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Cloud-based permitting speeds workflow for staff, eases pressure on IT and gives customers automatic permitting and virtual inspections options.
By moving to cloud-based services, the Polk County, Florida, Building Division has cut the time it takes to save data to custom fields in permitting applications from nearly a minute to less than five seconds.
“We do over 34,000 permits a year,” said Benjamin Dunn, director of the Polk County Building Division. “That’s hours and hours and hours of savings for our staff [that] translates to a better service for the customer.”
Overall, performance has improved immensely, added Carmen Nieves, Polk County’s permit services and technology supervisor—and that was a main goal of moving from on-premise to cloud-based Accela solutions, including the Civic Platform powered by Microsoft Azure.
“Previously, we were on-prem and it was taking too much effort to move up to current versions, so our IT staff was by doing it every two to three years,” Nieves said. “Now with us being on the cloud, [Accela does] all the all the heavy lifting, and then they just push it out to us for us to test” and implement, as needed.
That’s because when Accela has feature or functionality updates, it pushes them out to customers who have the option to turn them on. “They have to decide which ones are useful for them to switch on,” said Jeff Reese, senior account executive for the Southeast region at Accela.
One major improvement the division rolled out was automatic permitting. Before, customers had to submit an application and wait for the department to process it. Now, “all they do is submit the application, make the payment, and they can print out their permit card right then,” she said.
The department also integrated virtual inspections, so customers can now take and upload pictures that Building Division workers review the next day. “Contractors used to have to time their jobs. They would have to submit an application a week in advance,” Nieves said. Now, if they get a job today, they can apply for a permit online and have it “to be ready to work tomorrow.”
The productivity improvements at the single department have translated into benefits for the entire county. Because the Building Division goes directly to Accela for upgrades and other needs, the county’s IT Division has one less department to worry about.
“We’re a county of 2,100 employees, so we’re not their only customer,” Dunn said. “We’re competing with other divisions that have other projects, so we weren’t able to get things done as quickly as we wanted to. When we went to the cloud, that’s no longer the case…. We’re not really going through them; we’re just going directly with Accela.”
He also pointed to the fact that Accela integrates with other technology that the Building Division has. For instance, it uses OpenCounter permitting and licensing software, and the county will be the first customer to use Velosimo off-the-shelf integration for Accela to OpenCounter, which means Open Counter submission data will be automatically copied to new permits and licenses in the Accela Civic Platform.
The county decided to migrate to the cloud about two years ago and worked with Accela on a lift-and-shift for six to nine months. “We had to look at some of their scripting, we had to look at some of their database connectors that they had and optimize those,” Reese said. “The configuration still needs to be looked at, which is an ongoing effort.… But they have time to do that because they’re not dealing with having to upgrade all the time.”
Polk is one of five Florida governments that made the move to the cloud recently. Charlotte and Hillsborough counties and the cities of Tampa and Weston also made the switch, most to get out of the business of IT infrastructure maintenance, he said.
“For Tampa, it was the IT that drove [the move], so it wasn’t the business necessarily,” Reese said. “They were very forward-thinking and said, ‘This is how we’re going to do business in the future, whether we want to or not. We can either hop on the train now or jump on it when we have to.’”
All of the customers meet once a month to discuss what they’re using and what they need. “It’s really great to have that kind of cross-pollination of ideas and solutions,” Reese said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.
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