Q: What initiated the electronic application process?
At its inception in 1980, the Designer Selection Board (DSB) was planned as the parent selection body for designers throughout the Commonwealth. Over the years, the DSB has drifted away from its initial prominence, and its forms, procedures and guidelines became outdated. In 2018, for example, applicants had to provide 16 paper copies each of outdated, 16-section applications that often ran into 50 or more pages – thousands of total pages for each project. Firms also had to provide a “master file brochure” that detailed its ownership and leadership, licensing, etc., and were often rejected if they did not provide this in a timely manner. All municipalities and agencies were supposed to use the same forms and procedures, but unfortunately, much of what was asked for was not used. A statewide solution was necessary and DSB was obligated to step up and provide it.
Q: What process did you go through to find Formverse (now Autocene)?
We published a request for proposals in COMMBUYS and received about a dozen responses. We initially had selected another firm with Commonwealth experience, but lacked confidence that their proposal accounted for a complete system. When we interviewed Formverse (now Autocene), the CEO committed to contracting for a complete system, and change orders would be limited to new features or significant changes.
Q: What were the long- and short-term goals for the Autocene application process?
Initially, we wanted to automate our operations by:
We executed a change order to improve on these items and to have all of our operations online, including our documents – essentially becoming a virtual office. We added additional reporting capabilities and direct links with our diversity certification organization, provided a place for agencies to offer comments on applications, and provided an easier public document request process.
Finally, we have added additional usability features for firms, like a one-page marketing piece we are calling the “Autocene Report,” and new ways to promote and report on diversity in design projects.
Q: What are some of the exciting features of Autocene?
Technically, the system combines and automates nearly 30 different processes, which our staff now manage remotely. These include:
Q: How do you envision other state agencies using Autocene?
We have already seen great interest from other agencies and even other states, though wider adoption will take time. There is an ongoing challenge throughout state and federal governments that larger organizations develop custom solutions, instead of working together on a standard, even though what we do is often the same. We have been actively soliciting input from several other agencies to develop features, intending for the resulting product to meet the needs of most. With Autocene’s ability to create different roles within the system, agencies themselves can decide what they have in common – firm information, evaluations, references, applications, etc., while protecting their unique “add-on” processes. Our hope is that the industry and agencies will help us make it a great system, and together we will push for widespread adoption.
Q: Can we expect to see additional phased rollouts of features? And if so, what are they?
Absolutely! We continue to receive great ideas and feedback from our stakeholders. Our contract with Autocene includes a set number of hours each month for tweaking and developing new ways to improve as we gain valuable suggestions. We have the Department of Housing and Community Development joining us as a full partner very shortly, and with that there will be new features and benefits for all users. In the coming months, we would like to make all of our documents available for search, which would be available to even non-user members of the public, streamlining and virtually eliminating the public records request process.
Q: What is the number one thing you want people to know about applying through Autocene?
The DSB strives to give the best customer service of any public agency in the state and we will work tirelessly to make sure you can put forth your best effort! We have streamlined the application process and reduced the amount of required information. This should minimize the number or unresponsive applications.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the ACEC Insights readership about Autocene or the state application process?
We raised the threshold for designer selection, and small projects with a design fee under $30,000 can be directly contracted with state and local agencies without going through designer selection.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Bill Perkins, PE, is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Designer Selection Board.
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