Smithfield, RI Transforms Building Office with Move From Paper to ePermitting
State: Rhode Island
Problem Addressed: Outdated paper processes and operations
Project Highlight: Self-serivce online permitting portal
A veteran staff member in Smithfield’s Building and Zoning Office, Teresa Graham was used to Monday mornings greeting her with tall stacks of paper, phones ringing off the hook, and lines of contractors and residents running out the door. As the office’s intake coordinator, Graham’s job was centered around helping these customers, reviewing their documents, and making sure they had all the information they needed to complete their paper applications.
That was before a new Chief Building Official recognized the outdated processes and ushered in an era of unprecedented technology for Smithfield’s Building and Zoning office—a move to online permitting and inspections operations.
With the goal of modernizing and streamlining operations, Smithfield launched their online permitting portal with ViewPoint Cloud in June 2017.
The public took to the new system immediately, emphasizing a clear demand for online services.
“The majority of contractors and applicants began using ViewPoint Cloud before we even announced it,” says Graham. “The day we went live people were able to complete applications with no assistance at all. We have a kiosk set up in the office for those who still need help, but I’ve only assisted people a handful of times.”
Self-Service Permitting Means a Quieter, More Efficient Building Office
For Graham, answering phones, filing paperwork, and helping people fill out paper applications has turned into checking her ViewPoint Cloud inbox. With a quick review she can accept or reject applications—notifying applicants of missing information or sending completed applications through automated workflows to route to the appropriate approvers.
“It’s amazing the difference since we’ve gone online. You used to come in on Monday morning and there’d be a line of contractors and private citizens waiting for us,” says Graham. “Now the phones are much quieter and we don’t get many visitors. Contractors in the community have had nothing but positive feedback. ”
These new efficiencies have freed her up to focus on helping the office run more smoothly. “Now I can spend time organizing or cross-training so I can take over duties on short notice. Those are things we never had time for before.”
The move to online permitting has also cut down on paperwork tremendously. “To this day, I’m still trying to clear my shelf and redo the filing in the back so we can get rid of all of this paper,” says Graham. “Our Building Officials are so happy to be getting rid of the clutter. It’s incredible the time we save looking something up on the computer versus having to dig around through boxes of paper and find it.”
Implementing ViewPoint Cloud
Change can be hard, and Graham was first skeptical of moving to an online system. However, an open mind, intuitive software, and support from ViewPoint’s implementation team led her to see that the benefits were well worth the temporary adjustment period.
“Our ViewPoint Project Manager, Liz, was truly amazing,” says Graham. “She was very thorough going over all aspects of the software and how to set it up. And we’re still finding new shortcuts, like speeding up multi-department reviews by giving administrators permission to skip workflow steps.”
Graham has also found the the visual layout of the software easy to use. “Each time an application goes through a different phase you see it on a visual progress bar, and the applicant gets an email notification,” she explains.
“This gives them an idea of how long it’ll be until they can print their permit at home, and cuts down significantly on status inquiry calls.”
Her Advice to Other Building Departments
“To other departments looking at new permitting software, I would say expect change to be a little difficult, but keep an open mind and the lightbulb will click,” advises Graham. “The worst case scenario is a quick email to the help desk to resolve any issue.”
Does she miss the paper?
“Now that I’ve become accustomed to it, I can’t believe I sat there and did things for hours and hours that could have been automated. It was like working by candlelight and now we have electricity.”