Online Permit Portals: The Smart City Hall

You’re an entrepreneur looking to open a food truck in your city. You vaguely recall where City Hall is, but haven’t interacted much with your local government. Your idea for a business spurs the first real introduction.

You go to the your city’s website in search of answers to these questions:

  • What do I need to do to legally operate my business?
  • How much will it cost me?
  • Where do I do it?

All of the sudden you’re swimming in state and local business licenses, Mobile Food Unit Permits, and—what is a Liquid Propane Gas Permit?

You head down to City Hall and grab a ticket to get in line—not to apply, but to ask the permit office employee a few dozen questions. And you wait.

The introduction to local government hasn’t gone so well.

Governments are recognizing the problems here, and they are figuring out how to make smarter city halls. Last week Los Angeles joined San Francisco and communities across the country in launching their online business portal. The website is full of resources for small businesses, including starter guides, descriptions of city departments, and step-by-step walkthroughs of the entire process.

Los Angeles Citizen Service Business Portal
It’s a beautiful website, rich with useful information.

But there’s still one problem.

For many of the permits and licenses you need as a small business owner, you cannot apply through the portal. For some, you can’t even apply online. For the food truck entrepreneur, this means additional weeks shuttling back and forth between different government offices before she can get off the ground.

Long Beach, CA, scheduled to launch an online business portal in October, has already considered this problem. Long Beach Innovation Team Director, John Keisler, explains in a GovTech article:

“One methodology would be to actually build an interface between a single login profile and the back end…permitting database. We’re not doing that, because…creating a nicer user interface on the front that helps people to navigate but then is connected with the database…— that would be another phase of development that would take a lot longer.”

So how can communities efficiently connect the front end and the back end? How can they create a user-friendly permitting experience for citizens that’s fully integrated with a data management system for governments?

Municipalities are struggling to find a cost-effective way to do this, because they either:

  1. Start with a user-friendly citizen portal and then try to build in a back end permitting software database
  2. Have older permitting software that requires proprietary code from vendors in order for them to connect it with a citizen-facing portal

The solution? Start with permitting software that already has both parts built in.

Permitting software that’s designed to have a citizen-facing portal means governments don’t need code or developers in order to build the website. All they need to do is curate the content so citizens like the food truck entrepreneur know exactly which permits and licenses she needs and how to apply for them.

ViewPoint Cloud’s permitting software does just that. Through a popular feature called Storefronts, the back-end permitting management system comes connected to a built-in front end interface.

With Storefronts, governments can quickly connect their ePermitting system with a public ecosystem of information guiding citizens to the services they need.

After launching ViewPoint Cloud in 30 days, Lomita, CA created their Storefront with an informative FAQ section to help direct new users.

City of Lomita, CA ViewPoint Cloud Storefront
Citizens enter the Storefront and can answer the questions:

  • What permits and licenses do I need?
  • How much will they cost me?

And instead of asking, “where do I do it?”, they are directed to apply online. Here, citizens create a single user profile that allows them to apply, manage, and pay for their permits and licenses across city departments.

Today, you can learn about and apply for almost anything online—from credit cards to high school applications. People expect a simple, digital way to get things done, and that means with local government too.

The result is positive for all parties. Effective digital services means happier citizens and more efficient government offices. It means the small business owner has a positive introduction to local government, and starts contributing to the local economy faster.

An integrated, user-friendly experience is the future of smart cities. And it’s already here.


Originally Published: September 23, 2016
Last Updated: February 21, 2019

ePermitting, Government Innovation, Government Technology, Product Features, ViewPoint Cloud

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