As more governments recognize the power of cloud-based software to drive efficiency and streamline workflows, citizens are also seeing the positive effects of modern technology used in the public sector. Processes and systems that once relied upon manual procedures and sluggish paperwork are now being simplified and centralized, thanks to cloud technology developed specifically for governments. One example of this is OpenGov’s Permitting and Licensing solution, ViewPoint Cloud, which has transformed the way public sector agencies route, approve and issue permits to constituents.
We sat down for a webinar with two government representatives who are seeing the benefits of OpenGov’s Permitting to hear their perspective on the current state of permitting in their departments, what it used to be, and where it is headed in the future. Hosted by Carl Anderson, Senior Municipal Relationship Manager with OpenGov, the webinar featured Bharat Gami, Chief Building Official with the City of Stamford, CT, and Dan Ralley, Assistant City Manager for the City of Upper Arlington, OH.
Gami and Ralley shared personal experiences from their respective cities, detailing the challenges of their permitting process before implementing OpenGov and how the Permitting solution has positively impacted their organization.
Both speakers related the pains of manual permitting procedures relying on hard-copy forms and outdated practices. This dependence upon manual processes was a running theme shared between Gami and Ralley’s testimonies. Consequently, Stamford and Upper Arlington suffered from drawbacks such as:
Inter-organizational data and information siloing
Procedures based on paper applications and sluggish technology
Office admins continually bogged down with phone calls from the general public requesting permit application status updates
Lack of visibility and communication between departments involved in the approval process
With all of these issues ailing the city’s permitting process, Gami and Ralley looked for a better way to alleviate these strains that caused headaches for both citizens and government workers alike.
A Clear Solution
In their quest to find a complete end-to-end permitting solution, Gami and Ralley agreed that all the road signs consistently pointed toward OpenGov’s cloud-based Permitting software. The solution’s approachable interface and ease-of-use were clear indicators that this would be an improvement over the old manual paper-based processes that plagued the cities.
After implementing OpenGov’s Permitting, Gami and Ralley recognized obvious process efficiencies spreading throughout their respective organizations. These efficiencies included:
Visibility into the permitting process that never existed before, from both the perspective of citizens and government departments.
Dramatic time savings
Consolidated, simple and user-friendly interface requiring limited (if any) training
Clean and straightforward permit form creation
This level of approachability allowed Stamford and Upper Arlington to take one step closer to bridging the gap between citizens and government.
For more information on how OpenGov’s Permitting solution can bring efficiencies and process improvements to your government, and to hear the full discussion above, view the on-demand webinar.
Whether in a small, rural town of 7,000 or a large, metropolitan city experiencing a boom in development and population growth, many city leaders are surprised to learn how deeply impactful permitting processes can be on a number of important initiatives.
But, after uncovering just how integral the permitting and licensing processes are to growth opportunities and fostering a sense of community, it’s no surprise that making a one-time upgrade to a cloud-based permitting solution like ViewPoint Cloud can pay big dividends across five critical areas.
1. Attract More Community Development Opportunities
The easier it is for contractors, business owners, and developers to quickly understand the permitting and licensing process in your community, the more likely they are to apply for them. The faster your team is then able to process and approve those applications, the more revenue and growth you have to invest back into your city.
2. Streamline Inspections
When homeowners or contractors are waiting on inspector approval before a project can proceed, every additional hour spent waiting could be costing money. Online scheduling features provide constituents with a sense of control over the process, while tools to help inspectors optimize their daily routes allow for maximum efficiency.
3. Increase Constituent Satisfaction
Because permitting requirements vary from application to application, many constituents find they have questions throughout the process. Online application portals guiding applicants through requirements can eliminate superfluous phone calls and cut down on the number of trips to city hall.
4. Environmental Sustainability
Online permitting requires no paper. Access to a 24/7 public application portal means constituents don’t have to get in their cars or use public transit to get to town hall, reducing emissions and city pollution.
5. Make Smarter Decisions for Community Policy
Many communities track how many permits are processed annually and how much revenue is generated from the corresponding fees charged to applicants. Unfortunately, too many communities still do this manually, or are unable to access this data because it’s too cumbersome to report on. ViewPoint Cloud’s reporting function automatically generates reports designed to answer your biggest permitting questions. More information gives leaders insight into successes and improvement opportunities to better shape public policy.
If your community is looking for a high-impact way to reduce constituents’ carbon footprint and paper consumption caused by frequent travel to local government offices, paperless permitting is the answer.
Thanks to technology, modern life is becoming increasingly efficient. Companies like ParkMobile provide apps for parking to help you avoid waiting in a queue (or worse, paying with actual coins). Shopping services like AmazonFresh will deliver household items to your door on a predetermined schedule. And now, ViewPoint Cloud has even improved local government services by bringing the entire permitting experience online with customizable automation software.
But as with any new technology, it’s crucial to understand how adoption comes into play. Technology can’t work unless people first understand it, and then utilize it. That’s why we’re sharing strategies from two different cities using technology help kiosks inside of city hall to increase constituent adoption of ViewPoint Cloud’s permitting automation technology.
What Is a Technology Help Kiosk?
A technology help kiosk can be a simple computer, laptop, or table designated solely for constituents to use online city services.
By design, kiosks are inexpensive and instructive, offering an astoundingly practical solution for time-strapped teams (which is to say, all teams in local government). They can be self-service, but more often are utilized as a way to guide customers through certain transactions or processes.
The concept isn’t new—they’ve been used in airports, grocery stores, and parking structures for decades. The application for providing access to new software to all constituents, however, is a genius example of how far dedicated public servants are willing to go to ensure everyone in their community has equal access to emerging technology.
Why Use of Kiosks is On the Rise in Local Government
For many communities considering bringing permitting processes online, one of the major hesitations in making the investment in ViewPoint Cloud is whether or not community members will understand how to use the public-facing storefronts to submit permit and license applications. Technology help kiosks offer the simplest path to adoption with two major benefits. First, they increase technology equity by assisting populations with limited access or comfort with technology. The City of Wooster, Ohio, for example, sits 50 miles south of Cleveland, just north of Holmes County, which contains “the second largest Amish community after Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” according to Tim Monea, Chief Building Official.
“There are a large number of Amish contractors using ViewPoint Cloud via the kiosk in our department lobby. Additionally, there are others who ask for assistance and want to use the kiosk,” Monea shares.
The Town of Bolton, Massachusetts, with a population size around 5,000, uses the kiosk similarly. “We offer our kiosk to any applicant who doesn’t have access to a computer, has travelled into Town Hall in pursuit of a permit, or is uncomfortable with technology,” explains Jenny Jacobsen, the Town’s Health and Permitting Assistant. “I can sit with applicants to help them get acclimated.”
Jacobsen is in charge of assisting community members with permit applications. She acts as the point-person for constituent questions for their specific project needs. Which brings us to the second major benefit of kiosks: they reduce staff time spent on troubleshooting, while increasing constituent satisfaction. “Constituent feedback has been very positive,” says Jacobsen. “The best part about our kiosk is that our door doesn’t become a dead end. You can still accomplish what you came in for in the first place.” Monea agrees that in Wooster, Ohio, “nearly all of our customers leave our lobby happy and appreciative of the personal assistance.”
“It is like training wheels. They’ll be riding on their own two wheels before they know it.”
Tips for Making the Most of Constituent Interactions at Kiosks
Before you rush off to implement a kiosk program, both Monea and Jacobsen shared a few pieces of sage advance to help ensure success.
Tip #1: Just because you have a kiosk, doesn’t mean constituent questions will stop.
Be sure to have a dedicated staff member who is comfortable with how the technology works and can patiently answer constituent questions and troubleshooting needs. In Wooster, OH, Monea attributes the success of the kiosk to having the right person in seat to walk constituents through the software and answer project-specific questions.
“The critical component is having someone assigned to assist customers who walk in and want to use the kiosk,” explains Monea. “We have an administrative assistant whose responsibility is assisting these customers with the kiosk, scanning submittal documents, as well as helping customers calling in with ViewPoint Cloud questions.”
“It’s not just the kiosk; it’s the person who is helping them use the kiosk to get their task completed. These two things go hand-in-glove.”
Tip #2: The goal of the kiosk should be to reduce usage over time, but don’t expect usage to stop completely.
The old managerial adage, “Make yourself obsolete,” applies here, meaning kiosks should empower individuals to utilize ViewPoint Cloud’s public-facing application portal on their own, once they become comfortable with the technology.
“While our in-person customers have dramatically declined, we have daily users on the lobby kiosk,” shares Monea. Jacobsen agrees. “While I hope it will enable everyone to become comfortable enough to apply from home, I remind them that they are always welcome to use the kiosk,” she affirms. “I have a few contractors who do come in regularly.”
Tip #3: Leverage kiosks to incentivize “going green” after making the commitment to fully digitize permitting.
Back in 2017, the City of Wooster, Ohio decided to eliminate all paper processes for permitting across their Building, Planning, and Zoning Departments. Today, they do not allow paper applications or construction documents to be accepted. “At the outset we were committed to putting all of our workflow processes in the cloud using ViewPoint,” explains Monea. This includes “all plan reviews, permitting and inspection questions, reports, and other related tasks.” Therefore, kiosks have been vital in making the leap to get all stakeholders on board.
While the Town of Bolton, Massachusetts hasn’t fully eliminated paper applications, they now assess a fee for permit applications where filers insist on using paper forms. “Use of the kiosk is free,” Jacobsen shares, which incentivizes individuals to utilize ViewPoint Cloud’s public-facing application portal instead to save some money.
The new adaptation of technology help kiosks is perhaps one of the best examples out there to highlight the spirit and character of local government leaders. You care deeply about your constituents and seeing the communities you share grow and thrive. Ultimately, you are there to help. And this strategy allows you to help all constituents—business owners, developers, entrepreneurs, and others—approach permitting, licensing, and code enforcement applications with cheer.
Ready to transition to digital permitting? Ask us how.