Magazine Article | March 1, 2003

Don't Let Document Distribution Interfere With Your Plans

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By implementing a document management solution that supports Web access, the Texas Department of Transportation saved $1.7 million in 2001 and slashed overtime costs.

Integrated Solutions, March 2003

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that may well include the stack of documents handled by its transportation department. In 2002, for example, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) handled 1,400 highway construction and maintenance projects, in addition to projects for airports and other facilities. The General Services Division (GSD) of TxDOT maintains the preliminary documentation for the bidding processes as well as an archive for final as-built plans. Prior to adopting a digital document management solution, GSD's Plans Printing operation was producing as many as 26 copies of each project plan, 15 for use by TxDOT offices and the remaining for 3,000 qualified bidders, 5 reproduction companies, and other concerned parties.

Between 1997 and 2001, spending on Texas highway projects increased from $2 billion to $3 billion, and the labor and distribution costs associated with producing millions of documents each year were becoming prohibitive. The vast quantity of these documents was becoming difficult to store, and enlarging the facility wasn't an option, prompting a search for an EDMS (electronic document management system).

Oversee Phased Deployment In-House And Cut Costs
Originally produced in MicroStation, an engineering design platform from Bentley Systems Inc., the project plans are scanned using an Oce 9800 series MFP (multifunction peripheral) to create an unalterable TIFF (tagged image file format) 4 image. The MFP provides high-speed, large-format scanning and printing required by engineering applications. The images are indexed, stored in a repository, and retrieved using Alchemy Premium from Information Management Research, Inc. (IMR) (Denver).

Alchemy Premium is used in TxDOT's production environment on the LAN to create/maintain its databases. Alchemy Web is used to publish the databases on both the Internet site and the intranet site. Plans for projects put out to bid are online for two months prior to the bid. They remain online for an additional three months as a reference for subcontractors and suppliers. Alchemy supports searches based on key words, file types, the date a file was created, or other criteria.

GSD uses a number of indexing methods, including IMR's DataGrabber module. GSD runs a report on a mainframe system and downloads the report data from the mainframe to a PC. DataGrabber uses the downloaded information to index the folder profiles.

"We chose Alchemy because of price and implementation ease," says Sandy Nichols, systems analyst for GSD. "Because of budget and labor constraints, we had to phase in the project over several years. The software is competitively priced and offered enough functionality out of the box that we were able to oversee the project ourselves, so we didn't have to pay for a lot of expensive professional services." GSD began using Alchemy internally and creating CDs in 1999. The Internet site went live in August 2000, and statewide intranet access became available in June 2001.

Drive Down Distribution, Labor Costs With Web Access
According to its own calculations, TxDOT saved $1.7 million in 2001 by replacing the manual distribution process with online access. That savings is in addition to a decrease in overtime costs. "Working at the last minute was affecting our ability to get good bids. Now contractors have more time to prepare their bids, and we are seeing better bids as a result," says Nichols. TxDOT was also able to cancel a plan room services contract with Texas A&M which was costing the department about $75,000 annually. Not a bad payoff for an investment of just under $100,000 in software over a three-year period and an annual maintenance contract for $18,000.

Another goal of TxDOT's document management system was to improve service to its constituents, and that initiative seems to be successful as well. The Web site receives approximately 400 hits per day, and TxDOT has been able to increase the number of authorized reproduction companies from 5 to 20. "Potential bidders can view or download the plans in the Alchemy database application or go to an FTP [file transfer protocol] site to download a complete plan set," says Nichols. "If they want to purchase a PC and a printer, they can print or download at no charge instead of paying a reproduction company for plans for a project they might not even choose to bid on. This expands our responsiveness to the taxpayers, and if we can help contractors realize cost reductions, that is passed down to us in the bidding process. Some contractors were spending as much as $60,000 to $70,000 a year purchasing plans for TxDOT projects."

The Alchemy implementation has also allowed greater flexibility for employees in the field. "Self-reading CDs enabled us to move our archives from microfilm to CD media," comments Nichols. "When an agent takes that CD out in the field with a laptop, it provides the functionality of a database application in a stand-alone environment."