Should we be teaching document control or collaboration?

Aconex is delivering document control training, but the technology aspect of collaboration is only occasionally covered.

As a PR and marketing professional in the construction IT sector, I keep my eyes open for new ways in which businesses are promoting themselves or their products or services. A good example landed in my email inbox recently, courtesy of an email from Yuval Attias, who works in the London office of SaaS technology provider Aconex, in the footer of which Aconex offer users the opportunity to attend a four-day course and earn a certificate in document control.

Most collaboration vendors have offered both basic and more advanced training courses for users of their platforms but – as far as I know – this is the first course claiming to offer a specialist qualification in document control in a construction project environment. When I worked at, BIW, an Aconex competitor, we often received emails or telephone calls from people wanting to learn document control skills – and BIW provided training about its system to help them (for the UK vendors’ body, the NCCTP, BIW also ran the first courses in online project collaboration for the Construction IT Alliance, CITA, in Ireland in 2005) – but Aconex appears to be offering a far more rigorous course. Students will look at:

  • Best practice records management procedures, based on ISO standards, as applicable in day-to-day construction industry document control.
  • Application of industry standard risk management principles related to document control.
  • Industry tools, including the use of the Aconex platform, to optimize and streamline project records management [my emphasis]

(The course outline, though, makes it clear that only the Aconex system is covered in detail.)

The Certificate in Document Control training course is being offered at various locations where Aconex has operations, from Australia and south-east Asia to the Middle East and Europe (no north American locations, yet), and the marketing strategy here seems to be one of positioning Aconex as the de facto industry standard for document control. This will be something that rival vendors will, I am sure, vigorously contest, but – for now – the first-mover advantage is with the Australian outfit.

Shouldn’t we be teaching ‘collaboration’?

That email arrived in the same week that I attended a Constructing Excellence members’ event at the offices of Eversheds in the City of London. Organised jointly with CE’s early career group, G4C, the event was focused on personal development (with a speaker from Dale Carnegie and lots of practical work), and the delegate pack included some information about various training initiatives run in collaboration (naturally!) with CE, including:

  • courses at BRE
  • a new Centre for Infrastructure Development at Manchester Business School (established by Dr Nuno Gil, for whom I have delivered lectures on construction collaboration technology in the past)
  • the Collaborative Working Academy delivering Award, Certificate and Diploma qualifications on topics including: collaboration and integration in construction; lean construction; and open book cost management (courses are accredited by awarding organisation CELL – a partner company of CE – which is approved and recognised by Ofqual).

Reading the information about the CWA courses, I noticed that there were no Award unit (some of which can also be taken as stand-alone courses) that addresses the technology issue. One of Constructing Excellence’s six key attributes of collaborative working is that the project team employs ‘common processes and tools’, and yet there doesn’t appear to be a unit that focuses on this. The unit would not need to be as detailed as the Aconex document control course (which is aimed specifically at document controllers, rather than construction managers, and doesn’t mention collaboration at all), but it might also cover other platforms, and their capacity to support some of the other attributes of integration and collaborative working. Often so-called collaboration platforms are used simply for electronic file exchange – and collaboration is about much more than shared file management.

Having run courses and done university lectures on construction collaboration technologies (‘extranets’ are often identified as an example of the common processes and tools, and BIM will be an increasingly important theme too), both on my own and in partnership with technology providers, I think this is an area that could usefully be developed. I talked to CE chief executive Don Ward about it briefly after Thursday’s event and have sought a meeting with CWA to discuss it further in the New Year.

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  1. Any courses in Document control should be considered most welcome by the industry.
    Let’s face it, most document control is handled by Secretaries, who are rarely given any support. They are often dumped with a load of Documents to issue with no understanding of what it is they are managing and why it is important.
    ‘Collaboration’ could be considered the next level up from this. The focus here could be on the people who set the procedures – rather than the people who have to follow them.

      • Pavla on 21 May 2014 at 11:11 pm

      Paul this is true from my own experience. The support should come from within the company empoying the staff – the Document controllers at the other end (clients, architects etc) are usualy helpful but they can’t deal with bad project management “at home” – the Document controlling is just one aspect of it.
      (hope that make sense)

    • Janaki Ramachandran, Commercial Manager, Document Control Essentials, Aconex on 21 December 2010 at 5:02 am

    Thanks for highlighting this initiative. We are thrilled with the level of support and participation we’ve received for the Certificate in Document Control.
    Since launching 6 months ago, we’ve completed courses in North America, Australia, and the Middle East, and plan a further 8 courses in the coming 6 months that are filling fast.
    You might be interested to know that we’re finalizing the course’s accreditation process in Australia and looking to do the same in other key markets.
    I agree with your comments regarding collaboration and would be interested to talk more about your ideas.

  2. The question of teaching (and promoting) document control or collaboration is a good one. The industry will benefit if we can do both.
    Document control feels like project management must have been a couple of decades ago – evolving from an administrative task into a specialist professional area, with its own best practices, career path, and so on. As the contribution of the DC on projects starts to be acknowledged, the role of good information management and of online collaboration will also be recognised.
    Incidentally, Aconex has just developed an introduction to Online Project Collaboration, to help explain the core concepts and how these platforms bring teams together to deliver more successful projects. It can be seen at

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