Going green with digital archives

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When building contractor Lakesmere needed a digital archiving solution it turned to a portal-based technology from Union Square Software.

As a building contractor Lakesmere is used to the prospect of creating space, so the company had to think creatively when faced with the prospect of losing over half the building space that it had previously allocated to archiving paper files. Legal requirements insist that some of LakesmereÝs documentation has to be retained for up to 12 years, but the company estimated that it was costing between ú300,000 and ú400,000 a year to process paper-based documents. As a solution to this problem, Lakesmere turned to portal-based technology from Union Square Software.

Lakesmere projects: The Diamond synchrotron research facility located in Oxfordshire produces a very bright light which can be used to look at the atomic structures of molecules such as proteins.

Lakesmere is one of the largest specialist building contractors in the UK, excelling in the design and installation of external building fabric ± roofing, cladding, glazing and other architectural features ± and the use of modern high-tech materials. With turnover of over ú44m, Lakesmere works in conjunction with key clients such as Costain, Laing OÝRourke, Carillion, HBG, Mowlem, Bovis and Taylor Woodrow. High profile projects include Spinnaker Tower, the National Assembly for Wales, the Diamond Synchrotron research facility, Farnborough Airport and Glasgow Fort Retail Park.

Following a major refurbishment of the Lakesmere Winchester headquarters, and the creation of a new meeting room the company lost over half of the space that had previously been allocated to archiving paper files. According to Geoff Dennis, Finance Director, the process of clearing out old paper files made the company think seriously about how it should save and store the huge amounts of documentation and drawings that arose from each of its building projects. Legal requirements insist that some documentation has to be retained for up to 12 years, while other paperwork can be disposed of after six years and some is transitory. ýWe needed an answer and yet looking at document management systems all they offered us was the capability to store our paperwork electronically,¯ explains Dennis. ýSomething we could have created ourselves with a server and a database. We wanted more, and yet at the time we didnÝt really know what we were looking for.¯

Over the years the company had built up resilient processes and procedures that worked well and were supported by a number of electronic systems. ýOur procedures were robust and in accordance with our policies and quality system,¯ says Dennis. ýHowever each department had built its own set of databases and there was a lot of duplication as well as manual paper processes ± it was time consuming and while it worked it wasnÝt always the easiest way to do things.¯

Having spent quite a lot of time in the archives sorting things out, Dennis and his team realised that every piece of paper has a finite life span the end of which could be determined ± whether 12 years for legal reasons or straight off the photocopier into the bin. ýWe also realised that there was an enormous cost associated with handling and processing paper documents, much of which could be eliminated if we held them electronically.¯ The sums were astonishing; Dennis and his team estimated that it cost between ú300,000 and ú400,000 a year to process these bits of paper. ýWe looked at everything from the cost of opening the packet of paper to throwing it away in the bin at the end of its life and came up with some amazing calculations,¯ says Dennis. ýAdmittedly there is a cost attached to managing it electronically, but it is much lower.¯

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While discounting document management systems, Dennis stumbled across Workspace from Union Square. ýIt wasnÝt really what we had in mind; however I immediately saw the benefits and opportunities for Lakesmere. Centralised databases with all project information and documentation as well as company data available for anybody to access from anywhere. I didnÝt know any application like this existed.¯

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Lakesmere projects: The National Assembly for Wales.

Workspace has been rolled out across the Winchester, Warrington and Glasgow offices and more recently in the new Birmingham premises. In order to ensure that the benefits of Workspace were immediately visible, Dennis and his team spent a considerable amount of time working with Union Square consultants customising the application with their processes. ýWith the help of Union Square we were fortunate in pulling across a lot of our existing information ± much more than we initially expected. For the paper processes, we managed to duplicate those within the Workspace environment,¯ says Dennis. Every document produced or received from a supplier is now automatically created or captured within the Workspace environment. One central database now holds all supplier, sub contractor and contract details and the Winchester and Warrington offices use integrated telephone systems that allow contacts to be dialled simply by clicking the details in the Workspace record.

ýWorkspace is used for as many of our everyday activities as we can think of,¯ says Dennis. ýElectronic site diaries record who is on site and when, and the plant register tells us what equipment is present at any time. In addition we have an asset register module that keeps tabs on company owned equipment including cars, laptops and small power tools. If you need a piece of kit itÝs now very easy to find out who has one.¯

Training is a key component of the work at Lakesmere and WorkspaceÝs Training module has been used to record the training requirements for both employees and subcontractors. Recording which courses have been booked and whether passed or failed, the system produces individual training records which are linked to the corresponding certificates so that they can be accessed from site when required. In addition, the system also flags up when qualifications expire or refresher courses are needed.

When a problem arises ± anything from a late delivery, incorrectly produced material or a design problem ± the Lakesmere Quality Management System requires a non-conformance report (NCR) to be issued. Previously a very protracted manual system was used. Now installed within Workspace, NCRs can be issued, circulated and dealt with easily, saving at least ú150 in processing time for each NCR. ýWe are generating more NCRs because the process is a lot easier to do, but the result is that our overall quality is improving. Now even the trivial things get reported and fixed,¯ says Dennis.

Managing the delivery of goods on site is a common problem for contractors. Previously, orders and delivery details would have been put in the post to site managers, often arriving after the goods. Now LakesmereÝs site managers simply click on a tab to see exactly what has been ordered and when it is scheduled for delivery. Actual delivery dates and delivery note numbers can be added to create a complete order record that can be accessed by finance prior to payment. ýWorkspace represents a new way of managing the business and brings everyone together,¯ says Dennis. ýDifferent departments use different bits of it, but the fact that you can access information more readily from anywhere saves enormous amounts of time and makes us all more efficient.¯

Standard templates mean that Lakesmere no longer order specially printed stationary and paper usage has gone down by 20% despite turnover and workloads increasing by 30%. ýWhile postage costs have gone down by 40%, the biggest saving isnÝt money, itÝs our time.¯

With 185 Workspace licences spread across four offices and up to 20 live construction sites, managing the flow of information for Lakesmere has never been easier. ýThe beauty of Workspace is that it is almost limitless and you can carry on finding new things to apply it to. Every week somebody here at Lakesmere comes up with a new idea,¯ says Dennis. Currently beta testing a drawing management module for Union Square, Lakesmere has a pipeline of further developments already planned for Workspace.

ýWith Workspace and the support of the Union Square team we have succeeded in doing everything and more than we wanted. Workspace is an excellent product and we are now achieving most of the productivity gains that we anticipated, plus significant financial benefits.

 

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