EIPs and safety policy. Here are the numbers:

An Engineering Document Management system could save your technicians an hour a day. Run a quick calculation of:

# of Technicians x $X (hourly rate) x 1 hr = YOUR POTENTIAL

What could you do if that amount of technician time could be put towards more PM visits or faster remediation of issues?

Reduce Operating Expenditures

The Problems: High Licensing Expenses and Paper Costs

There are significant costs associated with the printing, postal work and copying that's often required to get documentation to the right people at the right time.

What’s more, this process is inefficient: if there’s a missing document on a job site, workers might have to return to the file room to print additional copies. This wastes time and efficiency – and many changes can go undocumented due to the manual and siloed nature of these efforts. A dedicated EDMS tool can eliminate these unnecessary costs.

The Meridian Solution

Meridian offers solutions to both issues. With Meridian, organizations can often consolidate vendors and licenses into one system, reducing the costs associated with duplicate legacy systems. Additionally, by allowing users to access the most up-to-date documentation on any device, Meridian largely eliminates manual labor, helping organizations execute work orders, reduce errors and reduce the number of unnecessary trips spent delivering and marking up hard copies. This can ultimately lead to savings not only in copy costs but also in stakeholder time and employee efficiency.

Final Thoughts

In short, the true cost of sticking with a “free” or legacy solution is higher than you’d might expect. Thanks to the enormous inefficiencies (and avalanching costs) that come with these solutions, these free tools wind up costing your business time, efficiency and revenue in the long run.

It’s time to switch from freeware to efficiency gains. Stop thinking of the cost of EDMS, instead what is the cost of NOT having an EDMS?

Ready to hear more? For your customized ROI analysis, request a conversation here.

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