How the state overcame resistance as it moves toward fully digital ticketing.
By: Patricia Fitzgerald
Slow and steady wins the race. Janet Treadway and her team at the Ohio Department of Transportation may not have had the famous old fable in mind in 2016 when they made the decision to pull back on a particular tech innovation, rather than aggressively driving it forward. The project was e-ticketing—and this was a surprising start to a journey that has ultimately earned OhioDOT respect and accolades as a national champion for the digital documentation and data management system.
“We were working on [The Federal] Every Day Counts 3 [innovation program], on e-construction, and one of the areas we started to home in on was documentation for daily inspections. And that led to the materials tickets,” recounts Treadway, AASHTOWare Project business administrator and Electronic Project Delivery Management lead in the OhioDOT’s Division of Construction Management. “But we quickly realized that the industry was not ready, that contractors didn’t see its value and that it would take all of their buy-in to make e-ticketing work. We decided to put our efforts into other things at that time.”
The chief barrier, says Treadway, was that there was nothing “broken” with the existing system. Nor was federal law requiring something new. At its most fundamental, e-ticketing was simply a new delivery method—albeit one that offered amazing potential for yet-to-be-imagined benefits. But at that time, it didn’t seem to rise to the level of other demands on a supplier’s time and attention when it came to their primary responsibility: getting materials where they need to go.
In 2019, OhioDOT revisited e-ticketing, contemplating a pilot, before again concluding that the industry wasn’t ready. But the team persevered, adding it to the agenda of conferences planned for Spring 2020.
Then the COVID pandemic changed the landscape overnight, driving innovation across numerous industries. Initial makeshift solutions for ticket management (using trash pickers to exchange documents, taking photos of papers held to the window or placed on the ground) soon gave way to the embrace of the most pragmatic option: “People were already sending us photos of the documents via their smartphone, so it was just another step to point out, ‘If you just sent us the data digitally in the first place, we’d all benefit,’” says Treadway. “I remember speaking with several companies that had been initially resistant who were now saying, ‘I’m ready. We’ll adapt.’ It was refreshing.”
With e-ticketing now a part of Every Day Counts 6, OhioDOT was prepared to launch a pilot involving at least two projects at each of the state’s 12 districts in 2021.
“We set some strong and confident measures about where we wanted to be at the end of the year,” says Treadway. “We are going from research, to pilot, to implementation, to institutionalizing the technology.”
ODOT wanted the pilot phase to showcase the immediate benefits of e-ticketing, including efficiency of work flow, reduced waste of materials and reduced expenses for document storage. The agency also hoped to offer opportunities for analyzing and applying the collected data. Finally, Treadway’s team also wanted to identify barriers to its use, such as locations with connectivity issues or a general hesitancy about tech adoption among stakeholders.
“Some of these companies still have dot-matrix printers,” she notes.
Today, OhioDOT has 90 projects using e-ticketing. This is still a small fraction of the estimated 1,000 contracts it awards annually. But they’ve gained enough confidence to plan a statewide rollout of the technology for 2023, adding it to all contracts.
“Now, contractors are coming to us, saying they want to use e-ticketing on a project,” reports Treadway. “They might be using it on one site and want to use it on others, as well.” This is because stakeholders keep identifying new and unexpected returns, which Treadway’s team is in the process of documenting. “Contractors are seeing how it can also help with project management, planning for greater efficiency in the number of trucks, rollers and pavers needed and how to make the most of the time allotted for road closures.”
Treadway also credits the open-minded attitude of the state team toward adoption of e-ticketing and other technologies. “They really understand that, by innovating with technology, it’s an investment in making a human’s work better. When we were going through the e-construction push, we were able to demonstrate a wide array of benefits of bringing in mobile apps, such as reducing the time frame that someone is in a vehicle and reducing the number of field offices needed. Now that we’ve launched it, I’m eager to hear about other returns on investment, including non-monetary ones.”
Treadway recognizes that in the 2023 rollout, there will be some hand-holding required with mom-and-pop suppliers that may think e-ticketing is a phase that will go away. “We hope to get to everyone’s concerns before we institutionalize it, and there may be some exceptions. If someone says, ‘I can’t and here’s why,’” then that’s our opportunity at OhioDOT to help them fix the ‘can’t.’”