...change the industry. Some are creating PDF’s with an emphasis on high fidelity and gang processing, or using them with digital certification to automate processes. Such files, if accepted by all parties in a document-exchange, have the potential to eliminate the paper flow.
Nashville-based architect John TeSelle has bought into the concept. Annoyed by the tedium of finishing design projects with hours-long signing sessions at the reprographic shop, and intrigued by the potential of digital signatures, TeSelle looked for software to adapt the process to his drawings. “The immediate need that I was trying to solve with it was to digitally stamp and sign my drawings and then FTP them to my reprographer, who can print them out and send them where they are supposed to go,” says TeSelle. “The way it was...it was a big waste of time.”
|Digital Seals. Providing a missing link?|
TeSelle needed something that not only would behave as a digital lock and key, but also would have the graphic features demanded by the state licensing boards. Not finding what he needed, he created it. TeSelle started LineType Software in 2002 to market Banjo, a $99 digital signature plug-in for Adobe Acrobat that lets architects and engineers affix digitally signed seals with the look and feel of the old thing, and the functionality of the new. Recipients can verify the signatures with the free PDF viewer, Adobe Reader, with a free Banjo Viewer plug-in installed.
Many design software products have digital signature features, says TeSelle, “but what they don’t allow you to do is customize exactly the way that signature and seal is going to look.”
Jason Kilgore, a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based structural engineer calls Banjo “an excellent idea, especially since I live 700 miles from most of my projects. I have emailed PDFs directly to the reprographic companies and they plotted them and sent them to the contractors. I apply my signature with a little disclaimer: ‘This document has been digitally signed by Jason W. Kilgore in accordance with....’ Hopefully somebody in a city government who may have never heard of electronic signatures will see it and say, ‘Oh, I suppose it’s OK.’”
Kilgore says he hopes, someday, to see code officials routinely accepting and approving digitally signed and sealed design documents, as a handful of jurisdictions already do. But for some construction companies, leveraging the power of digital authentication already has begun.
Pepper Construction, Chicago; R.D. Olson Construction, Irvine, Calif.; and about 40 other contractors are in various stages of testing or implementing a new service called Textura, from Textura LLC, Lake Bluff, Ill., that automates construction payment management.
“R.D. Olson is a general contractor licensed in 28 states. Each state has its own requirements when it comes to lien releases and what owners want in contracts,” says Jackie Buck, Olson’s executive vice president for finance and administration and a recent national past president of the Construction Financial Management Association, Princeton, N.J. “Some want different affidavits that you sign, [and] every customer requires a general contractor to provide certain documents that they feel they need to protect them,” she says.
The traditional invoice-authorization, submission, approval, lien-releasing, check-splitting, check-cutting, check signing, payment system can be a mind-numbingly manual, complex, Byzantine process. There are opportunities show-stopping errors and Textura wants to change that. “It’s charming,” says Buck. “When they showed it to us, we were sitting there with our mouths open saying, ‘Why didn’t we think of this?’”
Textura moves the entire process to an audited, self-checking browser and e-mail-based system that circulates all of the documents between the owner, general contractor, subcontractors, suppliers and banks. It gathers digital signatures and even notarizations and automatically transfers funds for payment. It costs nothing to set up and handles transactions for a flat fee—$5 for amounts up to $2,000 and topping out at $50 per $100,000. “I see Textura becoming an industry standard. How can it not?” says Buck.
Dan Cahill, a former Pepper project manager who joined Textura last October states the company’s future simply: “We want to be the ATM network for the construction industry.”