electronic file transmission
Property Casualty

What About This Email Thing?

Nick Maletta
Nick Maletta
Client Executive, Property Casualty

One of my favorite stories I tell comes from when I first started at Holmes Murphy. A group of us were visiting a small architecture firm and having a discussion around liability — discussing liability 101, if I may. After a few back and forth questions, we were talking about communication and documentation and an older Principal turns to me and asks, “Hey, what do you think about this email thing? Think it’s here to stay?” Taken back by the question and having been on the job for about a week, I quickly answered, “Yes, I believe it is,” and moved on to the next topic.

As someone who is of a generation known for our technology use and adoption, I get all sorts of questions regarding newer technology…more specifically, new ways to transmit files and information to other parties (whether that be the owner, contractor, or other subtrades). Because of this, I want to shed some light on the potential issues surrounding the electronic transmission of files or sending of 3D or BIM files to other parties for use.

Without a doubt, technology and computers have changed our everyday lives. For the design professional, it’s helped provide better communication, enhanced data analysis and design capabilities, and improved presentation abilities. With many of the benefits we’re seeing, this is very much a double-edged sword.

Whether you transmit files electronically via email or other portals, transmit and share your BIM file or similar technology, or use a project website, there are many issues that may arise, including, but certainly not limited to the:

  • Inappropriate reuse of files (for example: someone using the file for something it wasn’t intended for)
  • Compatible transfer of this data from one hardware or software to another
  • Reliance of your client, contractors, or other consultants on what you’ve provided
  • Ability to modify these documents
  • Privacy issues

And…the list goes on and on.

What I recommend is that every firm should evaluate the electronic transfer of information very carefully and consider the following:

  • Decide as a firm — What are you going to do? Are you giving only hard copies or are you comfortable with electronic? If it’s electronic, what form of electronic communications are you OK with? Set a protocol firm wide and follow it! Decide what programs and hardware/software you’ve decided to invest in or not invest in. This truly is a business decision and should be made with full comfort and support by everyone in the firm. As an example, some standard professional associations state that the hard copy is the actual contract “deliverable,” whereas the electronic copies are just for convenience sake (EJCDC).
  • Communicate and educate — Be proactive with your clients or other consultants. Educate them on your firm’s decided protocols and hardware/software. Get buy in and understanding early! It never fails…there always tends to be “short-term memory loss” of others when things start to go downhill.
  • Contractual protection — Outline in your standard agreements the practices and protocols and even the hardware your firm is willing to use to electronically transfer files. Holmes Murphy has examples we can share, or there are examples with many of the association-driven contracts out there (AIA E203-2013, G201-2013, G202-2013, or EJCDC distinction of deliverables vs. provided for convenience).
  • Consult an attorney — If you decide to release your construction documents electronically, we suggest drafting a separate letter that needs to be signed prior to transition. This letter should address reliance of information, modifications made, use of the information after the project, and indemnification for misuse.

And while what I’ve outlined above seems like a lot, unfortunately, this is just scratching the surface of precautions you should take. If you’d like to discuss further, have questions, or just aren’t sure where to even start, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

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