How to Plan for an Integrated Permitting System that Fits the Needs of your Jurisdiction - Part 2

1 July 2016,

Selecting a permitting software system is a challenging task.

If you are convinced that you need to change to a new system, these steps can help.

How to Plan for an Integrated Permitting System that Fits the Needs of your Jurisdiction - Part 2

  1. Identify and talk with your shareholders
  2. Understand your department's, other interlinked department's, and the city’s needs
  3. Establish Goals
  4. Determine which systems in the market offers what you need
  5. Assess which system best integrates with other systems that you already have and want to keep
  6. Establish a time-frame for planning, implementation and use
  7. Determine the costs

The investments in an integrated e-permitting the system are significant. Therefore, it makes sense to take the time to fully understand your needs before you jump in. Each of the above steps is detailed below.

Identify and talk with your shareholders

In general, for most agencies, stakeholders come from the following groups:

Internal Stakeholders

  1. Elected Officials
  2. Department Personnel
  3. External Departments & Agencies

External Stakeholders

  1. Building Developers
  2. Building Contractors
  3. Business Community
  4. Citizens/ Neighborhood Groups
  5. Media

The following will help you prepare to get your stakeholder's buy-in to your e-permitting vision.

  1. Onboard your own department staff to be part of the vision so they can communicate the goals and benefits
  2. Conduct discussions with internal and external departments to discuss the need and benefits of better collaboration
  3. Hold industry forums, or seminars explaining your as-is and to-be states
  4. Conduct customer surveys to understand their complaints and needs
  5. Keep elected leaders involved and updated, especially with the needs of the business community and survey of citizens to get their early buy-in

Understand your department's, other interlinked department's, and the city’s needs

  1. Build detailed flowchart process models of your existing process. Edit these to define your to-be workflow.
  2. Develop change recommendations that respond to opportunities identified in the process maps.
  3. Analyze the results, looking carefully at a low value and/or high wait time tasks; also identifying constraints such as staff availability and ability to scale.
  4. Include measurements of work time, wait time, and overall performance. Ideally, you want to document your current measurements (if you have) and then define your ideal timeframes.
  5. What features and services will you need in the next decade or more? Distinguish between features that are desirable, but not critical.
  6. If you have technical staff on your rolls then determine how you can leverage them with training on the system to handle some of the ongoing maintenance and configuration needs [One of the remarkable things that we have noticed is that users have created over 3000 custom apps with the AMANDA Case Management System. This could be a possibility for you too]

What other departments and users do you need to examine for a consensus

Government departments work in tandem and ideally this collaboration is efficient because they rely on Shared Services rather than duplicating the effort. For example, the City of San Jose recently sought an that addressed 8 different operational areas and management functions:

  1. Planning and Zoning
  2. Building Permit-Plan Review and Inspection
  3. Code Enforcement Case Management
  4. Engineering Permits (i.e. grading, encroachment, subdivision mapping)
  5. Fire Prevention Plan Review and Inspection
  6. Special Events
  7. Customer Relationship Management
  8. Bi-Directional Interfaces with a variety of systems such as the City’s Geographical Information System.

Understanding the needs of other departments and important management functions is an important task in the planning phase. It is always a better idea to think of one system with all the information in one place. This makes it easier for everyone; one system to learn and one system to manage. This also helps you gain the support of other departments for the substantial investment. It helps you amortise the costs over multiple departments.

Establish Goals

Typical goals for such initiatives include:

  1. Enhance customer service by streamlining the permitting, plan review, inspection, and complaints management process
  2. Maximise business opportunity online
  3. Replace legacy systems that cannot be modified easily or enhanced to meet needs of the city/county and it's customers
  4. Create a virtual one-stop shop consisting of multiple review agencies
  5. Meet the increasing demands of customers to make the permitting process simpler to understand, more convenient to use, more efficient, and more predictable
  6. Enable the staff to be project oriented rather than process oriented
  7. Empower customers by providing access to building related information and the permit process via online and mobile channels
  8. Increase the flexibility of the city/county to respond to code, policy and process changes
  9. Eliminate duplicate data entry and storage in separate systems
  10. Provide greater flexibility to supervisors in redistributing the workload
  11. Increase code compliance and the structure safety– encourage citizens reluctant to obtain required permits and inspections because of the “hassle factor”
  12. Mobilize inspections by offering easy to use inspection apps to inspectors, across multiple devices

Determine which systems in the market offers what you need

An RFP process is the obvious route for most agencies, but having an understanding of the top solutions in the marketplace will help in your planning process.

  1. It is important that you assess the various solutions in the market based on the functionality that you need now, and in the future.
  2. Identify solutions that already have most of your essential features, right out of the box.
  3. Insist on a vendor who already has the experience providing your essential services.
  4. It is in your best interest to choose a vendor whose business model matches the needs of your local government. For e.g. if you need a solution that handles 100,000 permits per annum, then look for similar implementations by the vendor for similar sized local governments. Does the solution make online services an important part of their offering. Does the platform understand the need for mobile solutions and apps. Is the system closed or open to integration and other standards.
  5. Insist on demos and take advantage of the opportunity to see and interact with system demos. Determine that the system actually works the way you anticipate it to work.
  6. Judge vendors by the time they take to answer your questions and the detail with which they answer it.
  7. Seek multiple references to other local government users of vendor products and services.
    • Ask for at least 3 references from vendors of implementations which are comparable in size to your needs now and in the future
    • Speak directly with other local government users about their experiences with the vendor and the product, including cost, set-up and training, end user experience, public experience, product support, impact on inter-departmental communication, impact on communication with the public, and impact on their permitting process.

Determine which systems and vendors allow easy transitions to other systems

  1. Make sure that you can retain control of your data at all times
  2. Retain the ability to export all the data in the system in a usable and meaningful electronic format. This gives you the freedom to transition to a different software system if the need should arise. Is the data stored in a proprietary format or in a widely available commercial backend database?
  3. Seek a plan from vendors on your data migration and how they intend to present it with minimal disruptions to your users and citizens.

Assess which system best integrates with other systems that you already have and want to keep

  1. Make a list of all software currently used by the department. Determine which ones you wish to replace and which you wish to integrate with the new solution. Note that seamless integration with existing 3rd party software should be key criteria for vendor selection. As an example, the for the Integrated Permitting System asked for integration with GIS spatial data module, Alfresco ECMS, Financial Management System, PeopleSoft, Capital Project Management, Microsoft Office 365, Google Earth and Cisco Phone Messaging System.
  2. Map the various systems involved across all departments in your process flow. Be aware of manual checks that your staff does on other systems, that you might want to automate with integration. Having an accurate assessment of your integration needs helps you get accurate estimates from vendors.
  3. What kind is integration is supported by the system you want to keep? Ask your existing vendors if more modern interface features like webservices are supported.

Establish a time-frame for planning, implementation and use

You need to keep the following in mind:

  1. The investments in a new system are substantial and demand time for planning, preparation and implementation before use.
  2. Planning takes time.
  3. The selection process has to be rigorous.
  4. You need to factor the training needs of your staff.
  5. Your staff needs time to adapt to the new system.
  6. You need to support your users and your community with helpful information to optimally use the new system.
  7. Your current data needs to be cleaned and migrated. Does all the data needs migration?
  8. How many users will need training and system access?
  9. How long will it take to train the users on the new system?
  10. How will you manage training needs of new hires? How long does it take to before familiar with the system?
  11. Are there down time in your annual cycles which is ideal for a new system launch?

Determine the costs

  1. Request multiple or itemized product cost estimates from the vendors on your list.
    • Ask for one cost estimate based on a system that offers only your essential features
    • Ask for add-on estimates that includes your desired features
  2. Ask for opportunities where your staff can take on some additional responsibilities, to reduce costs.
  3. If you are looking for Cloud options, make sure you review the benefits and limitations of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS offerings.
  4. Choose a vendor that provides all the essential features and services and many of the desirable features for the most reasonable price. The lowest cost is not always in your best interest.

Planning for an e-permitting system in your jurisdiction is always an elaborate exercise. Done well, it ensures that you consider all the voices that need to be heard, all the features that you need, all the issues that need to be addressed, all the people whose buy-in you need, and have all the key questions that you need to answer before you jump into the implementation.

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