Construction Software: What Is Document Management and Drawing Management?

by ALEJANDRO JACOBO, Rollout, Inc.

Originally posted on May 11, 2015

In today’s highly competitive world, no contractor would take on a project without their power tools. According to an online survey conducted by the Contractor magazine, some of the most popular power tools contractors use are: hammer drills (87%), power drills (85%), circular saws (74%), rotary hammers (70%), and reciprocating saws (86%). However, nowadays, with the advent of the cloud (see “Construction Industry in the Cloud” for simple explanation of the “cloud”) savvy contractors use software as the unorthodox “power tool” that can give them a slight edge over their competitors.

Many savvy general contractors have implemented new software technologies in an attempt to cut costs while others still use pen and paper almost exclusively. Therefore, having inadequate tools yields to similar results to being under-equipped on the job site. For example, a nail gun may cost 10 times as much as a hammer, however, every contractor will probably make the investment in order to get the job done in a fraction of the time. Likewise, software tools such as document management and drawing management may cost 10x as much as pen and paper, but they can get the job done much faster, save money, and reduce confusion and rework. As a result, these software tools are cost-effective in the long run.

Document Management and Drawing Management

  • What is document management software?
  • What is drawing management software?
  • Do you need a document management or drawing management? Both?

I have attended several construction trade shows and spoken with a myriad of construction professionals. After numerous conversations with these professionals, I realized that there is a misunderstanding about what document management and drawing management mean. Paradoxically, these two terms are often used interchangeably. Thus, the purpose of this blog post is to define document management and drawing management, explain what makes them different, and illustrate how revolutionary technologies like document management and drawing management can make construction professionals’ lives easier, much easier.

What is “Document Management”?

“The process of applying policies and rules to how documents are created, persisted and expired within an organization.” (Microsoft). Think of document management as the “File box” you may have at home.

Imagine that in this box you have three folders:

  1. One where you store your business documents,
  2. A second one for legal documents,
  3. And one more for your personal documents.

Now think of this “File box” as your storage management tool wherein your business, legal, and personal documents are securely kept. You can insert or take out whichever document you need manually. Although this is an easy way to organize your files, you can only store so many before it becomes a hassle to keep up with countless number of documents.

Construction professionals use technologies such as BoxDropboxGoogle Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive as an alternative to the “File Box,” because they can store their projects in one place electronically. These device agnostic technologies serve as a much better alternative because they enable you to synchronize, backup, and access your folders remotely and in real-time. Furthermore, you can also share a single document or the entire folder with anyone.

For example, Imagine your boss calls you on your day off for a last minute ad hoc meeting and asks you to bring the legal document for project X, but you only have 20 minutes to leave your home before it’s too late. Right away, you start scanning through scores of legal documents within your legal folder. Because there are too many papers to manually go through all of them, you decide to bring the entire folder with you to the meeting. This would be inconvenient and a liability because you could lose the folder, all of the documents in it, and potentially disclose confidential information to unintended parties.

Alternatively, with a document management software, such as those I mentioned, you would have remote access to your “File Box” so you can conveniently retrieve project X using your computer or smartphone. Furthermore, you could share project X using a secure link that all guests at the meeting could access via email or text (short message service (SMS)). This way, you would not need to make paper copies for the guests at the meeting, which would be very helpful in a “last minute meeting” situation like this one.

In summary, a document management software provides a central location wherein you can securely store all your documents and access them remotely using any device.

What is “Drawing Management”?

“Drawing management is a solution that enables organizations to securely publish, store, and deliver drawings online through other forms of electronic document communication.” (QA Software). When I first read this definition, I thought: “It sounds just like document management.” Nonetheless, drawing management is a subset of document management.

In the aforementioned “File box” example, we had three folders:

  1. Business
  2. Legal
  3. Personal

This time, imagine you are the owner for a blue wave car wash project.

You choose to store all of the documents that pertain to this project in your business folder. Although numerous revisions will be made throughout this project, you can store all new changes and new documents in one central location i.e. using a document management software. That is nice. But, what if you wanted to quickly reference back to a change made by the architect, engineer, or contractor of this project on a specific date/time? Again, this could be a tedious time-consuming task because you would have hundreds of electronic documents to sort through.

Thus, rather than sorting through all of those documents (as seen above), a drawing management software provides you with an organized labeling process for a quick and easy way to reference documents. Most drawing management systems provide a convenient dashboard view with sheet icons. See picture below.

Rollout, our drawing management platform, allows you to seamlessly track changes and control who checks in and checks out a document. So, as the owner of the blue wave car wash project, you would be able to see the changes made by any of the team members working on this project.

For instance, the changes made by James- the architect of the blue wave car wash project, Matt – the engineer, and Alejandro – the contractor.

You could also filter these changes by date and time e.g. if you wanted to see the changes made by James and/or Matt on April 26th, 2014 (a year into the project), Rollout can help you retrieve this information with a click of a button.

In summary, a drawing management software is a subset of document management. A drawing management tool like Rollout allows you to seamlessly keep track of all changes made on a specific folder, and quickly reference the documents therein.

How are Document Management and Drawing Management Different?

  1. File Storage: Document management and drawing management software tools provide secure file storage in the cloud, however, the drawing management software offers more than just simple file storage. See 4, 5, and 6.
  2. Remote Access: Document management and drawing management software applications are device agnostic i.e. you can remotely access your files ubiquitously using any device. Note: Although some applications require internet connection to function, most of these tools work without it.
  3. Real-time Access: Document management and drawing management software tools keep all your files securely in the cloud. Also, because these tools work with any device, you can access your files anywhere, anytime. Note: Even if you do not have access to the internet, most of these tools cache data locally i.e. the files with the information you need will be stored in your device so you can look up information without internet connectivity.
  4. Filter Documents (per user, time, and date): Unlike document management software, Rollout’s drawing management software allows you to filter information per user, time, and date. For example, you could filter changes made by James (the architect of the blue wave car wash) by time and date, whereas with a document management software you could only see the copious number files saved by James throughout the project.
  5. Track Changes (per user, time, and date): Rollout’s drawing management software allows you to easily view old revisions and track the changes made by a particular project team member by time and date. For example, you can track and view Matt’s (the engineer for the blue wave car wash project) changes by time and date from start-to-end with a click of a button. Again, a document management software would simply store all changes made by Matt throughout the project as “new files.” 
  6. Real-time Communication & Collaboration: This is perhaps one of the biggest “competitive advantages” Rollout’s drawing management software tool offers compared to a document management software. Besides helping you keep all of your files in one central location, Rollout’s drawing management software application gives you the ability to add comments to a file (s) for team members to see, respond, and act on it immediately. Thus, Rollout provides you with real-time collaboration and communication.

For instance, Alejandro (the contractor working on the blue wave car wash) could leave a comment for Matt and James to see; thus, they can all comment and collaborate using the drawing management system. Conversely, if they were using a document management software, they would have to call or send an email every time a change is made, specify where the new file has been stored, and the new name of the file. This would be like playing the game “Where’s Waldo,” but Waldo never stays in the same place!

By the way, did you find Waldo? Wouldn’t it be nice to click a button and find him? Well, that’s what a drawing management software tool like Rollout can do for you.

Competition is the keen cutting edge of business, always shaving away at costs.
— Henry Ford

In today’s highly competitive world, numerous construction companies try to shave away costs by sharpening their hammers, reciprocating saws, and circular saws. However, savvy general contractors have found a better way to cut costs; that is, by using powerful technologies such as document management and drawing management software applications. These “power tools” have begun to revolutionize the way the construction professionals operate.

In conclusion, after attending numerous construction events, I realized that those general contractors who have initiated the document and drawing management technological change have a better opportunity to cope with the inevitable, seismic change that the construction industry is about to experience.

Contact us for more information on how you can improve your communication processes by 60%, save 8 hours per user per week (on average), and save money on your next project.

Alejandro Jacobo is the co-founder of Dallas-based Rollout, Inc. Acquiring his bachelors degree in business administration at Texas A&M and a Masters degree in Innovation/Entrepreneurship from the University of Texas at Dallas, Jacobo collected a myriad of awards for his contribution to the Texas startup community before co-founding Rollout with his business partner, Matthew Hinson.