The past 12 months have been especially trying for many of us, and I can’t imagine many would remember a turn of events with as much impact on our home and work lives as this pandemic. With shelter-in-place mandates across many parts of the country, but the need to continue providing citizens services, state and local agencies have consistently mentioned resiliency and agility as key takeaways from this experience.
The notion of resiliency and agility, or being able to maintain high degrees of customer service in the face of unexpected regulatory and external forces, is linked with an agency’s digital transformation. We have customers who were further in their transformations to getting more services online and have heard “we didn’t skip a beat” from many of them. That is resiliency and agility in practice. They were able to accept online applications for licenses and permits, calculate and process payments, utilize electronic plan reviews, conduct virtual inspections, and issue licenses or permits all while their employees were working from home.
Those customers who were not as far along in their digital transformations had a much tougher time. They had to take various functions performed manually, with paper, or in an office, and quickly come up with ways to keep operating when their teams were told to work from home. We heard painful stories about workarounds and stumbles in the beginning. There were stories of agencies putting containers in front of their offices so citizens could drop off documents and plans, and then have to quarantine the paper documents for several days before they would even touch them. These agencies were less resilient and agile in the face of a rapid and unexpected situation, which resulted in lower operating efficiency, higher costs, and dramatic reductions in service levels.
Accela’s Spring 2021 Release
The impact of the past year has greatly influenced our first major release of 2021, the Spring release. This release, and the product roadmap which includes future releases, are a direct reflection of what we hear from our customers.
In this release, our focus is resiliency, usability, agility, and doing all we can to help agencies quickly progress along their journeys to fully digital service delivery, with increased levels of customer satisfaction in the process.
Our Spring 2021 Release includes the following:
- Updates to the Civic Platform for V21.1
- Improvements in Accela Mobile for field workers
- New features for reporting and analytics
- Updates to our pre-configured Civic Applications, including:
• Environmental Health v3
• Occupational Licensing v2
• Service Request Management v2
• Fire Prevention v2
Let’s take a closer look at the Spring Release.
Civic Platform V21.1
We’ve enhanced the platform to improve user efficiency and productivity. This includes:
- Record type administration which includes “quick filters” to help admins more quickly create new record types and modifying existing ones. The result is increased agility and ability to extend and expand usage of the system more quickly.
- Base Map Services enabling the uploading and selection of a variety of map styles and views, from ESRI and other map providers. This ensures agency employees can be more productive with new more insightful views into an agency’s geospatial data.
- Protected Records to omit sensitive information to make it easier to ensure the safety, security of the information held in records, and to meet compliance laws in states that have them.
- Stronger Password Rules so that Accela administrators have new options with password security, including enforcement of lowercase characters, longer password length, and the restriction of password reuse for up to 25 password cycles.
- Support for EMV Chip Readers through our strategic relationship with Forte, a leader in payment processing technologies. This release expands our capabilities to utilize EMV chip readers, which makes Accela the only vendor in our space with EMV chip reader integrations to help agencies achieve fully digital, and highly secure transactions with citizens.
Analytics and Reporting
Our customers are consistently looking for new ways to extract insights from all the data they produce in processing permits and licenses. The Spring 2021 Release provides new capabilities with our analytics product called Accela Insights. This is a no-charge option for our SaaS customers, based on Microsoft’s PowerBI™.
- PDF Report Rendering built into Accela Insights to make it easier for users to review and consume data.
- Time Intelligence Table allowing users to more easily use calendaring to visualize more comprehensive trend analysis with the same, simple drag and drop functionality available in Accela Insights.
- Support for SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) 2019 to ensure our customers can utilize this current reporting technology from Microsoft if they choose.
For Accela Mobile, we have increased the configurability for individual field workers, and introduced a new texting capability to allow them to communicate more easily from the field.
- Personalized Job Lists to enable the creation of personalized checklists in Accela Mobile. This creates a unique user experience across the various roles, functions, and preferences of inspectors, work crews, and code enforcement personnel. Fields and options are displayed based on the record type accessed or referenced, providing a simpler and more concise user experience.
- Automated Alerts via SMS allowing alerts and communications via SMS, or Standard Messaging Service from within the Accela Mobile interface. This allows field workers to communicate with third parties using one-click texting of “on my way” messages or custom messages using the texting app on their phone. Being able to message from within their Accela user interface, using existing contact information means less time, distraction, and fumbling trying to update or notify on-site contacts.
Accela’s Civic Applications
Accela’s Civic Applications are the pre-configured and pre-tested solutions for a wide variety of agency needs built on the foundation of the Civic Platform. This includes a number of permitting, licensing, and code enforcement functions in the areas of building and planning, ABC, cannabis regulation, business licensing, occupational licensing, fire prevention, and environmental health.
Because Civic Applications are pre-built, tested, and tuned, they shorten the time and cost for solution deployment, improving the agility agencies have when deploying new solutions or extending existing ones. They also include the best practices of our 20+ years of focus in these areas and can be configured to meet the unique needs of agencies large or small.
For the Spring 2021 release, we have also updated the following Civic Applications:
- Environmental Health v3 adds new record and report types and includes functionality to address the needs of our Decade customer base as they consider migration to the Civic Application for Environmental Health.
- Occupational Licensing v2 includes more pre-configured occupations including more medical, real estate, cosmetology, and education job functions. This solution now totals 48 record types.
- Service Request Management v2 now provides the option of the “Extended” version, with the rich process–automation power of the Civic Platform. Now our system can not only engage citizens better on the front end but also provides deeper process automation and work management functionality as well.
- Fire Prevention v2 also includes the Extended version of this solution, adding more functionality for solution customization, integrations across systems, and capabilities designed to support larger, more complex fire prevention programs.
SaaS: A Key Part of Resiliency and Agility
Our strategic relationship with Microsoft includes using Azure for our SaaS solution delivery. SaaS deployment means our agency customers never have to worry about resiliency, as the Accela applications are always just a URL away. Also, with SaaS, if a solution has to be modified or new solution spun up to meet an immediate need, agencies don’t have to worry about configuring and funding the needed infrastructure, security, capacity, scalability, and more with their own datacenters. They just need to worry about configuring their Accela solution to meet the need and it just works, increasing the agility of those agencies.
The Civic Applications also help meet new requirements as they are pre-configured and can be deployed quickly. As an example, when COVID first hit, our Product Organization was able to take our Civic Application reference model and configure it for an entirely new set of COVID Response Solutions. These solutions could be implemented in as little as 72 hours for existing customers with a live Accela implementation to as little as two weeks for brand-new customers. Now that’s agility.
Fortunately, it looks like there might be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Perhaps a bit of silver lining in this situation is agencies had to take a closer look at how citizen services are being delivered, knowing that resiliency and agility means putting more functions online. And the byproduct of these digital transformations is very often seen in increased efficiency, reduced costs of operations, improved employee morale, and more effectively meeting the needs and expectations of citizens.
When things are back to ‘normal’, those agencies that pushed forward in their journeys will be in a better position the next time an external event which might drive the need for a rapid and significant change in agency operations comes along. And Accela has worked hard to ensure the Spring 2021 Release makes those digital journeys just that much easier.