Powerful Portals: How to Supercharge Your Permitting Process

June 22, 2022

Think about the last time you couldn’t do something online and had to travel for an in-person appointment. Or drive a document around town to get it from one place to another. What about the last time you dropped off bills in person? Far from ideal, right?

While these activities were once the norm, they now feel tedious and wasteful. People are used to doing most things remotely, whether it be scheduling appointments online, texting quick updates to several people at once, or sending documents over email. And for good reason: digital communication is more convenient and time-saving.

Digital communication is particularly well-suited to building and land use permitting approvals that involve a lot of moving parts. Without it, land use and building permitting work streams that require paper submissions and in-person collaboration can cause approval timelines to balloon to months, or even years. A digital communication platform for managing permit applications and inspections—also known as a community portal—can help shorten timelines, reduce costs, and improve customer and staff satisfaction.

Get more information about a user-friendly community portal’s features and functionality here.

Is Your Paper-Based Process Causing Communication Breakdown?

The permitting application, review, inspection, and issuance process necessitates constant communication at every stage to ensure alignment between stakeholders and adherence to timelines: something paper-based or semi-paper-based permitting systems simply can’t facilitate. 

Without technology to provide an easy forum for communication throughout the development approvals process, stakeholders are forced to wait for milestones from different workflows to occur in sequential order (with no visibility into a permit’s status), and customers must travel to government offices that may be difficult to get to during regular business hours just to pay fees, go over plans, or submit paper documents.

As a result, it can take months or even years to go from permit application to approval, not only frustrating customers, but demoralizing staff faced with seemingly never ending backlogs. 

Take Orange County California’s Public Works Department, for example, where prior to adopting a community portal, customers would frequently call to check-in about their permit’s status or work going on in their neighbourhood, and often travel to the department office to complete their application at a digital kiosk.

Conversely, after going live with their new permitting solution and community portal, phone calls drastically dropped, and after an initial adjustment period, the in-office kiosks were removed. 

Customers could easily find the information they needed within the portal, and because of smart forms that guided applicants through the application process, errors and corrections were minimized.Orange County California Permitting Portal

The Tool to Facilitate Better Communication and Engagement: A Community Portal

Community portals are designed to shorten permit timelines, improve stakeholder satisfaction, and importantly - facilitate easy communication and collaboration. 

“Despite having so many ways to communicate in our everyday lives, communication in government is still largely ineffective. To achieve development process efficiency, we need to standardize how and where information is stored and retrieved, and provide the means for stakeholders to communicate via digital channels. Good communication and collaboration is key to success”

- Sridhar Subramanian, Clariti VP of Industry Alliances and 20+ year permitting industry vet

Leading portals have a user-friendly interface that sets the stage for a simple and straightforward application process that’s almost as easy - if not as easy - as making any other purchase online.

A portal dramatically reduces building and land use permitting inefficiencies, and improves critical planning and zoning work streams - especially when it’s highly-configurable to meet the unique requirements of your jurisdiction.

Community portals are also more equitable than paper-based and in-person approaches. A community portal is designed to be “self-serve,” meaning that applicants can start and save applications and upload documentation at their convenience, pay fees and schedule inspections online, and submit questions without waiting in long lines or playing phone tag when staff are too busy to answer calls.

Portals improve accountability on both the staff and applicant side and can automatically remind stakeholders who haven’t taken action to do so. The guided application lets applicants quickly understand what to submit for each permit and check on the status of their application. Meanwhile, staff get the information they need to move the permit to the next step without all the back and forth. 

Finally, community portals generate a huge amount of data, enabling leaders to track larger citizen trends and make data-informed decisions about overall processes and regulation improvements.

Make the Most of Your Community Portal

To maximize the potential of your community portal, it’s important to choose an option that can be tailored to meet your department’s specific needs and requirements. When scoping out permit software, look out for a portal with the following characteristics:

  • Configurable with clicks, not code. Team members should be able to make updates to the portal process on the fly, rather than relying on a software developer each time a regulation or standard operating procedure changes.
  • Seamless integration with other applications and systems. The portal should be able to be added directly to a government’s existing website, and integrate effortlessly with existing apps such as electronic plan review and GIS.
  • Comprehensive smart forms. Smart forms provide all of the information customers need to get their application done right the first time, and should be standard within your portal. Think of them as a personal application assistant for each customer, prompting and providing details about what’s needed at every step of the way to minimize or eliminate the margin for error.
  • Intuitive interface. The look and feel of your community portal should make it obvious to applicants where to click and how to proceed. 

Curious to learn more? Check out
this video walkthrough of Clariti’s Community Portal to see why a configurable, easy-to-use portal is an essential component of an efficient permitting system.

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