I’ve been traveling around the country moderating panels to investigate a trend affecting firms in the architecture and engineering space, speaking with attorneys, insurance executives, engineers, and architects to get their first-hand experiences on the problem of project information mismanagement.
Disputes arising out of projects is nothing new, but the challenge of proving one’s innocence has become far more complex. Technology has advanced quickly over the past decade, resulting in a seemingly unmanageable amount of emails, documents, drawings, and files for every project. Add the multiple new ways of storage, from cell phones to Dropbox to laptops, and firms have a nightmare on their hands in proving their innocence.
One annotated document can mean the difference between innocence and a big settlement fee, but — can you find it? It’s not uncommon that firms are held accountable for issues simply because they can’t find the information they need to defend themselves.
I’ve heard from many attorneys and insurance risk specialists that many firms are unprepared to find critical documents during disputes, incurring huge costs, sometimes to the tune of $1 million per month in discovery. The complexity involved in finding the right emails and documents has resulted in the cost of discovery outpacing the cost of legal fees for the rest of the process: the pleadings, motions and trial. Many firms outsource to third-party eDiscovery companies who house, index, and present the data in digestible formats to attorneys for analysis, charging several hundred dollars per hour, per analyst.
The rapid growth in volume and diversity of document types isn’t the only factor. Many firms have technology in place to manage information and workflows, but many solutions force users to comply with tedious or cumbersome steps, like copying every project-related email or document into a central repository. Adding extra admin tasks leads to users circumventing the technology, resulting in incomplete project records that leave the firm exposed. It is especially risky when employees side-step the process by using their own technology and later leave the company.
WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?
Well, what I’ve learned from the panels so far suggests the solution to be three-fold — a marriage of people, process and technology.
- People: Team members must be involved at all levels in the organization and in such a way that makes behavior change meaningful. It needs to be embraced fully, top-to-bottom, and must enable all team members. The way to do that is by helping everyone understand the reason — the why — for making the changes.
- Process: The process needs to be thorough and clearly defined. It should include points such as the firm’s stance on document retention, who to CC, when “reply all” is acceptable, and how to handle privileged versus non-privileged information. In addition, decisions need to be made on how to organize the various types of files for easier extraction later. Additionally, process specialists and digital practice leads suggest auditing processes annually at the very least.
- Technology: If a firm doesn’t have a process defined and its people on board to execute it, technology won’t do much. On the other hand, the right technology will tie everything together if the people and processes are in place. Keep in mind that technology should automate processes already defined allowing team members to work within those processes and focus more of their time on adding value to a project. So, engineers can spend more time engineering and less time manually filing overwhelming amounts of email.
Once the people, process and technology are in place, the amount of time and other resources needed to find critical information in a timely manner will be significantly reduced. This makes finding relevant information less of a show stopper to a firm’s productivity and bottom line and more like a speed bump. It also gives firms a fighting chance to end a dispute before it can escalate to a full-on legal proceeding.
Tell us: What measures have you put in place to mitigate project risk at your firm?
Tyler Ferguson is the Director of Industry Solutions at Newforma, a web-based software company focused on improving collaboration and project information management.