Proactive Measures Reduce Bid Rejections
In an effort to enhance efficiency and reduce bid rejections, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) automatically distributes and tracks electronic notifications of changes to the technical documents exchanged during its bidding process.
By Ohio law, state government agencies must notify all plan holders (anyone who purchases a plan set and is defined by ODOT as a potential bidder) of any addenda.
A plan holder who did not receive or is unaware of any addenda will have its bid rejected. This may require ODOT to restart the bidding process.
“Bid rejections are incredibly disruptive and can set a project back by weeks, even months, whether it’s a small project or a multimillion dollar project,” says Tina Collins, IT Consultant, ODOT.
Though the possibility of a bid rejection is very unlikely, by taking proactive steps ODOT has further reduced the possibility. “This is just another aid to prevent a problem,” Collins says. “There are several steps we have in place in our process, and the automated, electronic notification system is just another safeguard against bid rejections.”
Upon release of an addendum, plan holders and ODOT personnel involved in the project automatically receive notification via e-mail.
Automated e-mail notification is one segment of ODOT’s multifunctional docQuest system.
“The [docQuest system] allows us to communicate changes more quickly and efficiently with our plan holders and guarantee they are receiving the addenda,” says Collins. “The value of this kind of control is immeasurable.”
The automatic change notification and activity reporting allows ODOT to monitor which plan holders have not viewed recent addenda. ODOT directly contacts plan holders who have not accessed the addenda.
“There is no reason to monitor it on a constant basis,” says Collins. “But when we do, we can verify whether a contractor has opened, printed, or downloaded a document.”
Because some of ODOT’s processes are still paper oriented, the implementation was designed to supplement and complement, rather than replace.
Many of ODOT’s project plans are 800 or 900 pages and contractors cannot realistically utilize those files online, plus the plans are needed out in the field.
The agency decided that if the addenda were under 10 pages, they may reasonably be either printed on 81/2-by 11-in. paper or viewed online. Much of the addenda exceeds the size requirement. By system design, any addendum over 10 pages is sent out in hard copy. Many of the revisions appear on 11- by 17-in. plan sheets, and many of ODOT’s customers do not have the ability to print that size.
“Plan sheet changes that are more than 10 pages are too cumbersome to view online on letter-size paper,” Collins says. “We are still trying to figure out a way to automate that part of the process.”
The contract division still sells a tremendous amount of hard-copy plans, both full size and quarter size (11 by 17 ins.), and some contractors still prefer hard-copy addendum. ODOT charges contractors a nominal fee for plans, ranging from $5 to $350. Plan pricing was not changed with the implementation of docQuest.
“We haven’t pulled the trigger completely on this paper process,” Collins adds, “but I think we will eventually cut the strings on the remainder of the addendum process.”
The docQuest system also functions as an archive of project plans, addenda, electronic bidding files, and proposals. Previously, the division had project documents available online, but most were scattered throughout the ODOT Web site. Now, the documents are located in a single, searchable place. If a contractor is looking for a specific project, he or she can type in the project number or county name to search and access all the related documents.
Four internal servers house the archive: two outside Web servers provide contractor access, one internal Web server imports all documents, and one server houses the database.
The document import process is partially automated. Addenda and corresponding attribute files are copied to a pulling directory, where the system automatically picks them up and loads them.
Because the division has not eliminated the hard-copy notification process, determining direct savings has not been possible. The division has stopped sending out its bidletting pamphlet, which has saved the agency about $150,000 per year in printing and postage costs. The division has also reduced the number of proposals that are printed.
The automation has resulted in a reduction of staff by one full-time person and the reassignment of half of another person’s day.
According to Mark Kelsey, Deputy Director, Division of Contract Administration, ODOT, “The time and dollar savings, in light of ever increasing budget constraints, are a tremendous deal for a state agency.”
The software was customized to allow the automatic creation and updating of document sets. As a result, ODOT users save time when maintaining the data sets. The agency also requested a plan holder interface and reporting customization to enable users to load plan holder lists into docQuest, providing the system with the list of individuals that would receive e-mail notification when ODOT issues an addendum.
“We are very pleased with the customer service provided by the software vendor,” says Kelsey, “and customization went better than we had anticipated.”
After the successful implementation of DigitalPaper automated, electronic notification software, created by Digital Paper Corp., Alexandria, VA, ODOT is considering adding the system to the Division of Purchasing. Before that happens, ODOT will have to redesign the organization of the program.
“There is a similar concept within the purchasing process, including an addenda process,” says Collins. “It is similar, but slightly different.”
Unlike ODOT’s contractors, many of the agency’s vendors’ processes are still manual in nature and paper oriented. The agency’s purchasing division recently began posting some documents online. “We’ll get there, but we’re not there yet,” she says.
According to Kelsey, “We are increasing the automation of our system on a regular basis.”
Kelsey adds, “Once we go to true electronic bidding, we will further automate the process.”
ODOT will begin an onlinebidding pilot program utilizing Bid Express this summer. The Expedite software will connect to Bid Express has been used by ODOT since 1996 and will not require much additional training for the bidders of ODOT.