What a Mess! Best Practices for A/E Firms to Address the Explosion of Project Data
Over the last several years, business risks have grown significantly, driven by the rapid expansion of technology. A/E firms are not exempt and in fact, based on the logistics and complexities of today’s construction projects, arguably face greater risk than other professionals. Information is no longer confined to desktop computers, but is widely disbursed amongst numerous people, between different companies, using multiple devices and through various formats. Frankly, the overwhelming majority of project files are a mess. They are more voluminous than necessary and typically disorganized. The proliferation of widely-disbursed data makes it difficult to respond to potential issues or claims in a timely and informative manner, which can lead to protracted and costly litigation.
While there is no stopping the explosion of data, there are proactive measures that when implemented, can mitigate risk.
1. Establish clear and comprehensive policies on managing information.
A/E firms should establish comprehensive, documented project information policies and procedures. Clear guidelines should specify how information is to be managed and for how long. Considerations for the policy should also include:
- An established e-mail sending and retention policy;
- Identification of other electronic information and data to be maintained (i.e., drawings, schedules, RFIs, etc.) and length of retention;
- Location of data, including segregating data by project;
- Identification of personnel that have access to data; and,
- Frequency of backing up data.
E-mail typically composes the greatest percentage of the project file and its misuse, on varying levels, cannot be overstated. For example, as part of an e-mail policy, the practice of including unnecessary recipients on an e-mail, or over utilizing “reply all”, should be discouraged. Project files are replete with copies of the same e-mail, from different user accounts, many of which have no reason to have been on the e-mail in the first place. Including a recipient on an e-mail suggests that the recipient had some involvement with that issue, which may falsely implicate a person or firm. E-mails should be limited to any necessary recipients and if your firm is on the receiving end of these types of e-mails, you should notify the sender to discontinue that practice as to your firm.
Please keep in mind that there may be certain document retention policies established by law and/or contract, depending on jurisdiction and the project. Those specific required retention policies must be incorporated into the firm’s policy.
2. Educate staff on these policies and monitor to ensure compliance.
Once a policy is established and the staff is educated as to the policy, the firm should conduct regular audits to ensure an understanding of the policy and compliance with the policy. There is no value in having a policy that your staff does not understand and/or follow.
3. Implement appropriate technology to handle and efficiently work through high volumes of information.
While technology comes at a price, the marketplace has options which fit A/E firms of varying sizes and disciplines. The investment into data handling technology can save an A/E firm time and expense in the long run. The inability to produce information or documents to support the firm’s position and/or respond to a request, can lead to increased risk of litigation and/or the inability to efficiently remove the firm from a litigation. This is a troubling trend for A/E firms that have a defense to a claim, but simply cannot provide the document or information to support that defense.
Proactively implementing policies for the management of data and documents can mitigate a firm’s risk for potential claims and/or lawsuit and also conserve overhead costs through eliminating the maintenance of unnecessary and/or duplicative project documents.
Lee Sacket is a Partner in L’Abbate, Balkan, Colavita & Contini, LLP’s Garden City, NY office where he focuses his practice in the areas of commercial litigation and professional liability litigation, specifically the defense of architects, engineers and related design professionals.
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