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Process Improvement

Building Permits in the Age of COVID-19: Issuing Doesn’t Have to be an Issue

Marie Buchholz

SAFEbuilt can help keep your building department permit operations running during the ups and downs of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly led to the exploration and implementation of alternative service delivery methods for municipal building departments across the country. While the utilization rates of many electronically based platforms for services like Electronic Plan Review (EPR) and Remote Virtual Remote Inspections (RVI) are rising, online platform adaption for permitting seems to be lagging behind–despite increasing demand.

Just last year, a popular article stated that the “process of permitting is increasingly moving online, spurred on by demands from citizens who want governments to adopt some of the simplified online interactions now common in the business world.”

Still, it can be difficult to know where to start or even where to look for help. For instance, San Jose, California is only able to issue “a fraction” of the building permits they were before the pandemic hit, even though demand remains as high as ever. Many municipalities across the country are navigating the same issue. One of the sticking points appears to be the move from a traditional in-person process into a process conducted solely through email, making it difficult for citizens to file a new application. And for those already in the process, it’s much more likely that their permit, or even the status of their permit, could be lost in the massive deluge of emails now facing reviewers at any given time.

While email is a great tool for communication, it isn’t necessarily the best tool for complex and nuanced permit processing. To begin bringing your permitting process online, it may help to think about the process itself and the paperwork therein. Are there inputs (forms) or outputs (reports) that can be processed electronically to keep your processes moving? Consult with your internal IT team for privacy and licensing concerns.

In addition, here are a few ideas to keep the permitting process moving virtually: 

    • Web forms: Leverage your website! Use quick form creation tools like JotFormiAuditorSmartsheet, and others to quickly and inexpensively create online forms to capture data and kick-start processes.
    • File transfer: Need to share files with your team or constituents? File-sharing services like BoxDropbox and OneDrive allow you to exchange files similar to using a shared network drive. You can email links and set alerts to keep track of activity.
    • Automation: Work smarter not harder with automation platforms like Power AutomateZapier, and Tray.io. Cloud-based automation allows you to create notifications, flows, automatic updates and data moves between your online tools. Most are free to try.
    • Workflow systems: If you aren’t using an online platform already, consider one of our building department workflow products, CommunityCore or Gov-Easy, to take your process fully electronic.

SAFEbuilt and our family of brands are here to help. Our community technology experts are available to answer your questions and share our experience with any of these technologies.  Email us at help@safebuilt.com to discuss solutions for the immediate challenges you face.

SAFEbuilt is a community development services company. We provide comprehensive building department, private provider, and other professional services with the goal of helping our customers build better, safer communities.

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