The front page of the New York Times the other day carried this story, "In New Military, Data Overload Can Be Deadly". Here is some quoted text from the first few paragraphs:
"When military investigators looked into an attack by American helicopters last February that left 23 Afghan civilians dead, they found that the operator of a Predator Drone had failed to pass along crucial information about the makeup of a gathering crowd of villagers.
But Air Force and Army officials now say there was also an underlying cause for that mistake: information overload.
At an Air Force base in Nevada, the drone operator and his team struggled to work out what was happening in the village, where a convoy was forming. They had to monitor the drone’s video feeds while participating in dozens of instant-message and radio exchanges with intelligence analysts and troops on the ground."
I share this awful story with you to make a larger point about information. Our problem used to be a lack of information and we are quickly entering (if not already there) an age of over-information where the true desired skill will be the ability to intake, organize and accurately represent information to the end user.
We so often run up against projects/companies using a wide variety of tools to manage information: Box.net, Sharepoint, CMiC, Prolog, ftp, Projectwise, etc. Most of these companies I talk to feel secure that by having these tools/databases, they are providing for information sharing and collaboration among their team members. I submit that without the right tools/people in place, you are actually hindering the process of communication, sometimes with disastrous results.
The above example of the civilian deaths is the extreme example of what can happen when there's too much information, but it's not a big leap of faith to imagine a Subcontractor not knowing which document out of 20 that he should utilize and subsequently endangering the project schedule or budget.
Lately, When talking about what I/we do in the reprographics industry, I increasingly refer to us as the Librarians of the Library. Everyone in the industry talks about the death of print, but few look at the explosive growth of information, particularly in construction. While plan printing has reduced drastically, your clients are dealing with volumes and volumes more data than they ever have before. The relative ease of creating information these days (AutoCAD, email, site photos, PDFs) means that authorship has gone way up where everyone on the project creates a meaningful document multiple times a day. That information is all important and it can be incredibly overwhelming if not controlled.
When selling your solution, don't talk about its ability to hold information. Storage space and ability is cheap. Talk about your ability to get the client down to what they want, right away. Talk about your team's ability to be the Librarian in the Library that controls the documentation, organizes it and makes it relevant and easy to use for the team.
I believe there's a market for reprographic companies to provide employees on jobsites that will act as the Document Control person. We are already seeing this happen in our market where Contractors are designating a Project Engineer (aka: someone who's never done this before) and creating a Document Control role. If you can place that person on-site, not only do you have the experience with construction documentation organization/fulfillment that they don't but you will be more likely to get them to use your document management solution on the project.
And, if we have to talk about a printing angle, what better way to ensure that you're getting the maximum amount of output than employing the Traffic Cop!
I believe many Reprographic firms are struggling with how to maintain their relevance in their Client's eyes and the shift in thinking to being true information managers will be the wave of the reprographic future.