While the ultimate goal of smart cities is to leverage information and communications technology to improve the lives of citizens and provide economic, social and environmental stability, there’s no shared roadmap to this destination. In his recent work, Leonidas G. Anthopoulos, associate professor in e-business at the University of Thessaly, notes that “depending on ICT and innovation performance, as well as on the local priorities, each city performs differently and appears with alternative smart city forms.”
Meanwhile, when it comes to getting smart cities off the ground, municipal processes are often very similar. Consider the need for building plans and permits. Cities face an operational bottleneck without an effective method in place to submit, review, modify and approve these documents.
What Is Electronic Plan Review Software?
According to Seth Axthelm, co-founder of ERP software provider ePermitHub, “Prior to digital initiatives, this was all done on paper. Cities asked people to provide multiple copies of permit applications and then gave these copies to different reviewers.”
Cities like Tampa, Fla., looked to solve this by allowing digital submissions of permit plans, “but they learned that going digital doesn’t necessarily solve all problems,” Axthelm says. “While small updates and plans are simple, a new hospital might have a really large set of plans, and the city might have hundreds of files uploaded on their end.
“Now, you have a version control issue. It’s hard to keep track of which set of plans is the most current and which set you should be looking at.”
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Whether paper or digital, the goal is to let reviewers complete their work in parallel rather than one after another. The problem? These approaches are only partially parallel. As more reviewers make more notes, versions become fragmented, complexity grows and the time to approval increases.
EPR software adds efficiency to the digital permit process by providing collaborative access and version control. All users with the right permissions can see and edit the same document, and changes to the document are saved concurrently, in turn creating a single source of truth for document review.
“Permit issuing is broken down into two phases. The first is getting approval for plans and the scope of work, and the second is the jurisdiction going out to ensure the approval work is done properly,” Axthelm says.
“EPR software is good for the first phase,” he says. “This includes evaluating plans, examining engineering reports and completing calculations. Any issues can then be clearly communicated back to applicants, such as code issues and how they should be addressed.”
How Does EPR Software Benefit Local Government Agencies?
For Tampa, which chose ePermitHub to help build out their ePlan room, EPR software integration offered two key benefits.
First was simplicity. “Tampa had been digital for three to four years when we started talking to them,” Axthelm says. “They were emailing the file out with tracked changes turned on, then they made edits and appended files. As a result, you could have five different copies and have to reconcile them into a master copy. Our Digital Plan Room turned this into a Microsoft Office 365 / Google Docs experience by removing complexity and automating the document management side of it.”
Speed was also a key benefit. To demonstrate authenticity, approved documents often contain a physical seal that represents the approval of an architect, engineer or other professional. By moving to a digital seal and signature model, these professionals could digitally approve plans, rather than taking the time to print, seal and mail them.