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Grand Rapids, Michigan, Development Center Manager Louis Canfield talks about how the city leverages effective digital tools to meet citizen expectations


Today Grand Rapids, Michigan, is all about fast and efficient service. It’s a city that prides itself on making sure its residents have what they need, when they need it.

But ask the city’s Development Center Manager Louis Canfield how Grand Rapids does this and he’ll tell you it’s a combination of the having the right service strategy and right technology to get the job done. In 2009, Grand Rapids selected Accela to support its Neighborhood Improvement, Fire, Planning, Environmental Services, and Engineering departments through the Accela Civic Platform. This was done to help the city replace its aging systems, to automate its manual processes and digitize the many paper forms staff had to review on a daily basis. Key in this modernizatino effort was its use of Accela’a Civic Solutions for Planning and Building.

“The way our process looked before the Civic Platform is people would bring us paper application forms, two sets of paper plans and as a result the total time for the process was much longer than today and highly variable,” Canfield said.

To accelerate the process and help its building developers avoid long processing times and red tape, the city was set on establishing an effective digital strategy, one that not only improved customer service, but increased staff productivity, and made services sustainable and scalable as the city grew. Through a digital service strategy, Canfield said, staff across multiple departments were able to share access to a centralized database of land use information, help streamline key functions and operations and ensure faster and more accurate delivery of services to customers.

“We’ve cut down on a lot of processing and a lot of customer trips to our office and we’ve also dramatically reduced that variability in terms of process time,” Canfield said. “So our longest transaction is now several weeks, which used to be the average, and now our average in now seven to 10 days.”

Further, Canfield said building developers are seeing big benefits through faster permitting times, that result in dramatic cost savings at construction sites where developers must pay site fees for equipment, staff labor and other services while they wait for approvals.

“We think our customers have saved at least three quarters of a million dollars,” he said. “It’s faster, it’s convenient, we have less processing to do, and it’s been a good change.

Learn more about Accela Civic Solution for Planning and Building here.

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