Career Stories: Administrator to company director.

Catherine Deegan, Document Controller Interview NI Construction Blog Northern Ireland

Catherine Deegan started her career as an administrator before becoming an Operations Manager for a small family run construction company.  In 2013 she joined a building services company as a Document Controller and soon after was promoted to Document Control Manager.  She has since started her own company, Doc Elite specialising in Document Control training, consultancy, outsourced project Document Control & O&M manual production.

 

How would you explain your job to a child?

Well, I would explain Document Control like a gatekeeper or the document police. So basically regulating & controlling all your information.

How did you become a Document Controller?

I really fell into it. I joined a local building services company and to be honest with you I only believed that I’d be there temporarily. I very quickly fell in love with it. It was a great company to work for in which they really embraced positive changes.  They had no Document Control systems or procedures and there was a lack project standardisation within their organisation and it presented a challenge to me. I really enjoyed creating standardisation and creating that uniformity and consistency that was required right across their projects. I worked there for almost 8 years and successfully rolled out Document Control procedures to manage project information effectively and I championed the requirement for a cloud-based electronic document management system and oversaw the successful implementation of that system.

What makes a good Document Controller?

Well, I would say first of all, that you have to have really good organisational skills because there’s thousands of documents that you could be dealing with on a weekly basis. So, it’s just making sure that you’re very organised and can prioritise tasks in order to meet deadlines.  You also have to be quality driven and put quality at the forefront of everything that you do.

Initially, you may come up against quite a bit of resistance if you are implementing Document Control and a new software system, so you need to also have a bit of a backbone.  You will find that sometimes members of your project teams will not follow procedures or make errors and you have to reject their documents. You have to be strong enough not to bend the rules for some people and stick to the procedures to ensure the success of your procedures and systems.

When we talk about “documents” what does that encompass?

It’s all project information; everything from drawings,  to models, technical submissions, RFI’s, Calculations, meeting minutes, progress reports and right through to RAMS & Heath & Safety information as well so it’s all project information. I think that’s where some people fall back, to be honest. They think it’s all about managing drawings and they ignore the rest of the information. They have really good controls put in place for their drawings but nothing else.

Michael: My understanding of the history of Document Control is before there was the technology & the cloud where information is easily accessible & shared between different parties. There just used to be rooms of filing cabinets to control the documents. We now have the cloud which makes it much easier for people to access information when they need it.

Catherine:  If the cloud is set up correctly it makes it easier to ensure all parties are accessing current information.  The cloud also enables project information to go through processes or workflows before it is even visible by particular parties. Having a proper Document Control system in place helps contractors to ensure that they are meeting their contractual obligations for each project, it gives you traceability across the project right from conception to completion.

Do you think Northern Ireland companies take Document Control seriously? 

Yes & no, I’ve seen two sides to it really.  Some subcontractors here who are working with large Main contractors based throughout the UK would surprise you.  Through working with some of these larger contractors they recognise the importance of Document Control and have Document Control teams within their business.  They are starting to work on procedures and processes, and even Electronic Document Management Systems which they use as project collaboration tools within their business.

However generally speaking most Contractors and Subcontractors I have worked with to date are still behind the rest of the UK.  They are only finding out what Document Control actually is and what the benefits of effective Document Control are.  They are starting to see the value that Document Control can add to projects and some are starting to introduce systems and procedures to keep up with the UK competition.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Sometimes it is difficult for everyone to buy into the new system and procedures that I am introducing.  They want to see change but are not fully committed to the plan.   The commitment needs to come from management and leaders in order to gain momentum and to ensure successful implementation of those systems.

To get buy-in, I always home in on the benefits that they will start to see; time savings, version control, cost savings, traceability and enhanced security.  When they start to see the benefits first hand they become confident in the plan.

It is also challenging when I am working with organisation who may have many different departments.  For example they may have a building department, civil engineering department, interior fit out department and a facilities management department. What I find is they all sit in their own pockets and do their own thing.  They all use different templates and processes and they are nearly acting like separate organisations.  The information doesn’t look like it has came from the same organisation. Even small things like different fonts, different font sizes, different sized logos, different colours. That’s a key challenge, promoting consistency right across the organisation & projects.

NI Construction Blog Document Control Controller Belfast Northern Ireland

How would you describe it as a career choice?

I would describe it as very exciting and fast-paced; no day is the same, every project has different challenges and every project team works differently. It is a very busy and challenging role but for somebody like me, it is very rewarding as you can set up that standardisation and structure to improve overall quality and efficiency.  You also have specific deadlines to meet and you can work very closely with project teams to all work towards the common goal; to ensure projects are completed on time, to budget and ensure quality throughout.

What impact has technology had on your role?

I have seen technology change considerably particularly going from the 2D drawings to BIM models. It’s a very exciting change for Document Controllers as the role is evolving because now you’re not only quality checking information in drawings or specifications, you can now go into the models & quality check information also such classification codes. The role of Document Control is evolving into the role of Data Control & Information Management.

There are frustrations with this too as well as not all clients by into  BIM Level 2. You can find that your Design team has spent a considerable amount of time ensuring the accuracy of the model and all of the information contained within it. However, you may still need to provide 2D drawings as there still is some uncertainty with BIM so you may find yourself quality checking, releasing and recording both.

I have also seen a lot more Document Management platforms over the past few years each providing similar things on different scales.

Document Controller quote 2

Tell me a little bit about your business.

Last year I decided to reduce my hours to Part-time and open Doc Elite. I offered Document Control training and consultancy services to companies in the UK and Ireland.   My business started to grow and I was presented with some good opportunities.

In May this year I decided to leave my employment in the Building Services Company and put all my energy into Doc Elite. One of the main reasons why I started Doc Elite is that when I first started out as a Document Controller, I found it very difficult to access suitable training.  The knowledge that I have acquired over the years has enabled me to gain credibility and know-how.  I consider myself to be an expert in the field of project information management and I want to share and train others on industry best practices.

Another service that I offer is Document Control Consultancy services. I’m working with some subcontractors at the minute, helping them to implement procedures & standards. As part of my consultancy services I can help companies to successfully implement Electronic Document Management systems successfully.  I also specialise in audits.  I will go into a business and audit their project information management to find out if there are areas for improvements and make suggestions and proposals based on findings.

Doc Elite also specialises in producing Operation and Maintenance manuals.  I am quite passionate about this area as I know first hand the after effects of receiving inaccurate information and the effects this can have.  I like to ensure quality manuals are produced that reflect the quality of the completed installations.

Finally a popular service I offer is outsourced project Document Control.  At the minute I am working on two different projects and I manage the Document Control for these projects from my own office to ensure that the latest information is available to all parties, I am in contact with the project teams regularly and provide regular project reports.  This is a strong area for me as this was my bread and butter for almost 8 years.  I enjoy working closely with project teams to meet deadlines and achieve the end goal.

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of starting a career in Document Control?

I would tell them to establish good contacts.  Work closely with clients and form relationships with other Document Controllers and find out what works for them and what doesn’t.  Share ideas, tips and tricks.  That’s what I did and I still have those contacts which prove invaluable.  I would also say make sure that you stay ahead of the game.  The field is changing and evolving.  Keep up-to-date with industry standards and best practices.  If there are events related to your field out there, attend them, meet you contacts and develop your network. Every day is a school day and if you are lucky enough to be working on a large-scale projects with some of the best in the industry take the opportunity to learn from them.

Document Controller quote

There are only 76 Document Controllers on LinkedIn in Northern Ireland, do you think that this is because there’s a lack of Document Controllers or because Document Controllers don’t use LinkedIn?

I actually think it’s down to job titles & job descriptions. I believe that there are Project Administrators doing the job of a Document Controller. In Northern Ireland it is still a relatively new concept.  Not all organisations are sure what a Document Controller actually does.  It is important to try to come away from ‘Project Administrators’ titles and put emphasis on the regulating and control of information instead of modifying.   Document Controllers do not modify or fix document errors that is up to the document owner.  I also know that a lot of the Northern Ireland population don’t use LinkedIn so that may also have something to do with it.

You’ve recently spoken at Viewpoint customer summit in London, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Well basically I have implemented Viewpoint systems in my previous role as a Document Control Manager and also for customers of Doc Elite.  I have formed close relationships with some of the team there and was honoured to be invited to their Customer Summit as a guest speaker to discuss ‘Document Control and how it is vital to everything we do. ‘ It took place in the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London. It was a great experience and there were representations from some of the largest Contractors in the UK and Ireland.  The main aim of the presentation was to discuss the role of Document Controllers and the importance of this role within projects.  I was very pleased with the presentation, I received some excellent interaction and feedback.

What are your plans for your business in the future?

My plans are to continue to deliver what my clients require and to make sure that I continue to raise the profile of what Document Control is and how important it is within projects. I want to educate businesses on the benefits of Document Control. I want to continue to deliver quality training, consultancy, outsourced project Document Control and O&M maintenance manual management throughout the UK and Ireland.

At the minute I have 1 part-time member of staff. I also envisage that I will require further staff within the next twelve months to meet the needs of my growing customer base and also to achieve my vision ‘to provide the Construction Industry in the UK and Ireland with the best Document Control solutions.’


Career Stories is a series of interviews with Construction leaders & specialists throughout Northern Ireland. If you are interested in being interviewed or have a recommendation, please email info@niconstruction.blog