How CDOT transformed infrastructure planning with Adobe Sign and ProjectWise

Colorado Department of Transportation transforms digitizing project plan management

Photo of a highway in the mountains of Colorado. With the text Department of Transportation .

By Craig Peasley

Posted on 03-29-2021

The snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains tower over much of the state of Colorado, adding a beauty that captivates many people relocating to the fast-growing state. For the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the mountainous terrain isn’t just a magnificent backdrop to view and explore — it also represents a significant challenge to the state’s transportation infrastructure. CDOT aims to connect communities across the state with clean and safe transportation options, from expanding mountain passes leading to ski resorts and mountain towns, to expanding bus services that reach far-flung communities.

“Project plans for major construction projects can be massive, with thousands of pages,” says Tom Bovee, program manager for ProjectWise and Adobe Sign at CDOT. “We might be working with up to 400 plan sets at any time with a combined value of $1.4 billion annually in projects state-wide. That’s literally tons of paper to print, manage, and store. We needed to start moving our organization away from paper and started focusing on electronic methods of handling project plans and other types of paperwork which pass through our organization more efficiently.”

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CDOT began working with ProjectWise from Bentley Systems, Inc. — the solution of choice for over 40 state departments of transportation in the U.S. — to streamline design and digitize project plan management. But managing and storing documents was not the only challenge. Project plans also had to be sealed and approved.

Switching to fully digital document workflows, including e-signatures, had the potential to dramatically streamline the mechanical sealing process and save CDOT from having to print and store up to 100 pounds of paper per plan set. While there are many digital signature solutions on the market, CDOT found only one that met the organization’s strict requirements for ProjectWise integration, strong security, ISO-compliant storage formats, and the capacity to handle CDOT’s massive project plan files: Adobe Sign.

“We selected Adobe Sign because it could support files larger than 10MB, but it also had everything needed to support security, speed, and convenience throughout the project plan sealing process,” says Bovee. “Adobe Sign was a perfect match for what we needed in order to digitize our processes.”

Making the move to digital signatures

CDOT became the first department of transportation in the United States to use the Adobe Sign integration with ProjectWise. By using these two applications in combination with Adobe Acrobat DC, CDOT created a fully digital workflow that checked all the boxes for processing plan sets.

1. Works with large data sets

Even the smallest plan sets used at CDOT typically average around 25MB in size, with the largest reaching up to 2GB. Adobe Sign handles files up to 50MB — around five times the size of other electronic signature solutions. This means that CDOT can send smaller plan sets through Adobe Sign with no additional edits. For larger files, CDOT uses Adobe Acrobat tools to divide plan sets and then recombine signed documents into a single file in minutes.

2. Cuts time, costs, and labor with paperless workflows

With Adobe Sign for e-signatures, CDOT employees and external stakeholders in any part of Colorado can view, sign, or seal documents in minutes. Files are securely viewable online, so signers don’t need to worry about downloading massive files.

For CDOT, the benefits are even more impressive. CDOT no longer spends hours printing, organizing, and checking seals on hundreds of pages. Adobe Sign sends automated reminders that encourage stakeholders to sign faster, without engineers having to track down plan sets or call stakeholders. Between the faster sealing and faster administration, CDOT cut the time for sealing plans by 90%.

Switching to paperless workflows allowed CDOT to close its print shop, which had been costing the organization more than $1 million annually to operate and maintain. CDOT saved even more by eliminating shipping. Shipping plan sets was no easy task, as they could weight hundreds of pounds each. Plan sets would need to be loaded onto pallets and moved by forklift and freight truck — often multiple times to reach all stakeholders. This change saves CDOT $100,000 in annual freight, material, and labor costs.

3. Helps secure documents at every stage

Adobe Sign adds security throughout the sealing process, from sending to storing plan sets. Adobe Sign uses encryption to keep documents highly secure during transmission. The tracking tools provides much greater visibility into where the project plan is at any point and whether stakeholders have viewed or sealed it. Audit reports detail exactly who signed or sealed the document when, and how their identity was verified. This information is saved with the project plan to add confidence to the validity of each seal.

When project plans are fully sealed, they’re saved as ISO-compliant PDF files. While CDOT previously used Adobe Acrobat to scan and store documents, working with a fully digital workflows in Adobe Sign produces clean PDF files instantly. The stored PDFs are fully searchable, which means that even if a CDOT employee is trying to find one bridge in a 1,000-page plan set, they can find the exact reference that they’re looking for in seconds.

4. Integrates with ProjectWise

The Bentley Systems team used the rich Adobe Sign APIs to integrate Adobe Sign seamlessly into ProjectWise for an end-to-end digital process. “I had never worked with Adobe Sign, but Adobe APIs are so well-documented and easy to work with that it took no time to create an elaborate workflow that hands off documents seamlessly between ProjectWise and Adobe Sign,” says Dave Brumbaugh, director, consulting in the Project Delivery Unit at Bentley Systems.

The integration makes the sealing process incredibly fast and easy, particularly for files less than 50MB. Engineers simply right-click on the file to send it for signature. Signed files are pulled back into ProjectWise for secure storage.

“People at CDOT don’t even see Adobe Sign handling all of the signatures, tracking, and security behind the scenes,” says Bovee. “They just concentrate on their work in ProjectWise. It’s so convenient that we’ve expanded Adobe Sign to all documents that need signatures and approvals through ProjectWise. The integration helps us spend much more time thinking about projects and less time dealing with paperwork.”

Streamlining workflows by changing regulations

The push for a fully digital signing framework came at just the right time. Soon after CDOT mandated a switch away from mechanical stamps, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Colorado. The digital workflow with Adobe Sign, Adobe Acrobat DC, and ProjectWise meant that there were no delays in project planning. Construction projects could keep moving to maintain vital state infrastructure.

The pandemic served as an important example of why CDOT needed to actively incorporate technologies and find new ways to improve efficiencies. One area of friction with the digital workflow came from the sealing requirements themselves.

The Colorado State Board of Licensure for Architects, Professional Engineers, and Professional Land Surveyors mandated that engineers place a seal on every page of a plans where they were involved in design. A hydrology engineer would seal all pages that discuss water flows, while a bridge engineer would seal all pages where they laid out their design for a bridge. Every page required at least one seal, while some pages might need seals from multiple engineers. Before sending a plan set out for sealing through Adobe Sign, CDOT was spending up to three weeks navigating complex rules and thousands of plan pages to add the appropriate electronic seal and text fields.

Bovee knew there had to be a better way. He teamed up with an experienced CDOT attorney to argue for a more streamlined sealing process ahead of a planned board review of the existing sealing rules. CDOT introduced the Adobe and Bentley technologies and discussed how changes to the rules could make the organization even more efficient. CDOT successfully petitioned a change, creating a new model that Bovee hopes other states might follow. Under the new rules, engineers only need to seal “Cover Pages” of each project plan.

“The new rules will make a huge difference for engineers setting up these project plans,” says Bovee. “A process that might have taken up to three weeks to set up for eSealing will now only take between 15-30 minutes! Engineers have been incredibly excited to hear about the changes. It means they can spend more time engineering and keeping people moving through Colorado as efficiently and safely as possible.”

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