We are all familiar with the problem of dealing with misaligned versions of the same document. Imagine, for example, that someone in your organization has created the first draft of an important document. They send it around to a few key stakeholders for review. (For the purposes of this example, let’s call them John and Jane.) Jane spends an hour reviewing the document, adding her comments, and making a few suggested edits, then sends it back to the original author. John, likewise, performs a thorough review, incorporates his input, and sends it back using “reply all”.
With just three participants in the mix, things have suddenly become very complicated. We now have two versions (or arguably three versions) of the same document. As a result, someone needs to go through the edits, resolve any potential conflicts, and bring those together into a single document that represents the latest and greatest version. Productivity tools like Microsoft Word have some features that can help with this, – but those tools can only take you so far; they can’t eliminate the manual effort required to get the document back to where it needs to be.
This problem often persists even after a document has been “finalized” and released to its intended audience. After all, procedures change. Policies must be updated from time to time. Specifications and standards evolve. That, in turn, can lead to multiple “official” versions of the same document.
Version control is just the beginning of the problem for many organizations, though. Document owners need to be notified automatically when a particular document needs to be updated. They need to know who changed it, and when. They need to ensure that approvals are happening according to schedule, and that signoffs are properly recorded. Then they must ensure that approved documents are distributed or otherwise made available to the people who need them, and that deprecated documents are withdrawn from use. It’s a lot of work, and it’s why so many organizations can benefit from document control.
What is Document Control?
Very often, people in your organization might think that they are working with the latest version of a particular document, when in fact they are not. In quality management, engineering, and health & safety; it’s important that everyone be operating from the same page (or in this case, from the same document). This is where document control can solve a host of different problems.
Document control is a discipline which oversees the orderly creation, review, revision, approval, and distribution of important documents. In addition, document control aims to assure that those documents can be accessed by the right people at the right time.
Document control is about creating and maintaining trust. It ensures that the information contained within important documents is updated whenever necessary, and that there are procedures in place to validate that information. Document control provides a structure for auditing the end-to-end processes of creating, updating, and accessing important documents.
What Can Go Wrong?
Imagine a scenario in which a medical device company develops a new product that requires several injection-molded parts. To prepare for production, they ordered custom tooling from a contract manufacturer. This is typically an expensive process, often with very long lead times. After presenting their contract manufacturers with prototype parts to get bids, the company made some subsequent changes to the design specs. When the “final” design document came back from the contract manufacturer for signoff, the medical device company failed to check it against the current version of the specification document. The result was tooling that didn’t conform to the design specs.
Unfortunately, this is a true story. In this case, it meant an expensive re-order for new tooling, and it led to significant delays in the company getting its product to market. This is just one example of how important document control can be, though. If quality management documentation is missing or incomplete, companies could fail an audit. If documents that outline safety procedures and protocols are not updated, it could result in hazards to employees, customers, or other members of the community.
So how can document control contribute to a greener, more responsible workplace? Here are three ways it can make a difference:
#1: It Prevents Waste
The unintentional use of an outdated or unofficial document can lead to product or components being scrapped. That consumes valuable raw materials and energy resources unnecessarily, and it leads to the generation of more solid waste.
Let’s revisit the scenario we described earlier, in which a medical device manufacturer ended up with custom tooling that did not meet their design specifications. What might have happened if the company had begun production using the faulty tooling, only to discover the problem further downstream in the manufacturing process? The result would have been a large quantity of defective parts, which would likely have been sent to a landfill. That’s a complete waste of raw materials, and it generates more solid waste that must be disposed of as well.
#2: It Enables Rollout and Enforcement of EHS Standards
Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) standards exist to ensure that companies have systems in place to protect the safety and well-being of employees, customers, and the community at large. The ISO 14001 family of standards applies specifically to practices aimed at safeguarding the environment; but without effective document control, these standards will be difficult to roll out and manage on an ongoing basis.
Good EHS practices require that policies and procedures be clearly documented, and that updates be made routinely to conform to new legal requirements and environmental regulations. Training materials likewise must be updated regularly to ensure that employees have the latest information necessary to protect health, safety, and the environment. Document control ensures that everyone is operating from the same consistent, up-to-date information.
#3: Digital Document Control Eliminates Wasteful Printing
For years, we have heard talk of the so-called “paperless office”. As computing technology grew ubiquitous and it became easier than ever to send a paper document to the printer, our society actually moved in the opposite direction. In other words, we produced a great deal more paper. Now, as smaller, more portable devices like tablets and mobile phones have become ubiquitous, that trend is finally reversing.
In order to benefit from that development, though, documents must be available digitally. In fact, the digitization of important documents as other benefits has well, including better access control, stronger versioning capabilities, cleaner audit trails, and more. Nevertheless, one of the valuable side-benefits is that digital documents result in less printing. That saves on paper, ink and toner, and printer cartridges.
If your organization has ever struggled with document versioning, or if you are simply operating with out-of-date documents that haven’t been maintained consistently; Intellect can help. Our digital Document Control software stores all of your documents in a centralized database. It tracks document versions, revisions, and approvals to ensure regulatory compliance and support effective quality management, as well as conformance to EHS standards. Intellect’s Document Control system provides the industry’s most flexible workflows, allowing non-technical users to easily configure the software to meet their company’s unique requirements.
Now that you've learned about the 3 ways document control software help companies go green, learn about "3 Steps to Creating An Effective Procedures' Manual For Document Control".