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By Jason Brett, November 22, 2013
Your bank account statement will show every transaction in detail, providing date and amounts. It's all carefully tracked and records are available rapidly. We've come to expect this of financial transactions.
Design firms, however, have yet to apply the same level of protection to their assets that might be considered more valuable than cash: designs, solutions, ideas, and inventions. It's not that companies totally disregard the value in their intellectual property but all too often, the systems used for protecting knowledge-based assets tend to be somewhat ad-hoc, tedious and may even be delegated to junior employees.
Companies that rely upon Adept EDMS (engineering document management system) from Synergis Software, however, can rest easily knowing that not only are their documents secure, but that every single edit, transaction, and document view has been authorized and recorded in an easily searchable format. While Adept excels at CAD data management, it also integrates Microsoft Office and other applications (see figure 1). The version control facilities have impressed clients from Alcoa to the US Coast Guard.
Figure 1: Adept integrates seamlessly into CAD products such as Autodesk Inventor, AutoCAD, SolidWorks and MicroStation. With the Adept Web Viewer, authorized employees can access CAD data without having access to the native CAD package.
In this review, I am focusing on one aspect of Adept: generating and tracking transmittal documents rapidly. Transmittal documents are tedious and time-consuming cover letters that record which documents are sent to whom, when they were sent, and why. They form a crucial part of an organization's interaction with clients, suppliers, vendors and partners; preparation of the documents is often viewed as a simple formality delegated to junior employees, but at the risk of incurring errors. Sending outdated versions of drawings, mislabeling drawings being sent, or - perhaps even worse - sending documents never intended to be sent. These represent risks to the corporate bottom line.
Automating the preparation of transmittal documents is built into Adept. Documents are automatically grouped by project and only the latest version of the document is available to be sent. In the event an older version is required, only an authorized employee can find a previous version of the file; otherwise, Adept's default settings ensure that the most up-to-date information is in the packages sent to clients. All employees' access to documents can be controlled easily, reducing the risk that confidential documents are included accidentally.
With the documents sorted and secured in the Adept database, the employee generating the transmittal document selects the Transmittal Document option, along with the files to include with the document. For CAD users, the interface is built-in to their design software; other staff has access through the Adept Web client (see figure 2). Users can choose from a variety of pre-designed templates, which means it's easy to set up customized documentation sets for different customers. Document sets are sent to an individual or to a pre-approved list of recipients.
Figure 2: Initiating a transmittal document can be done from within the CAD software or the Adept Web Interface using a few simple clicks to select the appropriate template.
Rather than having to copy and paste file names, version numbers, and dates, or re-type them into a separate document, Adept prepares the entire transmittal document, links files to the document, and then records the creation of the document as part of the project file (see figure 3). Adept can even name the transmittal document automatically, helping to enforce a standardized file naming protocol across the organization.
Figure 3: Creating a transmittal document is as simple as selecting the appropriate files to include. Adept ensures that only the latest versions of files are available, and automatically includes the file names in both the cover letter and the permanent project record.
While the semi-automatic nature I described greatly simplifies the process of generating transmittal documents, it is once the document is defined that the true power of Adept comes into play. Adept includes workflow automation, allowing the organization to design a series of checks and approvals before documents are sent.
The workflow process can be arranged to allow a junior engineer to quickly prepare transmittal documents for the project; but, no one can send it until the entire document has been approved by the appropriate personnel. While this aspect of Adept impressed me, it impressed my wife, a patent agent, even more. In her work with an advanced materials company, she finds it crucial to work closely with engineering and marketing teams to develop a corporate patent portfolio.
One of her main concerns is ensuring that inventive aspects of new products are not disclosed before being protected. Even with non-disclosure agreements in place, she needs to know what information is being disclosed to whom, so that she can ensure the company retains a patentable position. Including an intellectual property manager as part of the Adept work flow helps companies protect their research and development, and it eliminates ambiguity by technical staff on what they can discuss with partners - and what they cannot.
Once the document is approved, Adept offers many ways to send it to clients. While it is possible to include the original documents as email attachments, this is often not desirable. The CAD viewing software included in Adept makes it easy for non-CAD users to view drawings without installing expensive CAD software on their computers. Alternatively, Adept generates Adobe Acrobat PDF files from drawings. This step removes proprietary information that may be embedded in the CAD files, yet gives the external partner the information they need. In this way, PDFs can discourage reverse engineering of the company's designs.
To deliver files to customers, Adept provides these pathways:
This last option may be of particular interest to organizations subject to strict security and/or privacy regulations, because it prevents files from being stored on foreign servers. It allows the company to track when the partner viewed the files, and even to terminate access to the files should the partnership be dissolved.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Adept ensures that transmittal documents are stored and indexed as part of the overall project documentation (see figure 4). Should there ever be a need to track the communications flow to resolve a miscommunication, or worse, resolve a lawsuit, Adept provides quick and easy access to all relevant communications. Every file number will be correct; every comment on the file will be tracked; every version change monitored.
Figure 4: Adept creates an audit trail of every transaction, viewing and edit that happens to every document. The trail can quickly be searched or sorted by a variety of categories, giving electronic documents and intellectual property the same level of security that is expected for financial assets.
But I hate to write a review without finding at least one critique or suggestion for improvement. After checking out the transmittal document automation process for a while, I thought I found one.
I called up Chris Fabri, director of solutions engineering at Synergis Software. "What happens when a partner emails you back asking for more information, or for a different document?" I asked, "How does Adept keep track of this communication?"
Chris explained that Adept is integrated with Outlook, so that all we have to do is right-click the email, and then send it to the Adept server. Adept scans the document looking for relevant dates and drawing numbers to automatically create a library card. The card files the email as part of the overall project documentation.
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Synergis Software has been building the Adept package for over twenty years and so prides itself on incorporating customer feedback into new releases. "Every design change is made with input from customers." Chris explained. "The transmittal document generator was created as a custom add-on for a customer. They liked it, other customers wanted it, and so it became an optional add-on to Adept. Everyone purchased it, so now we've rolled it in to every copy of Adept."
I was impressed by how Synergis has taken a tedious, time-consuming task and turned it into a quick, streamlined process. The workflow integration makes it seamless; it not only double-checks drawings for technical accuracy, but includes non-designers like intellectual property managers as part of the communication process.
After experiencing the ease of use and power that Adept brings to document management software, and particularly the power of the transmittal document generator to automate and track communications, it strikes me that for an engineering or design firm to not use a comprehensive document management system makes about as much sense as for a bank to not use a comprehensive accounting system.
The file viewer, and the options available for sending documents to partners, are extensive and easy to use, and the file tracking, markup process and version tracking is one of the core strengths that has made Adept so successful.
|Jason Brett teaches electronics and materials science in the Technology Teacher Education Program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. He 13 years of experience in technology education. More...|
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