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Moving to Electronic Plan Submittal and Review: Three Things to Consider

Online banking? Check. Online shopping? You bet. Online permit application submittal? What? Actually, yes. As Americans are becoming more and more accustomed to performing everyday functions online, local governments are evolving and keeping up with the times. This online evolution is coming in the form of implementing modern enterprise applications with electronic workflow and a public-facing portal that allows residents to apply for permits, submit documentation, pay for, and collaborate with local government staff to perform a variety of processes.

One area of recent focus is the online submittal and routing of electronic planning and permit applications, and supporting plans and drawings. This effort is often driven by a desire to expand e-government offerings available to the public, while also realizing internal efficiencies through electronic workflow and simultaneous review, and a reduction in paper usage.

If you were to take a tour of most City or County Building, Planning, or Development Departments, in many instances you would see bins containing rolls of large (24”x36”) scale drawings that support planning (e.g., subdivision, rezoning, etc.) or permit (e.g., new family residential dwelling, accessory building, etc.) documents. With local government agencies receiving hundreds of paper applications each year, the internal driver for moving to an electronic submittal and review environment is evident. Additionally, when it is understood that the applicant develops these documents in a Computer Aided Design (CAD) system prior to printing, and are also required to submit applications in-person during business hours, the need for simplified online processes is even more pressing.

On the surface, moving to an electronic application submittal and review platform may appear pretty straightforward. However, like any major process and technology change there are several major considerations. Here are three that each agency should look at prior to starting an electronic application submittal and review project.

1. Change to Current Business Processes

Current processes related to application submittal, completeness review, routing to reviewers, consolidation of review comments, and return of comments and mark-ups to applicants are paper intensive.
  • Are current processes designed around paper submittals?
  • Will reviews be simultaneous or sequential? Should this change?
  • How will electronic copies be distributed to reviewers? How about third-party reviewers?
  • How will comments be consolidated and returned to the applicant?
  • Will plans be submitted online and/or in person via USB/CD?
2. Change to Current Policies

Current policies are most likely based on a paper plan set being received, routed, and archived. It is very likely that these policies will require updating with a change to electronic submittal and review.
  • Will plans be required to be submitted electronically? For some case types?
  • Will a hard copy plan set still be required?
  • How will final plans be archived?
  • Will an additional fee be charged to offset equipment and hardware costs?
  • Will the fee schedule incentivize electronic submittals?
  • Will staff be required to perform their mark-ups electronically?
3. Change to Technology Tools

Drafting tables, light tables, red pens, and rulers are common tools used to support a paper-based environment. Electronic submittal and review will require a different set of tools.
  • Does your current planning/permitting system have the tools to support an electronic workflow?
  • What software and hardware tools will staff use to complete their review?
  • Will all reviewers be required to complete their reviews electronically?
  • How will revised plans be provided to an applicant (e.g., portal, email, etc.)?
  • How will signatures and stamps be applied to electronic plans?
  • How will resubmittals and multiple versions of plans be managed?

Transitioning to an electronic plan submittal and review environment may seem overwhelming, but when done correctly the benefits can be significant. BerryDunn can assist with answering questions related to transitioning to an electronic plan submittal and review environment. Get more information on how BerryDunn can help your agency navigate this here.

 

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