We have all used the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word as a means of keeping a record of the changes to a document. You may have even saved the updated document with a new name or added some designator to show an updated version. These are simple methods to version files. Many workflows are document-centric, so passing and document versioning are important steps in the process. Between historical recording, requirements for management analysis, and general regulatory compliance, keeping many (and often all) versions of documents has become commonplace. In addition, paranoia on the part of IT departments, along with the decreasing cost of general storage, has continued the trend towards keeping many, if not all, versions of documents and drawings as they progress through the organization. With more stringent backup requirements, the amount of version data being collected and kept is tremendous.

Finding the Right Version

As the number of document versioning has escalated we have seen an ironic shift, the move to reducing the number of versions saved and kept. This has occurred for two reasons: 1) it has become more difficult to find the back revision (back rev) someone may need when they need one; and 2) we have become smarter as to what constitutes a true “new version,” in some cases getting help from some software. The second point has led to more and more organizations using document management solutions, many of them embedded with workflow management programs. These solutions not only make finding and using the correct version easier, but many also have functionality to support the distinction of “minor” changes from “major” changes.

When to Version

Every workflow has different objectives, constraints, regulations, and outputs. For some processes, ISO requirements mean keeping any substantive change, and, since it is often subjective as to what is substantive, it becomes easier to just keep every change. For most workflows it is important to identify when a change is “substantive” and to determine whether that change is a trigger for another action, assignment, notification, or resource requirement. Using minor and major versioning is often helpful, where it is clearer what a major new version is whereas everything else is either a minor version or not considered a version.

New Versioning Approaches

New heuristic algorithms are helping to identify appropriate levels of versioning based on the number of changes, types of changes (small words versus big words), who the user is, and the last time the document or drawing was updated.

There is also an increase in what we call “co-versioning.” This is where multiple parties collaborate with the same document or drawing at the same time and co-create the next version (both reducing the number of versions and increasing the velocity of the workflow). We can do this now by permitting individuals, wherever the location and using whatever device, to access the same documents at the same time while communicating (either on a tablet, smartphone, landline, or video conference).

Just the Beginning

The use of document versioning is certainly not new and its impact on the efficiency and speed of workflows differs greatly. We definitely see scenarios where not versioning correctly, or in a timely manner, has a significant effect on the outcome and success of specific processes. The use of workflow systems with advanced versioning capabilities continues to improve productivity and accuracy. Newer technology will shorten process completion times while also reducing the number of iterations and versions required.

Scott Brandt