The vast amounts of data generated by modern engineering and construction projects is spurring the adoption of new information management approaches such as PIM, which can significantly mitigate risk by enhancing access to a greater range of content and data.

The ever-increasing use of new technologies by the engineering and construction sectors has led to an explosion in the volume of data and documentation generated by even individual projects.

According to Paul McConnell, Marketing Programs Manager, Newforma, the past decade alone has seen a surge in the creation of project-related data on the back of the expanded use of technologies such as BIM.

“The increasing use of BIM is one factor leading to a massive growth in the volume of information in the AEC sector,” said McConnell to Sourceable.

“In 2004, one of the largest projects from a data standpoint being managed using Newforma software had 100 gigabytes of data. In 2014, a project similar in scope generated around 6.5 terabytes.”

This explosion in project-related documentation has in turn led to the adoption of new data management solutions, such as Project Information Management (PIM), that represent a more comprehensive approach compared to traditional electronic document management systems (EDMS).

According to Omar Awny, Senior Enterprise Solutions Manager, Newforma, PIM marks a departure from traditional EDMS in its greater scope and ability to collate a far greater variety of project-related information, whether contained in regular files or electronic communications.

“Old-fashioned EDMS stores meta-data about a document in the hope that one day when you need it you can find it,” said Awny. “PIM doesn’t care where the you store a file, and it doesn’t care about format or metadata. All it does is index  the actual content of each document, communication and registers, such as Document Controls, RFI’s and approvals, regardless of where that information sits.

“It’s about more than managing just the documents – it’s about managing all the information and communications related to a project, and most importantly the relationship between the various pieces of information.”

One of the chief advantages of PIM’s more comprehensive approach to the handling of documentation and data is its ability to mitigate risk both to the projects themselves and the companies that are involved.

Enhanced information management reduces the likelihood of contingencies arising in the first place, as it improves access to information and ensures greater consistency of the data that’s made available to all stakeholders.

“The first key area of of risk mitigation is ensuring that everyone has access to correct and timely information, which minimises the likelihood of something going wrong in the first place,” said Awny.

“When you share documents with external parties, for example, quite often people may not click on links to Dropbox or FTP Servers for weeks or even months after that information was initially made available – in the meantime it may have become obsolete.

“PIM software like Newforma stops that from happening by enabling you to have shared information expire automatically after a certain time period, reducing the chance that people will end up working with out-dated information.”

PIM also minimises risk by helping companies to better deal with contingencies once they’ve occurred, by enhancing the ability of stakeholders to track and access huge backlogs of project-related information.

“When things do go wrong, PIM can minimise the ramifications by providing easier access to the full history of information for a project, for example an email that triggered an RFI that triggered a design change or variation.

“In the past if something went wrong it was much harder to determine why certain decisions were made. For example now we have the ability to go back and review an RFI, as well as all the information linked to it, in order to understand why we responded in a certain way. This could happen years down the track when the original project team is no longer around”

Legal disputes provide an outstanding example of how PIM can help companies deal with vexing business problems in a more streamlined and economical manner.

“We had a structural engineer who was looking at litigation between themselves and one of their sub-consultants, and the lawyers essentially needed a history of contracts over several years between them to show there was a pattern in the way they did business,” said Awny.

“They created a new project called Archives, and had Newforma index all of their old projects to it before leaving it for a few hours.

“Using Newforma it took 15 to 20 minutes to gather all the information the lawyers needed, which would normally have taken several people multiple weeks to go through and find.

“That’s the scale of the benefits that people are seeing when it comes to PIM.”