VOICES In the Trenches
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.
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
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