The state’s IT Division worked with each municipality to migrate to the new software because they have custom processes, fees and forms, says Sandy Furtado-Nardozza, the IT Division’s chief of staff.
Most municipalities previously standardized on one of two vendors’ permitting software. “We worked with both to develop data migration files that worked with the new vendor. This made the process simpler and less time- consuming,” Furtado-Nardozza says.
In most cases, permits need only a municipality’s or state’s sole approval. But some permits flow through both local and state government. If a municipality doesn’t have a building official or fire marshal, the state can approve the permit, for example.
“When you apply at the municipal level, you connect automatically to the state, and you can process your permits through both at the same time,” Tanner says.
Salt Lake City Cuts Down on Permitting Review Times
In Utah, Salt Lake City’s online permitting system cut the time it takes to review building permits by nearly half, from 114 days in 2015 to 59 days in 2017.
Salt Lake City turned to e-permitting because the previous paper-based system was not customer friendly and was often bogged down by a lack of coordination, says Orion Goff, the city’s building services director. Departments and divisions, including planning, building, public utilities, transportation, engineering and the fire department, took turns reviewing each application, but these reviews were not done simultaneously.
The city’s e-permitting system, a mix of cloud and in-house software, has changed all that. The city deployed the e-permitting system nearly a decade ago, but adds new features and other improvements every year. Today, about 90 percent of permit applications are submitted and reviewed electronically. If applicants do submit paper applications, the city digitizes them by scanning them into the database, Goff says.
The city, which issues about 13,000 permits a year, actually uses three software solutions for permits: a cloud-based document management system; commercial permitting software that enables electronic reviews and communication; and interactive voice recognition software that allows applicants to schedule inspections and check the status of their applications or inspections.
In the past, applicants submitted several sets of paper-based building plans that were farmed out to individual departments for review. Now, they submit one plan electronically, and through the software, required departments review the plans simultaneously. “We have a shared database where we track and issue all of our permits,” Goff says.
The city’s IT department also tied the permit software to the city’s financial system to accept online payments, producing more efficiencies, he adds.
Agencies Should Develop and Test E-Permitting Systems
Before adopting an e-permitting system, it’s critical for government agencies to document their full processes so the actual workflow can be designed and implemented in the software, Goff says.
Adams County in Colorado did just that. Before launching its E-Permit Center for building permits in January 2017, county officials spent a year developing and testing the system.
The county, which implemented a commercial permit application, first mapped out its business processes. The county then built the workflow for electronic permit review and added a public-facing portion for citizens, making sure it was user friendly.
The software runs on nine virtual servers in production and in test and development environments. The county has standardized on VMware virtualization software running on Cisco Systems and Dell servers. All the permit data is housed on a Microsoft SQL Server database, says Brian Dobbins, the county’s application development manager.