Accela expedites Omaha’s permitting and inspection process and manages staffing
The City of Omaha, known as the “Gateway to the West” is the largest in Nebraska. With a population of 427,000, it is home to the headquarters of several Fortune 500 companies and the largest railroad operator, Union Pacific Corporation. Omaha boasts a budding economy and a thriving city center; city officials in collaboration with the development community have revitalized the downtown area with loft apartments, shopping districts, and a sports complex to attract and retain a younger workforce.
To meet builders’ needs, the City Planning Department’s Building and Development Division looked at ways to leverage technology as a means to greater efficiency, improved data sharing and streamlined access to building and planning resources.
“Before, we were using a mainframe system. Everything was kept on green screens, it was hard to retrieve data and that data was all code driven, meaning it required employees to have special training to find and retrieve information. All inspections and the processing of paperwork were done by paper. The data wasn’t that great, and we were finding a lot of errors. It was an inefficient, troublesome way to do business. Most importantly, there was no public interface with our citizens or building community so it was tough to share the data we had. It made doing our job difficult.” Stu Craven, Senior Applications Analyst
The City was also looking for a solution to reduce staffing challenges generated by seasonality, weather events or large projects. Historically, the agency would hire temporary employees to handle increased demand and city officials were required to provide time-intensive training and pay substantial amounts of overtime. By automating key functions, the Department would maintain staffing numbers while meeting the customer service demands.
The Building and Development Division developed a technology roadmap and looked at a number of different software vendors. The overall business goal was to deliver City services to residents and contractors with greater speed, efficiency and transparency and enhance back-office functions too. They learned that Accela would provide the capabilities necessary for short term success including permitting, inspections, citizen engagement and mobile functionality, plus a robust platform to enable expansion going forward.
HOW ACCELA EMPOWERS OMAHA
Omaha has deployed Accela Land Management, Accela Citizen Access, Accela GIS, Accela Mobile Office, and Electronic Document Review. The complete solution includes permitting and inspection solutions, allowing the City to streamline operations and procedures for construction-related activities. Because the system is web-based, various departments can connect to the system and it enables the City to add multiple departments without the need to purchase additional systems.
The launch of online permitting in 2011 has streamlined key civic processes for greater efficiency and transparency. Today, citizens and businesses use the portal to apply and pay for permits, schedule inspections, check the status of a permit or inspection, or print an approved permit directly from the Internet. By allowing constituents to complete the entire application process online, the City saves taxpayer dollars by reducing administrative costs and maximizing staff resources to focus on more complex applications.
The business benefit was realized in 2013 when a massive hailstorm in April caused damage to thousands of roofs in the area. During the month of May alone, the City of Omaha handled approximately 6,000 permits online, over 3000 of those directly related to the storm. Today, the agency handles approximately 50 percent of all permits and 83 percent of electrical permits online, using random audits only.
Other solutions are also gaining traction within Omaha’s Building and Development Division. Electronic Review is enabling contractors to upload their plans, share data, track reviews and provide electronic documentation across department teams, helping to boost compliance with local regulations and codes. And by utilizing a full suite of mobile applications, Omaha’s inspectors are more productive, efficient and transparent.
“All of our inspectors currently use Accela Mobile Office and we have now started using Accela Inspector on smartphones. The great thing with the new smartphone apps is it provides a much more flexible interface. It is hard to take a computer inside a jobsite and it’s hard to do an inspection when you are lugging a computer. Our inspectors are able to do a comprehensive inspection, capture pictures and send automatic notifications to the contractors, all in real time.” Stu Craven, Senior Applications Analyst
THE BOTTOM LINE
By implementing Accela solutions, Omaha has realized significant cost savings due to decreased overtime, lower overhead and increased efficiency. At the City Level, officials prioritize customer service for businesses and citizens while offering transparent views to key civic processes.