Single Source of Data

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Do you find that your company or your project has multiple places that project information is kept?

I have found in most companies that multiple copies of project documents are stored in multiple places. These have included:

  • The official project file repository (good)
  • A network drive on a different topic or different project
  • The personal network drive for each project member
  • The local computer drive (C: drive) of the project members computer

Many people use their own computer hard drive or personal network drive to store copies of documents they need, or they might store them in their email system. This is not ideal.

People get confused about where they should store documents. They sometimes refer to the wrong document or an old version of a document, leading to mistakes in the project.

Sometimes it will take a long time to find a required document because it was not stored in a location accessible to the whole project team. And sometime only one person has access to a required document because it is on that person’s own drive, not on a drive accessible to others.

People will also email copies of documents to each other, and people may rely on the copy they were emailed rather than the most recent version of the document.

This all wastes time and money and increases quality, budget, schedule, and safety risks on projects.

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I believe companies should have a “single source” system for storing all project (and company) information and documents. This should include a single place that staff should refer to for project budget and cost information, and a single storage location for all the project documents and project specific information.

If a team member wants to access a procedure manual, or spreadsheet, it should be easily found and be in a logical place. Multiple copies should not be kept.

There are many good document storage and management systems available to companies that can be set up to be used to store and send documents.

There are many benefits of using a good system, especially in saving time. My favourite system is called “Objective”. I think some of the most important aspects of one should include:

  • Find documents from any project easily
  • Do quick searches
  • Search by keyword, date, author, last accessed, project name,department etc.
  • Each document should have a unique identification number that does not change even if the document is deleted, moved or renamed.
  • The ability to move documents by clicking and dragging them to different projects, different folders etc.
  • Apply meta data to each file saved. But also have this meta data automatically applied depending on where the file is placed (i.e. If I saved a file from an email into a specific folder in a project then the file would have meta data automatically applied for the project name and possibly the department that project comes under.
  • Being able to send a link to that document directly to a person (by email or chat system). The recipient could click on that link and be taken to that document (or the document location if they want to see the related documents there). This link would never change even if the document was moved, so it can always be found.
  • A workflow system for document approvals or other actions. Someone should be able to allocate approver names and the approvers should be able to read and then tick a box indicating their approval. The should be recorded permanently and be able to replace internal signatures.
  • Staff should be able to allocate user privileges to documents (so that only certain people can access them, such as for classified or confidential documents).
  • Email capture and storage systems. (Linked in to your company email system).

I think a well implemented and well managed system should significantly increase the efficiency of most companies, saving significant time and costs on most projects.

I have personally had projects which had a 50% time saving in office based tasks which mostly involve working with documents. A workflow system in one company I was in saved me 90% of the time for variation approvals compared to another company I was in later. I could record and submit a variation in minutes compared to hours, and get approval (through four levels of approval) in as little as a few hours compared to sometimes taking six weeks for the same process in a company with no automated workflow system.

Another important aspect of having a single source of data is in reporting. A good system should allow a project manager or team member to refer to one location for project budget or status, and record any manual updates (such as description of the work) into that system. This information should be able to be rolled up to the project director or higher managers, without needing to copy that data into other systems or spreadsheets.


It is best to have a single source of data in your storage system for all information on a project. It should be easy to use, accessible to all staff, and remove the need for storing documents or information all over the place.

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