How ePermitting Makes Building Departments More Efficient, Part 1

The purpose of ePermitting software is to help make government departments more efficient. That sounds well and nice, but there are so many products out there that claim to increase productivity and efficiency.  So what does ePermitting actually look like in practice? And what makes it worth the cost of transitioning to a new system and training employees?

Let’s take a look at one city building department’s journey from paper permitting to ePermitting with ViewPoint Cloud.

We’ll see how this process transformed the client’s systems through:

Part 1:

  • Form consolidation
  • Logical organization
  • Automated workflow
  • Automated data entry

Part 2:

  • Expedited payment
  • Intuitive customization
  • Dynamic reporting & analytics
  • Electronic permit issuance

It brought them from 1975 to 2016.  Let’s see how.

Form Consolidation

With paper permitting systems, most building departments have separate forms for overlapping areas (e.g. separate zoning and building permit forms like those shown below). Unless you’re an experienced applicant, it’s not immediately clear what forms are necessary for your project.

Example paper building permit form
Example client’s old paper building permit form

Now look at this section of the same city’s accompanying zoning permit application. It looks nothing like the building permit form, and much of the same information must be completed again.

Old paper-based zoning permit form
Example client’s old paper zoning permit form

ViewPoint Cloud makes it easy to consolidate forms using conditionals. Conditionals make certain parts of the application appear only when necessary, given the applicant’s particular project. In this case, a conditional allows for the building and zoning permit forms to be consolidated into one. The zoning section only appears when the applicant selects “new construction/addition” and not when they select “alteration/demolition,” as the latter does not require a zoning permit.

Building and zoning permit forms combined in ViewPoint Cloud
Building and zoning permit forms combined in ViewPoint Cloud

Form Consolidation means:

the applicant:

  • Doesn’t have to enter redundant information on multiple forms or visit multiple departments
  • Automatically knows what forms/sections are necessary for their project

building department officials are more efficient because they:

  • No longer have to check whether people have filled out the correct forms/sections or received the required approvals from other departments
  • Only see the necessary information for the project

Logical organization

Take a look at how the sections are organized in our example client’s paper building permit form. It’s a mess. New items have been added to the form according to where there was room. And the first thing you see after filling out your name and address is a checkbox for “tent(s)”—before you even know this is meant for someone applying for an event. The form had become so muddled and confusing that they added purple lines to better differentiate sections.

While someone who has filled out this form a dozen times might be able to quickly navigate through it’s labyrinth of boxes, it was not an intuitive process. Not to mention the headache for the intake person, responsible for cleaning up the mistakes of confused applicants.

Example client’s paper building permit form with disorganized sections

A key aspect of the implementation process is the logical organization of the department’s forms and workflows. Most of this happens while clients work with ViewPoint staff to create digital versions of their paper forms. It provides officials with the unique opportunity to restructure the organization of their forms and processes–often for the first time in many years.

In ViewPoint Cloud, the same form from above has been organized into logically ordered sections with a clean interface.

ViewPoint Cloud Building permit online form
ViewPoint Cloud’s logically organized building permit form with clean interface

Logical organization of forms means:

the applicant:

  • Can clearly differentiate form sections
  • Fills out the form more efficiently, completely, and accurately the first time around
  • Does not need to spend extra time asking department officials for clarification

building department officials are more efficient because they:

  • Spend less time answering questions of confused applicants
  • See the completed data in a logical order
  • Can redesign forms intuitively based on their experience working with applicants

Automated Workflow

One of the most inefficient parts of paper permitting is shuffling documents between different people and departments for approvals and inspections. Moving physical papers takes longer, is error-prone, makes collaboration more difficult, and leaves the applicant blind to their application status.

In ViewPoint Cloud, a submitted application launches a workflow and automatically follows your prescribed process. Instead of wading through purple lines and checkboxes to manually enter the data, you now see the completed form in a clean, organized workflow.

Customized ePermitting workflow in ViewPoint Cloud
Scrolling through different steps in the customized workflow

The workflow (the column on the left) can be adjusted for different application types, so the appropriate people are involved in the approval cycle. Workflows can also be adjusted on an as-needed basis (for example, a historical building might require an additional inspection), and users can automatically schedule inspections. At any stage in the process, employees can communicate directly with the applicant and with each other, quickly resolving errors or missing documents.

Automated workflows mean:

the applicant can:

  • Submit and upload all data and documents electronically
  • See the status of their application online anytime on any device
  • Communicate with government employees within the ePermitting system (avoiding calls, emails, and/or multiple trips to the permit office to check on the status of their application or resolve errors)

building department officials are more efficient because:

  • All information is automatically uploaded into their ePermitting system
  • Applications are automatically assigned to the appropriate person(s)
  • Applications launch an automated workflow designed for the particular form type or project
  • They can succinctly view the status of all processes and ensure nothing is overlooked
  • They can directly communicate with applicants and with each other through the ePermitting system
  • They can automatically schedule inspections

Automated data entry

The box below probably looks familiar to anyone who has completed a paper form for anything. It’s not so bad one, two, or maybe even five times, but paper permitting often requires applicants to rewrite basic information dozens of times, especially if the applicant has several projects.

Paper permit applicant information
Applicant information section of example client’s paper building permit form

Luckily, digital innovation saves us from having to complete mundane tasks repetitively. With ViewPoint Cloud, an applicant only needs to fill out their information one time for it to be saved in the system forever. From then on, all saved information will be filled in automatically.

Automated data entry in ViewPoint Cloud
Automated data entry in ViewPoint Cloud

Additionally, some ViewPoint Cloud users also integrate their ePermitting system with data tables for things like address, parcel, and owner information, or contractor licenses.

Here, the system has been integrated with a table of local contractors.  When the applicant selects the contractor working on their project, they can immediately see whether or not the contractor’s license is up to date. The form has been designed so that if the contractor’s license has expired the applicant is not allowed to proceed to the next page.

Automated contractor license check in ViewPoint Cloud
Automated contractor license check in ViewPoint Cloud

Automated data entry means:

the applicant:

  • Only needs to enter their personal information one time for all forms
  • Can easily look up stored information (e.g. addresses, contractors, etc.)
  • Reduces errors and typos
  • Immediately sees if their contractor has a valid license

building department officials are more efficient because:

  • Auto filled data entry means applicants’ data is more likely to be accurate
  • They no longer have to deal with messy or illegible read handwriting
  • Forms can be designed to only allow submission with valid information

For more on ePermitting

To see how this client finished their journey from paper to ePermitting with ViewPoint Cloud:

How ePermitting Makes Building Departments More Efficient Part 2

where we’ll cover:

  • Expedited payment
  • Intuitive customization
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Electronic permit issuance

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