Departments & Divisions Involved: Building, Fire Marshal, Health, Planning & Zoning, Police Department, Public Works
Problem Addressed: Connecting inter-departmental workflows
Project Highlight: Improving workflows and increasing tax revenue through move to ePermitting
A year after beginning the transition from paper permitting to permitting software, Tim Smith, Fire Marshal in Orange, Connecticut, shares their experience.
Why did Orange start searching for permitting software?
We never had any sort of permitting software or a procedure in place for permitting departments to share information. It was difficult because a lot of the offices are geographically disconnected. So we decided to look at some different software solutions where we could tie the permit departments together. Where everyone knows when a permit has been applied for, and how we control when permits are being issued.
How did you decide ViewPoint Cloud was the right solution for you?
We formed a committee and met several times before we made the decision. We looked at different systems and finally settled on ViewPoint Cloud after getting an in-person demonstration. One of the most important features is that it’s cloud-based, there’s really nothing we have to do as far as infrastructure maintenance and backing up on our end. We really like that. Amongst the different permit departments—probably 10 different departments in town—we came to an agreement that this was what we wanted. We brought it to the Finance Board, Finance Director, and First Selectman, and explained our case. They supported us 100% and we moved forward with the product.
How was the implementation process?
We signed the contract in July 2015 and started setting up permits. It wasn’t a difficult implementation, and the support has been great. They really helped us get up and running as fast as we did. At the beginning I had some concerns about creating our own permits and workflows, but once we started working with the product we realized how simple it really was. Right off the bat we picked up on it here at the Fire Marshal’s Office, and then we worked with some of the other departments to get them on board.
It was probably December 2015 when we set the goal that all permits in the Fire Marshal’s Office were going to be done online. No more walk-ins. And we’ve pretty much stuck to that. We came up with a small instruction sheet for residents and contractors—how to use the system, how to sign up, log on, pay and so on. Usually this type of project hinges on the Building Department, but the Fire Marshal’s Office has more available resources, so we took the lead and they’ve been completely supportive.
Has ePermitting made the permitting process more efficient?
It’s much faster—much, much faster. For example, we issue permits for open burning, for bon fires. Before people would have to come down here and physically fill out a form, pay for their permit, and then they leave with a permit. Now they can do it online. And we can control it—if the fire danger is too high we just don’t approve those permits and we can explain to them why through the online system. If the fire danger is normal, they probably get their permit issued the same day through ViewPoint Cloud.
It also opened up our eyes to how we could consolidate our permits. We looked at all of our permits that needed to be updated, and ones that were completely obsolete. Some of them were eliminated and some combined into one. We really streamlined our whole permit process when implementing ViewPoint Cloud.
Another important aspect of the transition was the increase in information sharing across departments. A contractor or someone drops off a set of prints for a project, now we can attach those prints to the permit and we can all see them. When there’s revisions or change orders, we tell the contractors (either verbally or through the ViewPoint Cloud system) to reattach and resubmit the revised drawings so we can all see it. Then when it comes time to do a permit review or a plan review, the information we need is typically right there, it’s all part of the permit.
What has been the public response to the new permitting system?
The feedback from the residents and contractors has been very good. They like not having to make the extra trips. Before, if they wanted to get a commercial mechanical permit, for example, they had to come to the Fire Marshal’s Office, get a permit, then go to Town Hall and get a mechanical permit from the building department.
It’s gas and it’s time for them to do that. They probably had to take a couple hours out of their day to do that. A lot of people can’t do it because they work until 5 and our offices close at 4:30. So then they have to try to come down on their lunch break or on their day off.
With the online system, they can apply for these permits right from the comfort of their home or office. They can have their dinner at home and apply for their permits in the evening, and physically print the permit right at home. In the workflow, the building department can see when someone’s taken a permit from us, and once we approve it they can issue the plumbing, mechanical, or building permit. It eliminates a lot of steps for the contractors and residents. It makes their lives simpler.
What has been the response from Town employees across departments?
The feedback has been very positive. All the departments are in agreement that this is what we needed, that we should have done something like this years ago. It’s just everybody is more informed as to what’s going on with permits. Now, for instance, the tax office is involved in the permit approval process. If someone owes back taxes, they can’t get their building permit until they pay their back taxes. We’re seeing a big increase in revenue, especially outstanding revenue, because of that.
With the Fire Marshal’s Office, I’d like to say we’re now doing about 80% of our permits through ViewPoint Cloud. The Building Department, Health Department, Public Works, Planning and Zoning, and the Police Department are all doing a portion of their permits in ViewPoint Cloud as well. So we’re really picking up some pace with it.
We try to have a meeting at least once a month, a round table with all the permit departments. Who’s having issues with what, where does everyone stand with their permits. We’ll meet, put things up on the screen, walk through different things we’ve been doing. We bring in the accounting department for tracking our deposits. We’ve created a couple of custom ledger reports that they like for our monthly permit deposits.
Has anything surprised you about the experience so far?
The one thing that really does impress me, is that when we provide feedback to ViewPoint—making a suggestion for a change to be considered—it’s amazing how in 4-6 weeks there’s a new release and the change is there. They’ve really listened to the end users, what we want to see and the suggestions that we make, and they incorporate it into the product when they can. That’s very impressive to us.
What is your advice for local governments deciding whether to pursue online permitting?
Every municipality has the same challenges with permit departments and trying to tie everyone together, sharing records. Everyone has their own set of records, here, there, and there’s no commonality to it. We always struggled with that. You have to step up and make the commitment as a team to embrace the technology and use it to your advantage. You can’t be fearful of it, it’s there to make your jobs easier. And not only that, it makes the jobs easier for contractors and residents.
Town Halls and City Halls are trying to automate as much as possible, and this just helps that. It cuts down on what we call counter time. It’s not that we’re trying to eliminate face to face time, but when people come in standing in line waiting for permits, it cuts into your day. By taking that step to automation and having people apply from home, we are able to concentrate on our other work that has to get done.