With all the emails, blogs, search engines, apps and collaboration, one would think that all the information necessary to do work should be at one’s fingertips. And yet, knowledge workers still spend a significant portion of their time looking for and validating information they need to do their job. Knowledge gained from experience seems to be the approach used most often. The prevalent ‘keyword’ search-results always return ‘some’ information but are never guaranteed to be relevant or complete. They are inadequate when accuracy and completeness of the information is mission critical.
The Challenge With Information Storage
In a large capital project, there is a breadth of interdependent information like regulatory requirements, client requirements, design constraints, assumptions, codes & standards, design drawings, specifications, vendor documents, purchase orders, construction packages, installation records, test results, etc. They are typically controlled and managed in specialized, dedicated applications across the enterprise. They may be in documents, databases, and proprietary applications. Not everyone has access to all the systems, and not every system can be searched the same way. With information distributed in a variety of systems and formats, searching for information becomes an art and results vary with the user’s knowledge, experience, and access. The challenge is to organize and consolidate all this information into a single, holistic view.
The Challenge with Information Search and Traceability
A large organization typically uses multiple information systems and specialized software to run their business. The interdependent institutional knowledge resides distributed across these systems that do not always communicate. This fragmented storage of related data and documents creates a challenge for information access, traceability and reliability.
Searching for information entails searching through several enterprise applications that have become silos of their respective content. The process is subjective and time-consuming because a user needs to know which systems to look into, obtain access to those systems, build proficiency in using those systems, and know how to trace across multiple systems using related information.
The Challenge with Information Shelf-Life and Continual Reliability
To the extent that systems have been disconnected, they can become mutually inconsistent over time. Information can also lose its validity over time due to impactful changes that occur elsewhere in the enterprise. Change management processes increase the general assurance of the available information by managing impacts. However, inconsistencies will not be obvious unless they are actively researched through the contents of change packages.
The Challenge with the Solution
A multi-faceted challenge requires a multi-faceted solution. The multiple facets include information, the technologies, the work processes, people, and the business. The larger the scope of the solution, the greater is its risk. Standard practice requires that the following facets be addressed.
Information – Information needs to be organized such that it can be searched and navigated. This could involve digitizing existing documents and even making information data-centric. Paper documents may need to be scanned, electronic scans may need to be OCR’d, and content of intelligent files from data-centric applications may need to be extracted.
Technology - Legacy systems may need to be replaced with new technology that supports data-centric content and searches. Integration of legacy systems with new systems may be necessary to create access to all information across the enterprise.
Work Processes – Existing culture and work processes centered around documents needs to be supported but they also need to be transitioned to new work processes necessary for new technology.
People and Organization – New electronic systems with their proprietary work processes can cause an organizational culture change and requires training and buy-in from the users.
Business Continuity – Business must continue unhindered while these changes are implemented. Transformation periods can be long and the interim transitional states are as important for business continuity as the end-state. While production outages are excellent periods for facility upgrades, there is no convenient time period for information outage that will not impact the business.
Comprehensive solutions that touch these facets are expensive. Furthermore, a tailored end-state designed to fit the organization’s unique characteristics, and the scope and schedule of the transformation can add a level of risk. The risk is dependent on the magnitude, impact, and irreversibility of the change. Lastly, there is the impact of the business disruption during the transition phase. The expected returns need to outweigh these risks and impacts in order for the transformation to be viable.