Processing permits: Best practices build better cities – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Processing permits: Best practices build better cities

Citizens may not always look forward to applying and paying for building permits, but the truth is that permits represent an essential means for local governments to protect their constituents and the community. However, the actual practice of managing a city or jurisdiction’s building permits can be a complex process.

Increasingly, because of the many challenges associated with tracking and managing all information associated with a building permit application, governments are turning to building permit management solutions to help improve operational efficiency by automating all processes for the application, review and approval of building permits and inspections to ensure that citizens are both protected and receive a consistent level of high quality service.

A recent example is the City of Waterloo, which rolled out an online building permitting solution. Their solution enables builders and contractors to apply for building permits for single-detached homes, make payments, check status updates and schedule and view building inspection results online in real-time. Previously, builders and contractors had to apply for permits by mailing in an application or visiting City Hall. This saves the city and citizens time while providing greater visibility and more control throughout the permitting process.

Best practices

To get the most from your building permit management solution building departments should use best practices where it makes sense. Consider the following:

Establish a one-stop permitting shop

Create a one-stop permitting environment where applicants can receive a building permit the same day they come into the office. When set up properly, a citizen can obtain a building permit in as little as 30 minutes. With a one-stop permitting approach, local governments simply set up an area with clearly demarcated locations for an applicant to start the building permit process, obtain critical up-front reviews, and move forward through additional requirements leading to the issuance of a building permit.

Enable online self-service

Having the ability to both apply and pay online, as well as track the progress of pending permit applications, is a big time saver for contractors, builders and individual homeowners. Another online service to consider is public search, providing the general public with access to information about permits to keep them informed of building activity in the area.

Optimize enforcement and inspections with data

Tracking key permit data and linkages to other program areas in order to identify problem areas will provide intelligence that can result in better enforcement. This way, inspections and enforcement can be targeted rather than simple annual or random inspections.

Use online requests for inspections

By enabling online requests for inspections, contractors, builders and individual homeowners will be able to request an inspection at their convenience, regardless of normal hours of operation for the local business. From a secure website, a user can look at available inspections and types required and determine what schedules can occur. This represents an efficiency opportunity for both the citizen as well as the local government agency.

Enable automated email notifications

Often overlooked but highly effective is the simple automation technique of email notification. Agencies should utilize automated email notification for plan reviews (to ensure timely reviews by agency staff) and to inform applicants when permits are ready to be issued.

Mobile inspections

By going mobile, your building inspectors can conduct inspections and submit their reports from their mobile device directly to your agency’s central building permit management system, all from the field. Inspectors can access the complete history of deficiencies, violations and complaints made against a property or person. Additionally, and in accordance to your agency’s policies, inspection reports can then be made immediately available online for public access.

Make staff training a priority

A great way to ensure agency staff provide a consistent level of high quality citizen service is to make staff training an ongoing priority. By training staff continually on customer service engagement and promoting a timely response to issues that arise, staff will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to handle a wide variety of customer service requests.

While the practice of managing a city or jurisdiction’s building permits and inspections process has several challenges, a building permit management solution can often help. And to get the most value from your solution, building departments should incorporate best practices. Doing so correctly will enable your agency to provide quick and convenient citizen service levels, process a higher level of permits (generating more revenue), and reduce costs through automation.

Hopefully, when citizens find that it takes less time to complete, submit, pay and ultimately receive their building permit, they might just argue less about paying the permit fee as they will clearly see the benefits of the service.

 

Timothy Carl is a strategic account director at Mississauga-based CSDC Systems, developer of the AMANDA product used by the City of Waterloo for their online building permitting solution (t.carl@csdcsystems.com).

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