San Antonio, Texas, known for its vibrant culture, rich history, and rapid growth, is also making waves in the realm of civic innovation. The seventh-largest city in the United States, with a population of over one and a half million, is continuously evolving to meet the demands of its residents and businesses with major projects like a new airport terminal and the Civic Park at Hemisfair. A key enabler of this transformation has been the partnership between the City of San Antonio and Accela.
At Accelarate 2023 in National Harbor, Maryland we sat down with Michael Shannon, the Director of the City of San Antonio’s Development Services Department, to discuss the remarkable journey of modernization and progress that the city has undertaken, thanks to the Accela platform.
Modernizing Michael’s Department
Before Accela, the permitting process in San Antonio was heavily reliant on paperwork. Applicants, whether for large commercial projects or small home additions, had to submit physical plans during business hours, leading to a cumbersome intake process. Director Shannon reflected on those times, stating, “Everything was paper-based, and it took a lot of steps just to intake those applications.”
However, with Accela, San Antonio’s Development Services Department experienced a significant transformation – transitioning their processes into an efficient e-business model. Applicants can now submit their requests online through the Accela web portal at any time, accelerating and streamlining the permitting process.
Connecting Departments Across the City
One of the most remarkable aspects of San Antonio’s journey with Accela is the interconnectedness of various city departments. The Development Services Department, which encompasses zoning, land use and planning, building permits and inspections, and code enforcement, was one of the first to adopt Accela. This move brought different arms of city administration under one umbrella, improving collaboration and promoting better service delivery.
Michael explained the impact, stating, “To have a code officer understand the zoning and building permit process of that property from start to finish is key. It’s breaking down silos. We’re a pretty good-sized department of over 500 staff just in my department and having them all in one system has helped us provide a better customer experience and become highly efficient across the entire process.”
A Better Customer Journey
One of the most significant shifts brought about by Accela was the improved experience for San Antonio’s residents and businesses. In the past, customers had to visit the city office in person, sometimes waiting for extended periods. Michael Shannon recalled, “They would come in and sit in line for 30 minutes to an hour, interact with a permit technician over the counter, and we would take all that information and we’d have to manually enter it into our system.”
Now, with Accela, over half of these transactions are made online, significantly reducing foot traffic and wait times. Customers can conveniently apply for permits, renew licenses, or engage with city services from the comfort of their homes, even outside normal business hours.
The positive feedback from customers about this improvement in service delivery has been satisfying for the team. Shannon noted, “The positive feedback from our customers when using the tool is very satisfying for our team.”
Boosting Employee Morale
While there were initial growing pains when transitioning to the Accela platform, the positive feedback from customers has lifted employee morale. Staff members now feel proud to provide better service through an efficient and modern system. Michael Shannon affirmed, “So it does make us all feel pretty good. And it’s driving us to continue to partner with Accela and find better ways to expand its use in our city.”
Better Decision Making Using Better Data
Data has become a crucial component of decision-making for the City of San Antonio. Using Accela Insights for business intelligence to generate dashboards, and reports, city officials and policymakers are empowered with real-time information to understand backlogs, bottlenecks, and areas where efficiency improvements are needed. Mr. Shannon emphasized the significance of data, stating, “Data is critical…to be able to get it quickly and really tell the story of what is happening here in San Antonio.”
City leadership, including the mayor, city council, city managers, and budget office, increasingly rely on data generated by the Accela platform to make informed decisions that shape the city’s future.
Scaling Up with Accela
The scalability of the Accela platform for community development has been a significant advantage for San Antonio. With a constantly growing city and high demand for permits, the system has seamlessly accommodated increasing volumes of permitted projects. Michael Shannon affirmed, “Accela provides great flexibility and scalability for us. Since we launched, we’ve already added several pieces, and we have a plan, of course, to add more pieces to that, not just in my department and our sister departments, but really across the organization.”
A Message to Other Jurisdictions
When asked about what advice he would give to other jurisdictions considering Accela, Shannon had a clear message: “If you’re not on Accela, you should be. Your residents or your customers are probably going to expect you to be on Accela. And I think it’s a great way for any jurisdiction like San Antonio or anybody else to really serve their citizens better.”
San Antonio’s remarkable journey of modernization and transformation with Accela serves as an inspiring example of how technology can be leveraged to improve the lives of residents, streamline operations, and shape the future of a rapidly growing city. The partnership between the City of San Antonio and Accela continues to flourish, promising even greater value for the community and the city’s administration.