In the construction industry, keeping track of all the different documents on a project can be a full-time job. Just think about the number of e-mails you process daily — not to mention the files attached to them. Not only must documents be accurate and secure, but they also must be easily shared and tracked within your organization and with outside parties.

As part of an AEC industry document exchange study commissioned by Adobe Systems, Inc., headquartered in San Jose, Calif., Harris Interactive (a Rochester, N.Y.-based market research firm) polled a group of 965 architecture, engineering, and construction professionals across the country last November. The team gathered information about the exchange of design and project management information on a “typical project” — defined as anything from a hotel, store, or office building to a manufacturing or processing plant. Key findings of the study, which did not identify Adobe as the sponsor to participants, revealed future challenges for AEC professionals in four distinct areas:

File sharing/usage. The most popular file formats that firms typically share, exchange, or collaborate on with internal and external project team members were MS Word, followed by MS Excel, and then JPEG. During a typical construction project, the most commonly exchanged file type with external team members was also MS Word. However, in this category, MS Excel dropped to third, behind PDFs. Overall, 2D and 3D CAD designs represented 42% and 20% of the files exchanged with project members, but represented only 28% and 7% of those exchanged with external organizations on a project.

Document exchange. Respondents rated their current process for document exchange and communication as mediocre. E-mail was found to be the most used method of document exchange, though physical delivery of files was still common. Still, 66% of organizations felt it is very important to share documents electronically, and 41% of respondents said saving and organizing multiple document types and project information in one searchable document was very important.

Security and control. Most survey respondents realize that security and control involves much more than password protection. In fact, two-thirds of all organizations interviewed for the survey were concerned about preserving document integrity (e.g. original look and feel). To protect their documents, many companies took preventive measures such as restricting the ability to modify documents and password protection to open documents. Nearly half of all respondents wanted an increased ability to control documents and protect confidential information as well as the ability to set access/permission control over documents.

Workflow efficiency. Having the ability to rapidly transmit all project documents in an electronic format to all members of the project team, reduce risk due to wrong or missing documentation, and maintain search functionality for all project materials/documents topped respondents' most important concerns. Not surprisingly, the disparate collection of file formats used for information exchange today was noted as a key frustration among AEC professionals, along with the need to distribute documents in a timely manner.

This study concludes that an electronic solution that allows customers to combine all key file formats and send them electronically to team members in a secure fashion would greatly improve efficiency.