Project Management Institute

Going paperless

a government agency saved time and money with an e-construction process


By Kirk Steudle

IN RESPONSE TO TIGHT BUDGETS and public demand for greater efficiency, the Department of Transportation in the U.S. state of Michigan is going paperless. Our goal is to collect, use and organize all data electronically.

We began in 2013 with a pilot project to use an e-construction process on four major highway contracts. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) was already using some paperless processes, such as electronic plans and electronic bidding. But in order to go completely paperless, other processes would have to be automated.

We had to make document management software accessible to all stakeholders, including contractors, engineers, suppliers, fabricators, testing personnel, inspectors and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Field inspectors were provided with mobile devices so they could update electronic forms. Those forms could then be uploaded to a secure document management software program. The software program incorporated automated workflows to route documents to the correct reviewer or approver, to be approved electronically and routed to the next person. Everyone was required to use digital signatures.

The challenges were numerous. We had to upgrade technology at some field offices so their networks could operate at a sufficient speed. The use of digital signatures raised legal concerns, such as compliance with state and federal regulations. Giving stakeholders access to the document management software meant overcoming IT concerns about the government network firewall. We also had to get the process formally approved by FHWA's Michigan Office. And we had to develop and communicate standards for electronic document files and a consistent naming convention to everyone involved with the projects.

This open and transparent document management system has had significant benefits for project delivery.

Employees had to be trained on the new technology, so we developed a wiki site with instructions. Construction manuals were converted to e-books so they were more accessible and could be easily updated. Adding construction documentation was the logical next step in the paperless process, but it was only the beginning.

We began delivering contractual plans to contractors in a PDF format as they bid on projects electronically. The plans were supplemented by digital design data made available as part of digital Reference Information Documents (RID). The RID is posted pre-bid along with the electronically posted contractual plans. As part of a project to rebuild a portion of the I-96 freeway in the western suburbs of Detroit, contractors used this information to expedite their work, completing the US$150 million project in 167 days, compared to the original estimate of 261 days. Though the project also featured other innovations, the paperless aspect seems to have contributed to its speed.

And even better results are just around the corner. Now, contractors rely on two-dimensional PDF plans and other digital design data from the RID to recreate three-dimensional models for their machine guidance. These recreated 3-D models may vary significantly from the original design intent, which can cause delays or problems during construction. So we are working to provide fully developed 3-D models as part of the RID.

The Bottom Line

This open and transparent document management system has had significant benefits for project delivery. The software is available to external partners on MDOT projects free of charge, as MDOT chose to incur the cost of an enterprise software license. Users can access project documentation on their desktop or laptop computer through a locally installed version of the software, or they can view documents from remote locations on mobile devices through a web portal or dedicated iPad application.

In addition to those time savings, a detailed analysis of one of the pilot projects, a US$25 million interchange construction project, revealed that the savings from paper, printing, postage, envelopes, labels and other fixed overhead costs totaled over US$300,000. The project eliminated 170,000 pieces of paper and saved a staggering 150,000 days of mail time. Projected out to the entire MDOT construction program, this equates to about US$12 million per year in savings in measurable fixed-overhead costs for all stakeholders. It is expected to eliminate about 7 million sheets of paper annually for MDOT's US$1 billion construction program.

After the success of the pilot projects, MDOT began implementing e-construction across the entire construction program. Staff conducted training in every MDOT field office throughout the state, and statewide implementation began in the 2014 construction season. PM

img Kirk Steudle is the director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, Lansing, Michigan, USA.
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