Business challenge

As business grew, rising data volumes and a distributed approach to content management exposed HDR to increased risk. How could the company take back control over its information?


By using IBM information lifecycle governance solutions to gain newfound insight into enterprise-wide content, HDR can make smarter decisions about managing, retaining and disposing of data.



risk by driving efficient, defensible information disposal


more effective response to legal and regulatory requests for information


information access and management to help teams work more productively

Business challenge story

Growing pains

As a design and consulting services specialist, project information is HDR’s lifeblood. Teams working at 225 locations around the world generate and manage a staggering volume and variety of data—from architectural blueprints and design plans to sophisticated statistical models and reports. As business grew, HDR grew concerned that a lack of consistency around managing enterprise content was exposing the firm to unacceptable levels of risk.

Michael Geppert, CIO of HDR, elaborates: “Historically, we have maintained a very distributed operating model, giving local teams a high level of autonomy. While this model has been very successful in helping us to grow to the size we are today, it has resulted in different teams all taking very different approaches to managing content—from how and where they stored data, to the structures they used to organize it. This created a great deal of complexity.”

To add to the challenge, HDR had a “retain everything” philosophy that had sent electronic data volumes soaring to more than 1PB, and left the company with mountains of paper files.

Michael Geppert continues: “We realized that it was simply unsustainable to store all our content indefinitely. Similarly, we knew that we could no longer afford for information to exist in so many different formats and locations, without a consistent way of managing it all. This wasn’t just a high cost to the business, it also created a significant degree of risk. Take design plans, for instance. We can produce potentially hundreds of different iterations of plans before finalizing a design. All of these variations and versions can create a confusing picture, and could be a liability if a legal claim is filed against us.”

Information lifecycle governance solutions from IBM help HDR to run a more efficient and competitive business.

Michael Geppert, CIO, HDR, Inc.

Transformation story

Improving information management

HDR’s search for a defensible disposal solution soon led the firm to IBM. Michael Geppert recalls: “After speaking with IBM we learned that defensible disposal is only one part of the bigger picture that is information lifecycle governance [ILG]. We realized that once we had decided what to delete, we also needed a more strategic way of managing everything that we had retained.”

As a starting point, HDR decided to focus on client project information, which represents around 70 percent of all the data that the company manages. The company worked with IBM to develop an electronic file management (EFM) tool that standardizes and streamlines the process of launching and closing projects, and managing project-related information.

Michael Geppert notes: “One of our key priorities was to establish a single, standardized file structure, which would allow us to bring greater automation and consistency to the way we managed content. We have replaced more than 100 different file taxonomies with a single taxonomy for all projects; within this structure, users have the flexibility to organize files as they see fit.”

Today, when a user starts a new project, the EFM tool automatically sets up the required folders. Once a project is completed, all relevant documents are placed into a final record folder. This is then automatically ingested by IBM Content Collector into a project archive, which is built on IBM FileNet® Content Manager and IBM Enterprise Records. Meanwhile, while all other content is deleted.

HDR also established comprehensive retention policies for archived project data, which it uses to support efficient, compliant and defensible disposal. These policies are managed and applied by IBM Atlas eDiscovery Process Management.

Michael Geppert explains: “We rely on three main criteria for document retention. First, there are legal and regulatory requirements: when we complete a civil engineering project, many states enforce a statute of repose, which requires us to retain design documents for a specified period—often 10 years or more. Second, we establish policies based on contractual agreements with clients, where we agree to retain project-related documents for a pre-determined amount of time.

“Finally, we often rely on good business sense. For example, we have several long-term clients with whom we do a lot of renovation and/or expansion work. We will often hold on to their original design plans for longer than the period of contractual or legal obligation, because it makes the renovation/expansion process much quicker and easier if we can refer to these original documents.”

From the very outset of the project, HDR has been intensely focused on securing executive buy-in and keeping business users engaged—which has proven to be a winning strategy.

Michael Geppert remarks: “Deploying the IBM software was the easy part; building new policies and processes around those solutions, and getting people on board with the new approach was by far the bigger hill to climb. We had to convince thousands of project managers to change the way they managed data, and to get used to the idea that we were no longer going to be retaining all data forever.

“To achieve this, we designed a comprehensive change management program that included cross-functional working groups, engaging end-user training and a communication strategy that surfaced relevant information and encouraged engagement with program leadership. This helped the business to better understand why we were making the change, and to embrace the new ways of working.”

Results story

Reducing risk, driving new value

Improved information lifecycle governance is transforming how teams at HDR work with data, and reducing operating costs and risk for the company.

“By introducing a single, shared repository and standardized file structure for project data, we are making it much quicker and easier for teams to access and manage information,” says Michael Geppert. “In the past, it could take around 10 minutes to perform a global search and find a particular folder; with the new solutions, users can complete the same task in around 30 seconds.”

He adds: “Now that we have a much more methodical approach to document retention and disposal, we are reducing the cost and effort of data storage, management and backup. And most importantly, I believe we are avoiding a great deal of risk. If we are presented with a legal claim, we can carry out information discovery processes in an efficient and compliant manner. And if we are challenged about the information that we have decided not to retain, we can refer to our rock-solid defensible disposal strategy to prove that our actions have been based on policies that are compliant with our contracts and regulations.”

Looking ahead, HDR’s next step is to tackle its legacy data—understanding where the information resides and how it is used, and creating structures and policies to maximize its value.

Michael Geppert concludes: “Information lifecycle governance solutions from IBM help HDR to run a more efficient and competitive business by allowing us to better understand and manage our data. We are changing the way people think about data, and have begun to create a more sustainable way of managing content—which is having a hugely positive impact on the way we work.”


HDR Inc.

HDR, Inc. is an engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services firm. Employing nearly 10,000 people, HDR has worked on projects in all 50 U.S. states and in 60 other countries, including notable projects such as the Hoover Dam Bypass, Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, The Roslin Institute building, Tappan Zee Bridge and the Cleveland Clinic.

Solution components

  • Content - FNCM
  • Content - ILG
  • Content - ILG
  • Ind: Architecture / Eng / Construction

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