IMPROVING THE MANAGEMENT OF INFORMAL ENGINEERING INFORMATION THROUGH ELECTRONIC LOGBOOKS
Author: McAlpine, Hamish Charles
Supervisor: Culley, Steve; Hicks, Ben; Sellini, Florence
Institution: University of Bath, Department of Mechanical Engineering
In modern organisations, the effective use of information and knowledge is a prerequisite for sustaining competitive advantage. To support this, considerable work has been undertaken by both academia and industry to improve the representation, organisation and access of information across and between organisations. This improved information and communication management has had a positive impact on business processes, improved decision making and – importantly – increased levels of innovation. However, one area that has received less attention is personal information such as logbooks, maintained by a majority of engineers. Many of these logbooks could contain significant amount of design information and knowledge which is not recorded elsewhere, such as design rationale and records of alternatives considered. Indeed, much of what we know about the work of historically important engineers and scientists such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) has come from their personal collections of notes. Despite this, logbooks are rarely formally managed, with the content usually only available to the authoring engineer. It is arguable that such potentially valuable information should be more easily accessible to the individual and wider organisation, where it could be of benefit as a personal productivity aid, a design record and also for intellectual property and audit/traceability purposes. It follows that there is a need to create improved methods for managing logbook content, which is the challenge that this research addresses. This research first seeks to establish the reasons for the stubborn persistence of paper logbooks as such a common feature of engineering work, despite almost every other aspect being undertaken in the digital domain. Various studies are undertaken, revealing that logbooks are used for a wide range of purposes, such as the critical role of ‘mediating’ between various information sources. The requirements arising from these studies are used together with a review of existing e-logbook technologies to produce a comprehensive requirement specification for an engineering electronic-logbook. At its core is a novel information management strategy based combination of templates to pre-structure entries and a lightweight information classification schema to structure the information. They key features of the specification are the ability for logbook information to be searched, shared and integrated with other information systems, whilst retaining important characteristics of paper logbooks (such as sketching support). The contributions of this thesis are the fundamental understanding of logbook use and content, together with a comprehensive specification for an engineering e-logbook to improve logbook information management for both the individual and wider organisation.