Accelerating digital project delivery


Aerial view of highway and Philadelphia skyline

Paving new roads for PennDOT’s digital transformation

Each year, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has 600-800 projects under construction with two to three times that in the design phase and an annual budget of more than $2 billion. Their digital transformation first began 20 years ago with an electronic bidding system.

Since then, the organization has continued to grow its adoption of digital tools and solutions with a focus on digital project delivery. PennDOT is taking innovative and industry-leading next steps as digital project delivery becomes an intrinsic way of working by connecting all stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle. By using a cloud-based, connected, common data environment, they will enhance cross-department efficiency with the ability to remotely collaborate with stakeholders from different locations.

Looking closely at digital project delivery

Yellow bridge in Pittsburgh

Kelly M. Barber, Division Chief for the Engineering Automation and Services Division at PennDOT, isn’t a stranger to change. In Barber’s 20 years working at PennDOT, she’s witnessed first-hand how the industry continues to adopt new technologies and digital approaches. After holding roles as a project development engineer and managing the Project Schedule, Specifications, and Constructability Section, she now manages a team of 25 employees, overseeing photogrammetry and surveys, CAD support, engineering automation, and design and construction services for highways and bridges.

As Barber sees it, digital project delivery (DPD) is critical to PennDOT’s current and future success, and her team is leading the design and implementation of the department’s digital transformation. PennDOT’s goal is to ensure all stakeholders can stay connected throughout the project lifecycle. PennDOT will be utilizing the Autodesk Construction Cloud as the digital backbone to facilitate a connected common data environment.

That means removing the silos to foster more interaction, collaboration, and communication—all while gathering and collecting data for current and future projects. PennDOT is already well underway with new DPD initiatives to connect teams, streamline processes, eliminate paper, and go mobile.

“If we can make those administrative details less onerous for the department and our industry partners, we can have time to focus on what we really need to do with design and what’s going on in the field,” Barber says. “Visualization is very important so everyone can communicate better, whether it’s sharing plans with the public or specific work with contractors and using augmented reality. We can even make work safer on site, such as e-ticketing where inspection staff don’t need to walk up to trucks for tickets because it’s right there on the iPad.”

"Digital project delivery brings together communication, visualization, and safety. These are key components for our industry to innovate and go digital."

—Kelly M. Barber, Division Chief, Engineering Automation and Services Division, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Adapting to change

Roundabout in Pennsylvania surrounded by farmland

According to Barber, the transportation industry is constantly evolving—and any DOT needs to think about how the organization can improve with digital solutions and emerging technologies. Of course, this is sometimes easier said than done. Mistakes happen, but she believes embracing and learning from them does provide a reward. She also finds that good training and communication help with those who are resistant to change and adopting DPD.

PennDOT is constantly looking for new ways that DPD can help teams work more effectively on projects through its ability to streamline processes. Traditionally, the process has heavily relied on paper documentation. However, a digital transformation eliminates mundane administrative tasks, allowing focus on core work and problem solving—not the paperwork.

For example, the department created a mobile development team that has released 10 mobile applications to streamline the former paper process. These include everything from a project site assessment app - “inspector’s daily diary”, to e-ticketing and MCDOCs, which provides all contractual information to the inspection staff, such as special provisions and link to Publication 408 PennDOT Specifications and plan sheets. The Concrete App documents the testing results from the material delivered on site.

Barber likens these new changes to the experience 20 years ago when PennDOT first debuted the Engineering and Construction Management System (ECMS) and everything was still paper bids. “There was probably some consternation at the beginning of that and thinking, ‘What are you doing? How can you guarantee a bid’s going to show up electronically and by the deadline?’” she says. “ECMS has been recognized as a best practice and is the Department’s solution for consultant agreements and highway construction contracts.”

"The long-term vision for our digital project delivery is to remove the silos, bring everything together into one area, and start incorporating GIS. We want all stakeholders to have this accessibility—whether it’s involving the public to be part of the conversation and understand a project, our stakeholders, or a highway engineer working on a design."

—Kelly M. Barber, Division Chief, Engineering Automation and Services Division, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Taking the next steps with Project Delivery Collaboration Center

Graphic of data and technology for PennDOT
Courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Each year, PennDOT has 600-800 projects under construction with two to three times that in the design phase. With a multitude of projects happening concurrently, it’s a rich opportunity for automation, streamlining processes, and saving resources. PennDOT is now taking those next steps with its Project Delivery Collaboration Center (PDCC) that emphasizes design, transparency, and accuracy to maximize efficiency and save resources throughout the project.

The PDCC will provide the backbone for connecting PennDOT’s legacy systems, future systems, and project collaboration. As Barber puts it, the PDCC is “a one-stop shop for project file management, workflow, schedule oversight, project health, and more to put design, construction, and operations all in the same data environment.” To make the PDCC a reality, PennDOT is using the Autodesk Construction Cloud, including Autodesk Docs and Autodesk Build.

“The benefits of the PDCC are increased communication between the design team members, our partners, federal highways, and our executive staff,” Barber says. “We plan to leverage consistency across our districts and central office with standard submittals and file naming conventions as well as streamlining our processes by having those electronic workflows and reviews.”

“No more paper. No more email trail trying to figure out if things got lost in someone's inbox,” she continues. “It’s a system that's going to hold all of us accountable because we will know who has the document, who's reviewing it, and how long it's taken them to review it.”

"By adopting digital project delivery, the savings in time alone has been exponential by automating our workflows, especially from paper to digital."

—Kelly M. Barber, P.E., Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Materials Engineering Automation and Services Division, PA Department of Transportation

Getting started with PDCC

For the first PDCC pilot project, PennDOT is starting with a huge challenge it faces regarding email correspondences, review markups, comments, and tracking all of it in Excel. Now, everything will be accessible in one location. In this initial phase, each of the 11 Engineering District offices can start with one project. From there, PennDOT will roll out additional phases to tie in a scheduling tool, forms, and GIS.

“We have to take these baby steps to get where we need to be,” Barber says. “By ensuring our first phase is working, we can move confidently ahead to the next stages. Our project managers can’t wait for us to get started. They can already see how much time it will save and remove duplicated work. Everything is accessible and right at their fingertips.”

Looking ahead

Screenshot of highway in software
Courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

As PennDOT begins these new pilot projects with PDCC and continues innovating new DPD practices, they are seeing the success of streamlining processes that ultimately save time and money. Overall, everyone’s lives could get a little easier—all while the project becomes much more accurate.

As the department continues to innovate new applications, they are also looking to future opportunities with DPD. This includes a long-term vision to integrate GIS data into models and have it available at their fingertips. “We as department are very excited about all the opportunities that technology is bringing to our industry today—and we can't wait to see what it's going to bring for the future,” Barber says.