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Pulp fiction

Computers have a long way to go before paper is no longer needed, says Ian Hamilton.

Despite the dreams of the paperless office, computers have in fact increased our ability to create and dispatch even greater volumes of paper than before.

Thus our original problems of managing the storage and retrieval of paper documents have been joined by their equivalents in electronic form. While situations do now exist where almost paperless trading is the norm, the construction industry still relies heavily on paper, albeit most of it produced by electronic means.

This hybrid situation of requiring paper and electronic documents to co-exist has presented many of the challenges for computer based document management systems. Some of these problems have been those of affordable, reliable technology such as drawing scanners, optical character readers and mass storage. Others are those of the systems that maintain the integrity and security of the electronic documents. Furthermore, while guidance and opinion exists on the legal standing of the electronic equivalent of a paper document, this has yet to be tested in court.

CICA set out to study the current state of electronic document management with particular regard to its use by the construction industry. The study was part funded by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and was made possible by the generous co-operation of some of the leading users and suppliers of systems.

The findings of the study are contained in CICAs published report, Document Management Systems for Construction.

The report includes the results of a survey of document management systems, a user survey, case studies from five major IT user organisations, and a commentary on the British Standard and related documents giving guidance on document management principles and recommendations.

Document management is a new and developing area, and existing users are very much pioneers. As an application it offers great potential, however beyond very simple applications the systems can become complex and expensive. A rigorous specification of each individual organisations processes and requirements is an essential prerequisite for the subsequent implementation of a document management system.

Ian Hamilton is managing director of the Construction Industry Computing Association.

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