Posted: 3 November 2017 by Alex Bell
The quantity of electronic information and complexity of IT systems can quickly combine to overwhelm and befuddle any hardworking professional. Despite most company servers having enormous capacity, individuals’ C drives are packed full of work documents and emails, ‘organised’ into Escher-like folder structures that no-one else understands. Furthermore, your IT department have another great idea to rationalise your contacts database (again) but the finance department refuse to play ball as their software only runs on XP.
Stop and imagine a utopian future when you have all your project data, all your business contacts, all project correspondence, all drawing issues and document control, all your HR information and timesheets, all your fee information and Quality Management documents in a central office-wide system, working in real-time and accessible to everyone in the company, 24/7. At DKA, we don’t have to imagine, because we already have such a system and it’s called the IMS.
The Information Management System is our office database, now 10 years old, and we couldn’t survive without it. In my role, I manage the system, liaise with external support and help ensure the boxes and fields are entered correctly; in that way, I am the Field Marshal.
The IMS is the tiger in our engine. It is both our safety net and comfort blanket. It organises our daily lives and retrieves information like a loyal Labrador bringing you your slippers. It gently reminds without nagging. It knows everything, without being smug. Like a cardigan wearing Countdown Champion, it shies away from the limelight and is equally at home with numbers or letters.
The IMS is built on the Filemaker platform. We carefully complete fields and drop-down menus and follow procedures we are all taught. We file emails using a standard file code list common across all projects. You cannot email somebody if they are not in the database. You cannot add hours to your timesheet unless you are in the project directory. These simple checks help remove human error and guesswork. For business protection and continuity of service, the way we hold information for all our projects is identical so anyone can pick up another’s work and be effective in minutes. This leaves more time for designing and solving our clients’ problems.
It is not just the day-to-day where it is useful for project administration and correspondence. The historic data from last month or last year can be pulled up just as readily, which can help resolve minor disputes about information release or timecharge hours. For any drawing or sketch that left this office in the past 10 years I could give you a complete history from its first issue to its last, who it was issued to, when it was issued, how it was issued and how many copies they received. With one click I can extract a live status report telling me how many hours have been recorded against a project by person (itemised per stage) and how many hours or days remain to our target spend. As the market remains competitive and fees remain deflated, access to this knowledge keeps us informed and upbeat.
We are also proud of what it does and how intuitive it is to use. We collaborated in its design and development and over the years have made bespoke additions and improvements, ably supported by external IT developers. Unlike off-the-shelf software packages with features you’ll never use or expensive bolt-ons for the bits you really want to use, our system fits our business like a glove. If our focus changes we can design new pages, tabs, reports or interfaces to support our business goals.
A building project may last years, and generates a vast amount of information. Back in the days of paper hard copy, one medium-sized project could easily fill a 6ft tall filing cabinet. Within our IMS, all correspondence (both incoming and outgoing) is searchable by word, person, date – anything in fact. We enjoy helping our clients retrieve the outcome of that ‘one email’ from ‘sometime last year’ regarding ‘that question about guttering.’ With the IMS it takes us a few seconds to find. Another case solved.
With this powerful and responsive management tool we are now looking to predict the future. How can historical project data help us benchmark future fee bids? How can we better track the conversion rate of leads into projects? How can we be more profitable and provide a better service? With a server full of data and a company full of creative minds we have lots of ideas for using our IT to shape DKA’s future. Imagine that!