Document Search is the Secret Sauce to the VDC Process

It is hard to believe the concept of Virtual Design and Construction celebrates its 20th birthday in 2021. My, how time has flown. It just seems like yesterday VDC was taking its first steps into a brave, new world. You would think with the advent of VDC two decades ago, getting construction projects out of the ground would be easier, but alas, challenges remain. 

DMS brings Virtual Design & Construction Together

Over the years, most people began using the term Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) and BIM (Building Information Modeling) interchangeably, but there are differences. VDC is the management process that brings designers, builders, and owners of different construction disciplines together through digital creation. On the other hand, BIM is the information-rich database technology that allows these different disciplines to work simultaneously to bring the concept together in a single 3D model. You can have VDC without BIM, but both are collaborative building processes.

But the missing ingredient in the recipe that brings VDC and BIM together is a Document Management System (DMS). And, more importantly, a DMS with a powerful document search engine. To use a food analogy, many parts of the country claim to have the best barbecue, Kansas City, Memphis, Texas, the Carolinas. But any grill master will tell it's not how one smokes the brisket meat but the barbecue sauce that brings it all together. That's what a document search engine does—it's the "secret sauce" for VDC practitioners.

Soon to be gone (if not already) are the days in which huge binders filled with paper drawings and details sit in job trailers ready to be accessed. This archaic system has been replaced by a cloud-based DMS that can track, manage, and store digital documents allowing people to work on the project simultaneously. The "click" sound of a mouse button has replaced the "click" of opening the rings of a binder.  

To gain real efficiencies in time and eliminate waste; however, the project team should conduct a kick-off meeting(s) with an agenda item that includes developing a plan for document management. Each construction project is unique and will have different priorities. 

From this meeting(s), the team should agree to:

  • Which DMS to use for documents to be the "one-stop" source application 
  • Protocols for the DMS, including how notifications will be disseminated
  • Access and security management for stakeholder reviews
  • How to handle shop drawing revisions, BIM-model integration, and change management reporting
  • And how documents will be searched within the DMS

How Document Search Benefits a VDC Manager

Many commercial and government projects will employ a full-time VDC Manager to support the VDC/BIM process. Using a sports analogy this time—if the Project Manager quarterbacks the construction team, the VDC is the team's offensive coordinator. They know all the plays and how to access the documentation needed to drive the team up and down the field. 

For documents to be accessible, they must be indexed. All DMS have some level of document indexing—the process of "tagging" documents with search terms. Indexing creates a path to the document. A cloud-based DMS should:

  • Index all documents
  • Have content recognition capabilities
  • Index all revisions
  • Support multiple formats

While all construction DMS systems have indexing capabilities, not all are created equal regarding document search. Some (believe it or not) are not cloud-based. Others rely on a folder structure or file trees where the VDC Manager dictates the document search parameters and file nomenclature. And other DMS's are proprietary that limits the team's use of other applications. This may create a steep application learning curve for certain project team members.  

Some DMS use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, which scans and interprets characters, numbers, and symbols. This form of document input and management eliminates the need for file trees and structures and storage naming errors that can come with them. 

Returning to the barbecue table, the "secret sauce" is how powerful and accurate the document search engine is within the DMS. The document search should:

  • Search all document content and metadata
  • Search all document attributes
  • Provide the latest document revision
  • Scalable to handle the immense data needs for the project

If the DMS has all these attributes, the VDC Manager can coordinate the team and ensure everyone uses the same playbook. 


Key Takeaway:

While VDC has been with us for two decades, construction challenges remain. Many DMS platforms on the market claim to assist a company with document storage and retrieval, but the performance of the document search engine is a detail that cannot be overlooked. To fully leverage a VDC/BIM process, the document search function must have a high degree of intelligence programmed in. It's the "secret sauce" that brings the recipe for success together.