Knowledge management

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As project-specific documentation becomes increasingly more difficult to manage, Union Square SoftwareÝs Workspace software transforms working practices for UK construction company Osborne. Linda More reports.

Osborne is a ú250 million turnover privately owned company specialising in building and maintaining railways, roads, homes, hospitals, schools and offices. With over 1,000 staff employed on projects as diverse as major office construction & refurbishment, the design and construction of next generation sites for mobile telephone operators and civil engineering work to strengthen the nationÝs roads and rail bridges, it is essential for Osborne to create an easily accessible system for all business information ± from project documentation to customer records and guidance procedures. ýWe are a neighbourhood contractor building things for the benefit of a community and weÝve just celebrated our 40th anniversary¯, says Lester Handley, Divisional Director.

Secure storage

With ever expanding filing systems in its local offices and on project sites, concerns were being expressed about the secure storage of its documentation. ýThere was a danger that valuable paper-based information could potentially get lost¯, explains Handley. ýParticularly at the close of a contract when several individualsÝ paper filing systems are consolidated to form a project set for archiving.¯

In addition, Osborne was experiencing delays in sharing documents and information. Revisions of drawings, instructions and other paper-based documentation required copying prior to circulation, which could take up to two weeks to reach all the relevant sites and people. ýIn some cases there were real risks that we could be building to the wrong specification because of the time lapse in circulating the up to date information¯, says Handley. ýIncreasingly we were using email to communicate additions to specifications and instructions, with no way of referencing them back to the main project documentation.¯ With vital information sitting on laptop hard disks, many of which were on building sites with a higher possibility of damage or theft, Osborne was concerned about the potential loss of this valuable information.

Information anarchy

For core documentation and internal contact information Osborne had already set up an intranet, however pressure of work and difficulty in updating it meant that people often reverted to using their own little black books of contacts. At the time, technology offered limited options in providing a solution that would meet the diverse needs of the company. ýWe had numerous demonstrations of systems including extranets, document management, but all they tended to solve was the project filing system and they didnÝt address the central company issues¯, says Handley. ýAnother concern was that many of the systems didnÝt address the archiving issues. We need all our data stored in a logical, searchable fashion, as well as being readily accessable.¯

Then chance took a hand and Union SquareÝs Workspace software was spotted at a conference by an Osborne director. One of the biggest concerns Osborne had about selecting a new technology was to ensure that it provided a cultural fit with the business. ýToo many software systems demand changing working practices, and that wasnÝt how we like to do things. We know our processes work and we wanted a technology that would fit our business. Union Square doesnÝt constrict the way we like to do things, and it actually can provide opportunities to enhance our working practices¯, says Handley.

Web-based portal

Osborne implemented the Workspace portal to enable 750 users to access project information in real-time, irrespective of their location. Due to its flexibility Osborne has been able to customise and configure the software to meet the particular needs of the business as a whole as well as the individual divisions. The result is a customised Workspace portal for the company that has been named iGO.

Workspace has become a system central to our business¯, says Handley. ýUsing one portal for all business and project-specific information is helping us to deal with clients more efficiently whilst also providing productivity improvements.¯ Users no longer have to waste time trying to work out which document is the latest version, and centralised documentation has reduced courier costs and time delays moving information around the business.

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Email integration

Set as the browser homepage for every computer user in the company, the iGO portal is becoming the default mechanism when looking for information ± whether contract details, the latest revisions of drawings or simply a contact number. ýThe iGO system will continue to grow and become even more useful as we integrate information from other sources ± finance, HR and marketing for example¯, states Handley. iGO also increasingly helps to manage important email. Rather than reside in personal email folders, emails are increasingly being stored within the project filing system to ensure that vital communication, which often forms part of contracts and specifications, does not simply disappear as a result of being deleted or misfiled.

For Osborne, the Workspace solution has given them everything they wanted ± from long term storage and easy retrieval of their project records and documents, to email capture and centralised business information. When documents arrive at the company they are immediately added to the iGO system and made available to anybody who needs them. ýWe estimate that we save at least a week in document distribution time, plus by default users always see the latest version of the document first ± and that reduces risk and delay in our processes¯, adds Handley. ýIn addition if you are waiting on a new version of a document or plan, itÝs easy to set an alert and as soon as it arrives you get an email notification message.¯ Furthermore, Workspace reduces the pressure on the IT infrastructure; as each document is published a link appears to the central copy, rather than sending out the whole document to a group of people.

One of the big challenges for Osborne when distributing documents was to manage them. Now Workspace not only distributes documents, it also provides an automatic register of which revision was sent to whom and when. Even if the documents are sent in paper form, they are accompanied by an electronic audit trail, managed from iGO, that captures and demands receipts as proof of delivery.

A platform for the future

For Osborne, Workspace is a technology that really does fit its business and one that will continue to do so in the future. ýWe will continue to develop iGO as our portal ± a system to make it easier for us all to do our jobs, by helping us get at information that until now has been locked away¯, says Handley. From the business perspective iGO is a platform that can be built upon and in the future Osborne hopes to extend the information delivery capability to include partners up and down its supply chain. ýWe canÝt yet quantify any cost savings¯, admits Handley. ýHowever we now have a joined up approach to our business and the efficiencies we have gained mean that we are in excellent shape to achieve our challenging growth targets and meet the changing needs of our clients. For us, Workspace has delivered superb value for money.¯

www.unionsquaresoftware.com

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