South Carolina DOT cuts back paper

The procurement division of the South Carolina Transportation Department is rolling out a secure, electronic document management and workflow system statewide to track and speed up the delivery of goods and services and reduce the amount of paper.

In partnership with Metalogix, a North Carolina-based solutions provider, the department's information technology services division is implementing the system in essentially four phases, a project that began about 18 months ago. Currently officials at department’s headquarters have access to the system, but within four months or so procurement agents at the state’s 75 locations will have access through a secure Web portal.

A major component of the system is the workflow software, developed by Bellevue, Wash.-based Captaris. The software will eventually allow all procurement officials to view and monitor electronic order requisitions instantly -- instead of searching for paper files that sometimes took days -- as they go through the pipeline in almost real time, said Steve Collins, the department's IT manager.

The almost paperless system will also reduce redundancy and the amount of space needed to store records. "We do thousands and thousands of purchases that generate order requisitions, invoices, receipts, purchase orders, bid solicitation packages, correspondence, all kinds of documentation," Collins said. "They were being overwhelmed with the amount of paper. Stuff wasn’t getting processed in a timely manner."

He said the system has also dramatically reduced staff time spent by nine buyers, who must audit the 150 to 200 buyers statewide on a monthly basis to ensure proper procedures are being followed. Each of the nine buyers, who work at the state’s headquarters, used to spend about 12 to 14 days every month performing the audits, he said. Now, since documents can be accessed electronically, the nine buyers take two hours per month doing their audits.

“We went from 18 man weeks to 18 man hours a month,” Collins said. “That’s a huge savings.”

Steven Freund, Metalogix’s operations officer, said lag time to fill orders for goods and services is greatly shortened. In the paper-based system, it may take two or three days to start the process as documentation and other necessary material are mailed in to headquarters and routed to the appropriate person, he said.

The new electronic system allows officials to first fill out a paper document, which is then scanned into the system and automatically routed to the appropriate buyer based on the established business rules, eliminating two or three days, he added.

The workflow system will also alert management when an order has not been addressed within an appropriate timeframe. For example, an order might be delayed because a buyer might be on vacation.

“This gives the supervisor a chance to redirect that (order) to another buyer so that we don’t lose anything in the process,” Freund said. “It isn’t just making the workflow work correctly and making sure that people are doing it on time but it’s the ‘what if’ scenario. What if somebody’s not here? What if something’s wrong?”

When officials began planning the system the department was eyeing off-the-shelf software that would have cost more than $1 million, he said. His company suggested using Captaris’s product, which cost half that amount. The product was integrated with Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server collaboration software and existing Microsoft infrastructure including SQL Server database, FrontPage, and InfoPath.

Collins said there’s been some cultural resistance to the change but as people get educated and trained on the system, they will see benefits, especially time savings. Freund said they are also conducting an internal audit to ensure that the system’s users are properly trained and the business process has improved for them. He added they will showcase the technology to other state agencies.

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