The Accumulation Of Building Documentation: Growing Every Year

Streamlining record-keeping processes invariably leads to conversations about return on investment. What will be the cost in terms of money, time, and resources?

By Suri Suriyakumar

Documents and records are one of those areas that touches the daily lives of everyone on the facilities team, from those at the executive level to the technicians in the field. There is a fundamental need to capture, document, and retain information in every facility.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatized concerns about document storage and access. One urgent question? How do we make documentation available to all those who need it in the event of an emergency?

Streamlining record-keeping processes invariably leads to conversations about return on investment. If we take steps to change our process, what will be the cost in terms of money, time, and resources?

If there’s anything this pandemic has taught us, it’s the importance and value of being prepared for emergencies, escalation, and extreme conditions. Life at your facility can go from 0 to 60 in just seconds.

Each facet of the job — handling operations, keeping on top of maintenance, and exploring energy management — has multiple challenges, regulations, governing bodies, tools, technology, and documentation to master.

Photo: ARC Facilities

Let’s take a closer look at the accumulation of documentation.

Whenever a building is renovated, expanded, or remodeled, new building plans are created by architects, designers, and contractors. These include As-builts, O&Ms, warranties, instructions, and manuals.

Every time an inspection is completed, we save documentation. Every time a repair request is generated, a report is created and saved. E-mails are saved. Attachments are saved. Photos are saved.

How much of your personal documentation and business documentation do you save? For buildings, there is a far greater need to save information because buildings evolve every year, changes are made, surveys are conducted, and repairs and inspections are routine. As buildings evolve, facility management teams expand and change, too. People retire. Newcomers are hired. These cycles continue year after year.

According to a joint research paper conducted by ARC Facilities and the AIIM association in 2017, one in three commercial buildings in the U.S. are over 50 years old, and 72% of the buildings are over 20 years old. Year after year, as we make changes and upgrades to facilities, additional building information gets piled up, further aggravating the problem.

As buildings age, documentation reflecting renovations and remodels increases. Buildings go through hundreds if not thousands of changes. Extensions and tenant improvements generate additional documents and information which must all be stored and accessed when necessary. Simply put, over the years facilities teams gather a mountain of information.

Imagine this. When the IRS requests us to hold financial information for seven years, we think it’s a long time. You could only imagine the amount of information which gets accumulated in buildings over 15 or 20 years. It’s no surprise that document storage rooms look the way they do.

Storing Documents For Easy Access

Most facilities have plan rooms, garages, basements, or storage closets where documentation is stored. Were these rooms designed to house documentation and keep it organized? Hard to say. Maybe some newer buildings were built with a room for that purpose in mind. But that’s doubtful. It’s a pretty safe assumption that building owners looked around and said, “We’re not using that space in the basement. We’ll just use that room for general storage, roll up the blueprints, tag them, and put in some shelves for binders.”

The pathway to paper problem worsens for facility management who need those building plans on a regular basis. Plan rooms are not always easily accessible and given the current environment, most don’t allow for social distancing. Even if they are well-organized, they can become disorganized quickly, because not everyone using the room is particularly neat. This leads to a disorganized and decentralized area in which decades of documents are stored.

The digital “jungle” where a conflicting and confusing array of electronic storage formats are stored, doesn’t solve the problem of accessing information either. Each medium must be carefully and slowly reviewed visually, and the work is managed on a desktop computer, rendering the digital “jungle” useless to a technician in the field who works exclusively with mobile devices.

Why Electronic Storage & Document Scanning Have Limited Value

When document scanning was introduced, facility managers were excited because they could use the technology to store paper documents.

The average building has outlived several generations of storage format. Can you open a CD? What about a 3.5 floppy disk? If your files were in a proprietary CAD format, do you have a program that will still open them?

You can spend hours scanning and wind up with files that still have to be sorted through. Scanning is just one part of the solution.

The document storage problem is exacerbated with both paper and a myriad of electronic formats that aren’t interactive, organized, or easy to read.

What are the consequences of document accumulation?

  1. The inability of teams to quickly find building info when emergencies occur
  2. Possible duplication, missing documents, or inefficient document filing
  3. Excessive time visiting plan rooms — often several hours a week at some facilities because plan rooms are far away from “the action”

When building plans and information aren’t easily accessible, identifying a simple shut off valve in an emergency or providing facilities information to first responders can take several hours, putting building occupants’ safety in jeopardy.

There have been countless cases where simple water leaks flooded multiple building floors, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, because building plans and shut off valves could not be found. Floods and other emergencies are not just costly, they put building occupants at risk.

What are the best possible solutions to the problem?

While missing documentation may be redrawn by architects, that’s a costly and time-consuming task fraught with the errors of excessive human intervention. A better management solution is to scan, digitize, organize, and transfer all that data to the cloud, making it accessible via an app on a mobile device. It’s like carrying your records room in your pocket. And by using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and optical character recognition, the information becomes organized, easily searchable, and instantly available.

“We have integrated technology to avoid a room full of blueprints, binders, CDs, manuals,” said Mark Reed, Martin Luther King Jr Community Hospital.

“We have leveraged systems such as ARC Facilities to store all this information in one central database that is accessible online and offline,” he said. “This has made it easy for our staff in the field to look up information while working on a device and reducing PM completion time. The ARC Facilities app also helps to maintain institutional knowledge so when someone leaves the organization the information is still retained.”

Facility managers rely on technology to control equipment, adjust energy usage, and even manage technician schedules. Now technology finally exists to enable instant access to building information while in the field, dramatically improving the efficiency of facilities technicians. Building documentation will continue to grow, but today’s tools, with better control and organization of documents and information, help ensure safe conditions for building occupants, increase time savings, and improve productivity.

Suriyakumar is the CEO of ARC Facilities. He is a global business visionary who creates powerful productivity-enhancing technology solutions for facilities management executives. For more information about building plan and information management, visit


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