For the past few years the Iowa DOT has worked to utilize technology to be smarter, simpler, and customer driven. “I think we’re moving in the right direction,” said Wes Musgrove, director of the Office of Contracts. “We’re working toward a paperless process for highway projects from the initial design phase all the way through construction,” said Musgrove.
A good portion of the process is already electronic. Before highway projects are built, plans are created electronically by Iowa DOT designers or by a consultant. Once completed, the plans are electronically submitted to the Office of Contracts, which prepares an electronic proposal for contractors to bid on and advertises the project online. While the bidding is restricted to approved contractors, all monthly project plans and proposals are published and available for anyone to view on the Office of Contracts’ website. The online bidding process for each advertised proposal happens through a separate secure website, where contractors log on, access bidding documents, and electronically submit bids.
Here’s where the process hits paper and slows down. Once the bids come in, the project is awarded to the low bidder, and contracts are printed and mailed to each contractor for a hand-written signature. Those paper documents are mailed back to the Iowa DOT and signed by Musgrove. The fully executed contracts are mailed to the contractor and the regional Iowa DOT office overseeing the work. “There is a lot of back and forth through the mail to get signatures,” said Musgrove. “This is the part of the process that we’re working to streamline by using electronic signatures.”
When the Iowa DOT began releasing plans to contractors to bid on projects, it was through the secure website developed by a company named Info Tech™. Musgrove said, “We are now working with Info Tech on the other piece of this process, presenting the winning bidder with all the documents electronically. As far as we know, Iowa is the only state working with Info Tech to go completely paperless. Other states have bits and pieces of a paperless process, but no one has fully completed an electronic process that includes the contract, performance bond, and insurance documents. We could very well be the first.”
Musgrove continued, “The contractors working with the Iowa DOT have been using secure, electronic bidding for more than 10 years. Contractors are used to this process and seem to embrace it. From those I’ve spoken with, they are very receptive and onboard with continuing to automate the whole process. They see the value and that it saves us all a lot of time. ”
Initially, the electronic process was only set up for bidding. It has been expanded and can now handle electronic contracts. To get the fully electronic process off the ground, Musgrove and his team started with four pilot projects last year that went paperless from the design process all the way through construction. “We learned a lot from the four initial projects.
Once the pilot projects were successfully completed, the next phase in the implementation process began with one contract per month designated as paperless. Musgrove said, “In this phase, we select a variety of types of projects to allow many types of contractors to be exposed to the paperless process. The Iowa DOT’s goal is to have a totally electronic process within one year, but there are some issues to overcome, both in the technology and in changing the way people think about the process. We’ve always been very paper-oriented, so this is a real culture change. This is a new process and we’re all learning a lot about how to make this work.”
Musgrove explained the goal of moving to an electronic process is to save time and money. He said, “Right now each contract includes a variety of documents that must be printed, manually compiled and mailed. We can accomplish this much quicker and more cost effectively with the electronic process.”
Like most processes, converting from paper to electronic files has impacts for many Iowa DOT offices and our contracting partners. Musgrove said, “We need to make sure everyone along the way understands and benefits from the process and that it works for them.”