From Regulators to Facilitators – A City’s Transformation
Office of Permitting Services makes customer focus its top priority
Throughout the last decade, the city of Orlando’s Office of Permitting Services has been steadily turning its focus from regulation to facilitation. Starting in July 1991, Orlando began integrating permit-related departments to gain effi ciencies across Permitting, Building, Planning and Development, Fire, Public Works, Occupational Licenses, and Finance. Over the years, the program has expanded to include Inspection Services Zoning,
Code Enforcement, Engineering, and Fire Plans Review
Led by Mayor Glenda Hood, Frank Billingsley, Director of Permitting Services, and a Customer Review Team made up of local development industry leaders, the improvements in permitting and related functions have encompassed everything from physical location to regulatory codes and databases. Accela’s Tidemark Advantage™ software, installed in May 2000, fi t the City’s goal for streamlined, centralized information services. Looking to the future, Orlando plans to extend permitting services to its citizens over the Internet using Tidemark eConnect™ software.
A major transformation took place in Permitting Services as Orlando worked through the ‘90s to coordinate departments and processes. A key challenge was fostering consensus from city leaders, staff, and customers. All aspects of city government were affected:
Culture. Once Orlando decided to change from regulator to facilitator, a change in the culture was needed. New objectives required close integration among previously autonomous departments so it was crucial that decisions be made with input from all parties.
Location. Orlando relocated employees and entire departments to the first floor of its new City Hall. Departments would have to adapt to a new space and new way of working together.
Process. Old processes in the City’s permitting services were time-consuming and disjointed. Each of the departments involved in permitting had its own offi ces, requirements, and systems. The new process would have to address the special needs of each group.
Technology. Orlando decided to move away from their home-grown, high maintenance system. Frank Usina, Orlando’s Technology Application Officer explained, “With the old system, it wasn’t that easy to connect with other systems like interactive voice response (IVR), Internet, document management, and other software.”
The Office of Permitting Services was also dealing with unprecedented growth in Orlando during the ‘90s. The staff had to accomplish an increased amount of daily work while devoting extra time and energy to re-engineer the way they did business.
The Mayor appointed a Customer Review Team made up of developers from the area who met and produced recommendations for improving Permitting Services. “They just rolled up their shirtsleeves and worked all through that hot summer,” said Billingsley,” and it turned out that our employee recommendations meshed with those of the advisory panel of developers.”
By February 1998, Orlando opened its new Office of Permitting Services. Designed to be a pleasing, professional facility resembling a bank lobby, the new office features artwork, music, and a bright neon “Welcome” sign over the front door. It inspired one customer to remark, “I didn’t even feel like I was working in a government agency.” Working together in new, customer-focused offices, multi-disciplinary teams coordinated specialties like geographic information systems (GIS), plan review, and inspections. In one instance, they created two multi-disciplinary Plan Review teams, each covering half the city, to minimize conflicting requirements and speed the process. “We’ve completely changed the way we process our work,” explained Billingsley.
The technology team began a search for software that would fit Orlando’s customer service goals while improving the flow of work through the office. Tidemark Solutions was selected by Orlando in October 1998. “We traveled to nearly a dozen cities in search of the best software,” said Billingsley. “Tidemark had what we were looking for in terms of integrating all the elements of permitting.”
Using Tidemark Advantage, Orlando consolidated data formerly stored in many places, making it easily accessible from one central database. Multi-discipline review teams were set up to coordinate reviews. “Our staff enjoy using the software,” said Billingsley. “With Tidemark, they know what their priorities are and which tasks and projects lie ahead.” He explained that Tidemark helps prevent things from falling through the cracks.
Billingsley listed some important benefits of the software:
Usina added that Tidemark is easy to use, accommodates many permit types in a consistent format, and connects to other software systems like M-Track, Selectron IVR, cashiering, and GIS systems because of its open architecture.
The Bottom Line
When asked if the transformation has lived up to expectations, Billingsley answered, “Yes. Three years ago, the Mayor’s office had a number of complaints every day about permitting. Now, not a week goes by without complimentary letters about the new process. Feedback has been very positive.” The average turnaround time for a Plan Review has been cut in half - from four weeks to two. Billingsley credits the results to a dedicated staff and Tidemark Advantage software. He looks forward to offering permitting services on-line in the future, “It’s not a question of whether we’ll do it – just when.”