Document control system for Porthos: How improved collaboration brings carbon capture closer
Every once in a while, a project comes along that you're especially proud of. The Document Management System (DMS) for Porthos is such a project. By advising on the construction of a system that ensures hundreds of people in a complex collaborative network always have the correct version of the thousands of documents they use every day, we're helping the Netherlands meet its climate goals.
Power Automate
Efficiency improved, errors minimised
Azure Active Directory
Confidentiality assured: segregated access
October 7, 2021 

Porthos, a collaboration between Energie Beheer Nederland (EBN), Gasunie, and the Port of Rotterdam, aims to begin storing carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, in empty gas fields over 3 km beneath the North Sea floor from 2024 onwards. This is crucial to achieving European climate targets. We’re speaking with Margaretha Boxem, Document Controller at Porthos, Myrna Fraters, Communications Officer at Porthos, and our consultant Just Spoor, who worked on the project.

Just first provides some background: “We became involved in the project because EBN has been a Portiva customer for years, and now a customer of Rapid Circle. The collaboration began with the construction of a simple SharePoint site. From there, the trust relationship grew, allowing us to advise on the system for Porthos.”

Collaboration puzzle

The collaboration between many different parties (in addition to the three parent companies, the companies that will supply the CO2 and many subcontractors are also involved) is Porthos’ strength, but also its challenge. Myrna describes the situation: “The entire Porthos team consists of around 130 people. The core group consists of approximately 40 people who work full-time on Porthos. Additionally, there are many colleagues who are involved in the project part-time, temporarily, or occasionally.” In addition to these internal personnel, there are also many external parties that contribute or perform specific technical tasks.

Central and secure

The main documents shared within Porthos are technical drawings, which was the project’s first focus. These drawings must always be available in the correct version, or things can go wrong. However, it is also extremely important that they are only seen by those who are authorised to view them. They often involve confidential, competition-sensitive materials, and subcontractors and customers do not appreciate it if they end up in the wrong hands. In any case, Porthos places a great emphasis on security and separation to ensure that information never falls into the wrong hands. These strict security requirements were difficult to achieve in the existing system because the three SharePoint environments of the parent companies were used alongside each other. A central, secure document management system was needed that could manage all documents, store the correct metadata, and be a central location for version control and publication management. A system that, in addition to technical documents, also made minutes, letters, email exchanges, and anything else relevant to business operations, permit applications, and other processes available and findable.

Role of advice

The team chose to use EBN’s environment as a basis. Just explains this choice: “There was already a secure, mature SharePoint Online implementation that had been well thought out in the years before.” Based on this, Porthos set up the metadata structure and all the workflows associated with the various management processes. Much error-prone manual work could be automated in this way, greatly improving the quality of processes, metadata, and documents.

Just says, “We were mainly present in an advisory role, and much of the execution was therefore with Porthos itself. We did attend progress meetings on a weekly basis and looked at the backlog. Thanks to the short communication lines and good atmosphere, we could usually come to a good decision quickly together.”


Fewer errors, more speed thanks to Power Automate

Once you have documented processes and procedures well and have all metadata in place, you can start automating processes. Reviewing, approving, putting under version control, archiving: it’s all linked to fixed workflows in the new system. This way, the document managers at Porthos are sure that each document goes through the correct process, and the shared documents are approved and have the correct version. Margaretha says, “We can process hundreds of documents at once. That was not possible manually. Moreover, the error-proneness is much lower this way.”

Another function that yields a lot of benefits is the Document Status List. Margaretha explains how this works: “If 20 contractors all need to provide 50 documents, you want to be able to see the status of all of them at once and which version you need. By automatically generating status lists, we can do that, and we can also send contractors a message if we’re missing something.”

Security, version control and the human factor

Due to the chosen approach, the technical security of the system was not a major challenge. Just explains: “We are working within the EBN environment, so we ride along with their security, which is excellent. For example, Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is standard there. With Azure Active Directory, we have shielded everything in such a way that customers and suppliers cannot see each other’s documents.”

However, a significant part of the security also depends on responsible human behavior. In the beginning, sending documents via email was still happening, so a lot of effort was invested in training. It turned out that not only security, but also working with version control was largely an awareness issue. Many of the people working for Porthos were not familiar with the strict version control needed for this type of extremely complex technical project. “They think it’s very difficult, but it’s not at all. That’s why we organised training sessions,” Margaretha explains.

External staff can also participate in the training sessions because it is essential that they handle the system and procedures properly. There are extensive manuals for subcontractors on how to submit documents. In addition to the training sessions, there are instructional videos and manuals in PowerPoint and PDF formats. The result is that everyone now knows what the system is for, how it works, and where to go with questions.


Communication and a new intranet

Building a new intranet was not necessarily a goal of this project. But as work on the DMS progressed, there was an increasing need for an intranet for internal information and communication.

Myrna, responsible for communication in this area, explains: “We already had a SharePoint page with internal project news and links to useful project information. But as the project and the team grew, that page became more cluttered and less structured. The need for a real intranet was also fueled by remote work during the pandemic. So we tackled that too. The new intranet looks beautiful and professional. We have better organised the information with a page per topic, so you can quickly find the right information. We provide more connection, also with people who work remotely or are not fully dedicated to Porthos.”


A real dedicated environment

The fact that the Porthos environment has so far been a “guest” at the EBN SharePoint also brings limitations. There is no separate Porthos tenant, and not everyone has a “” email address yet. Therefore, for online collaboration, the environments of the parent organisations are usually used. Some teams have also set up their own collaboration environments. Margaretha says, “We have little insight into that, and we’re not really working on it yet. The most important thing to me is that the documents are all in the right place and stay in one environment.”

Just adds, “The ambition is to set up our own tenant, so that everyone also gets a Porthos email address. This will make it much easier to eventually roll out Teams. If you have your own environment, collaboration becomes even easier, and you can largely eliminate email. On the Porthos portal, everyone can see exactly what the status of documents is and which tasks are open.”

Looking ahead

The project is successful, and the system is being used intensively. This means that users are automatically asking for more functionality, and the SharePoint project is growing. But even the existing functions can be improved in places. Margaretha says, “The search function of SharePoint is quite, well… stubborn. We are looking for a way to improve searching, especially across different collections.”

Another point that still needs to be addressed is working with comments. Engineering firms still use so-called “comment sheets”: these are Excel documents in which comments and explanations are included for each submitted document. It is still a manual process to find which comment belongs to which document. This makes tasks such as creating cover sheets for documents, necessary for archiving them, time-consuming.

“All the metadata we wanted is in there,” Margaretha says. “But to be able to sort and group even better, we need more metadata: which part of the organisation does it belong to? Which discipline and sub-discipline does it concern? What type of document is it? Then we store everything so that everyone can always find it.”

In addition to Myrna, Margaretha, and Just, the project team on the Porthos Document Control side consisted of Madonice Queeley, Arian de Koning, and Maria Furtado. From Rapid Circle, in addition to Just, Lucy de Boer and Edaine Bernadina were involved.

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