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New programs streamline approval process and contracts.
Courtesy AIA and NYC DOB

In a long overdue trend, two recent developments dealing with private contracts and city applications are streamlining paperwork for architects, contractors, building owners, and developers. At the convention in New Orleans, AIA Contract Documents unveiled their Next Generation Service that allows collaborators to fine tune contract documents on a digital cloud. In New York, the Department of Buildings announced a pilot program called “Get it Done. Together.” That program brought senior representatives from seven different city agencies under one roof, providing industry members and property owners with one stop shopping for project approvals.

The Next Generation Service allows users to tailor familiar AIA documents to suit project needs. “People are very comfortable with the text of AIA contract documents, because they know the language and understand the relationships in the documents from having used them,” said Ken Cobleigh, managing director and council for AIA Contract Documents. Cobleigh said the new service allows users to clearly track changes in the final version. “All they want to do is see how the document has been changed so they can understand how a particular party has shifted those relationships without having to read and reread manuscript documents.”

The innovation is in how the interested parties arrive at those changes. Instead of a flurry of emails between architect and owner, then owner and contractor, et cetera, the document author works on the document online through their browser. The author could be the architect, contractor, lawyer, or owner, depending on who in the delivery model starts the process. The author then sends an invite to all the parties involved with a set time period for them to review the document. Once online, the various parties face a Word document and can use track changes to alter it where they see fit, though they have limited access with a reduced set of functions. The author is able to monitor the document status online. Once everyone has finished putting in his or her notes, the author can close the session and finalize the document.

There are other bells and whistles. Once the project data (i.e. project names, addresses, etc.) is entered into one document, it can then be captured for transfer to other documents relating to the project. A clause library helps users build their own language and keep it consistent (this too can be transferred to other documents). The final document is a locked PDF that can be presented as a clean document with an addition/ deletion sheet presented at the end or shown complete with track changes. User trials will begin this fall, and the service is expected to be up and running by the first quarter of 2012.

Back in New York, the DOB meetings were not virtual but face-to-face. More than 850 letters were sent out to property owners whose projects faced disapproval by city plan examiners multiple times. For the month of May, instead of hop-scotching from one city agency building to the next, architects, owners, and engineers were able to sort through their various applications and plans with several city departments all at once and all in one designated place per borough. The DOB initiative brought together representatives from the Fire Department, Landmarks Preservation, DEP, DOT, City Planning, and the Department of Parks and Recreation. The ultimate goal was to approve as many projects as possible for the month.

Now with the pilot complete, the DOB is set to review the program. “We’re going to get everybody together to talk about what worked and what didn’t and decide how we can streamline our joint agency processes,” said DOB spokesperson Ryan Fitzgibbon. She added that the agency hopes to incorporate parts of the program into their day-to-day operations. A report on the findings will be out in 90 days.

Tom Stoelker