Community Forum – Reporting Technical Information

Resource Type
Survey (Community Forum)
Author
Innovation Research Interchange
Topics
Innovation Business Cases, Managing Innovation and R&D
Associated Event
Publication

How do you report technical information?

We would like to improve upon our existing methods of reporting technical information. To help with this aim, we would like to know current thinking and best practices:

  • Is the formal technical report dead and is reporting significant technical conclusions by personal email now acceptable? 
  • Is the traditional manager- or peer-reviewed technical report still a Best Practice? 
  • When reporting commercially sensitive technical information, how do you maintain security of data?

– Dan Abramowicz, CTO, Crown Holdings

Community Responses

Jay Otten, Manager: NA IP, R&D controlling, Technology & Innovation, BASF
For projects (~250-1,000 K$) that have a high probability of being addressed in the future, I still require and also write formal written reports.   Furthermore, report cover sheets are placed on some POWER-POINT presentations & EXCEL spread sheets.  These documents are forwarded to our North American Information Center for permanent filing.  One if the keys is to remind employees that the reports are there and provide excellent background information.  Reports also show the flow of the thought process that can be missed in simple presentations.

Worldwide, we have two idea and project tracking software packages for small market measures or topics and large research projects.

Timothy Armstrong, VP, Research & Development, Carpenter Technology​
Technical information is passed through the company by email for discussion prior to drawing conclusions. The use of email is frowned upon because it might get inadvertently transmitted outside of the company.   Our best practice is to formally document all technical results in an electronic report that is reviewed by the department manager prior to submission to our central library.  All technical reports are digital and have watermarks and password protection to prevent editing of documents. The documents are stored on a controlled server. To search, download or print you must be given access to the database, which is only provided as needed to a select group of technical staff – any requests for access must be approved. Employees are not allowed to share or forward copies without prior authorization, even within the company. We have a policy in place stating such and rely on training, word of mouth and common sense for the rest.

Serge Lavoie, R&D Casting Program Director, Rio Tinto Alcan​
I am interested in your question because we have the same issue. As you can see below, I am in charge of an R&D group within Rio Tinto Alcan and I also have a responsibility for our central information system. I would appreciate participating in your initiative.

Here are quick answers to your questions:

  • Is the formal technical report dead and is reporting significant technical conclusions by personal email now acceptable?
    • Formal technical reports are still in use amongst technology groups (R&D, technologist in engineering and functions). It is getting more difficult to generate complete reports on long projects. People tend to write ‘technical letters’ which document, generally fairly well, a part of a project like a stage gate. Out of technology, in the operating plants in particular, very little formal documentation is produced. Most results are communicated through emails and powerpoints. Note that some powerpoints are archived in the information database but most are not; it is more or less left to the writers initiative.
  • Is the traditional manager- or peer-reviewed technical report still a Best Practice?
    • It is the practice for formal reports and technical letters. There is no review for emails or other non structured communications.
  • When reporting commercially sensitive technical information, how do you maintain security of data?
    • We have a confidentiality management system to control access to the documents in the information database. The confidentiality level is determined by the R&D directors. This applies only to formal reports and letters. Training is given to the people involved with confidential information. Access to our internal email and computer system is obviously restricted.

John Rovison, FMC Corporation
We do not rely on personal email to report significant technical conclusions.  Most email systems have document retention controls and the use of the email systems for long term retention have insufficient rigor for either personnel to store important information into long term binders or to protect the system from harmful penetrating/transmission viruses.

We do have a formal report system by which information is peer reviewed and stored on a secure server with limited access by Technology and Commercial functions and of those, only 3 personnel have ‘write’ access to the information [all others have ‘read only’ access].

Sensitive information is shared only on a ‘need to know’ basis.  Sensitive information which can support sales and marketing is shared only after joint review with Technology, Sales and Commercial Development as to what can be disseminated and in what form.  If needed, the disclosure is protected by confidentiality agreements or non-disclosure agreements.  Sometimes reports will be redacted prior to disclosure.

Ralph R. Sawtell, Technical Director, Metallurgy and Product Science, Alcoa, Inc.​

  • Is the formal technical report dead and is reporting significant technical conclusions by personal email now acceptable?
    • In our organization, the formal technical report is not dead but it is under serious assault by email and especially, the Power Point presentation.
  • Is the traditional manager- or peer-reviewed technical report still a Best Practice?
    • I believe that it will always be the technical best practice but good reports are expensive and the allure of speed has grown, substantially.
  • When reporting commercially sensitive technical information, how do you maintain security of data?
    • Primarily by restricting things to a need-to-know and in many cases using password protected Share Points and the like.

Sridhar Ranganathan, Kimberly-Clark Corporation

  • We continue to use formal reports as a key vehicle to document technical conclusions from our research. This seems to be the most amenable from a search and retrieval perspective. It is a challenge to keep this comprehensive though given the alternate methods including e-mails and presentation files on share folders/SharePoint. Robust searching tools that can identify relevant information from multiple internal locations (intranet, SharePoint, databases, etc) is a key need.
  • When applicable, reviews of reports are typically done by technical peers, not managers.
  • Additionally, several “security” levels for the formal internal reports are available (author-selected at the time of publication) and can be used to limit flow of sensitive information. 

Stewart Witzeman, Director, Eastman Research Division, Eastman Chemical Company

  • At Eastman Chemical the Technical Report remains the permanent documentation of our technical activities. While e-mail, PowerPoint, intranet sites and reporting software make it easy to report status, these are not archived or easily searchable. I consider it my job and that of the managers who report to me to ensure their employees are appropriately documenting work in Technical Reports.
  • We use an approval process that involves the direct supervisor of the submitter.
  • We have three security categories for our technical reports. The highest level of security is reserved for highly confidential information, including trade secrets. To access this information requires the approval of the director of the organization originating the report as well as the approval of the director of the requestor’s organization. We have annual training that covers these security classifications and expectations around management of such information. We also have an Export Control categorization on the technical reports to ensure they abide by any Export control restrictions.

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