Engineering document control, numbering, transmittals: Build a flexible solution
Advice follows on how to improve Microsoft SharePoint’s use for sophisticated document control, numbering, and transmittals capabilities.
Microsoft SharePoint is commonly used for document storage, intranets, and extranets but falls short for sophisticated document control, numbering, and transmittals capabilities. A number of engineering companies have overcome these challenges without custom code.
SharePoint can be a great platform for engineering project management. Useful functionality includes document classification, version control, search, calendars, tasks lists, alerts, creation of project sites from templates, and others.
Document control, numbering, transfers
While Microsoft SharePoint provides these basics well enough, many engineering companies find it lacking for processes, such as:
- Document control, including multi-stage approvals and permission management
- Document numbering, for example composite numbering formats including document type, revision, incremental number, etc.
- Transmittals—making available sets of documents to partners or clients and tracking which documents have been transmitted.
To fill the gap, engineering organizations can:
- Develop custom software
- Purchase one or more specialist off-the-shelf products
- Enhance Microsoft SharePoint with a third-party tool that enables rapid delivery of the required functionality through configuration rather than code.
Custom development can be slow, risky, and expensive, and can complicate future SharePoint upgrades, since customizations need to be upgraded. Furthermore, if business processes and requirements change, then it can be a challenging and lengthy process to re-engage software developers to get the software updated.
Visual engineering workflow
Specialist off-the-shelf products can be good if they meet precise project requirements, but “locking in” to one vendor can add risk, as future needs may not be met. Off-the-shelf products can be expensive to purchase and for ongoing maintenance and support.
Enhancing Microsoft SharePoint with a third-party tool has worked for several engineering companies. Such software can enhance SharePoint by allowing visual construction and configuration of sophisticated workflows. Examples of how engineering companies have used these workflows include:
- Automatic generation of document numbers according to existing document numbering policy
- Complex document approvals, including multi-stage, serial, and parallel approval
- Transmittals management, including approval, document tracking, publishing of documents to an extranet, and automated generation of e-mails containing links to transmitted documents.
This approach can obviously be extended to many other business processes, including those in other areas of the organization. Engineers can quickly become competent users of the combined software and can maintain many workflows themselves, at a low cost. Furthermore, because the solution is delivered through configuration, not code, when changes are needed they can often be implemented by a nonspecialist in-house staff person, who can make the changes in hours rather than days or weeks.
- Ian Woodgate is managing director of SharePoint business applications specialist PointBeyond Ltd. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering, and Consulting-Specifying Engineer, mhoske(at)cfemedia.com.