For many organizations the document control systems function was the down-in-the-basement department mainly seen as the overseers of the large format engineering drawings created over the years. They were the vault owners, the watch dogs for the repository. As more and more drawings and documents became digital their role expanded into managing the electronic files, mainly using shares on the network. But still the caretakers of the company’s intellectual property (IP).

As file exchange became electronic as well, mainly using FTP sites and attachments to email, the Document Control group became the lynch pin for coordinating the transmittal and submittal of drawings and documents to and from vendors, contractors, customers, and other third parties (including regulators). To many, the role morphed from one of warden to one of facilitator, though still with remnants of being the gatekeepers.

We now come to a watershed moment for this function as they are put in a complex and difficult position of owning the digital transformation for many companies, while also playing point on the growing requirements for information distribution and collaboration, all under the roof of ever increasing security concerns. A rather large leap from the initial sleepy basement dwelling function.

Document Control Systems Today

Document control systems, including CAD document management and product data management, the current day digital IP, is now responsible for one of the most valuable assets in the organization and being asked to secure the assets while providing more and more access to users and third parties.

The first step for most organizations during this digital transformation alignment is the need to recognize the Document Control group needs to be upgraded, from a lower level administrative department to a high-level technology group leading the charge in the organization’s digitalization efforts. This means ensuring the department has not only highly competent, technology savvy individuals but also by giving them the technology resources needed to get the job done.

The department name may soon become a misnomer as the concept of digital assets grows and companies understand much of their intellectual property, and much of the day-to-day workflows, are embedded in digital files, messages, and images. Whereas the primary purview of the Document Control group was the management of paper, requirements now demand the group to manage non-paper, which in many ways means changing their workflows as well.

Product data management (PDM) and product lifecycle management (PLM) systems have become sophisticated enough that their use and management, across the enterprise has to be overseen, distributed, and trained on. This means Document Controllers need to learn new systems and new skills, including training. Similar to when Document Control Systems for engineering departments were formed to funnel and control the essential engineering documents and product data documents, so too should the group be the handler and supervisor for the digital assets.

Like other transformative processes, moving to digital asset management requires full support and resourcing from senior management. In a recent McKinsey article, it was shown that as companies digitize their processes top-line growth actually slows, but overall profitability growth increases. Though a bit counterintuitive, this digital transformation means greater competition and reduced product development cycles, ultimately forcing down the growth in the revenue curves. But the internal improvement in productivity, error reduction, time to market, and labor input means profitability increases at a greater growth rate, a typical industrial investment scenario.

Those companies that invest more will make more profit, but only if senior management commits to the investment needed. Ground zero, can be, and should be the Document Control group, the leaders of the digitialization initiatives for their company. Getting the best people for this group and funding system resources such as PLM, engineering document management (EDMS Software), and digital workflow management systems creates a competitive advantage for those companies who force the digital transformation issue versus those who don’t.

Scott Brandt
President & CEO