Implementing Permitting Software: Tips and Best Practices

October 5, 2022

After 13+ years working with state and local governments to implement permitting solutions,
Nicki Decloux, a Principal Solutions Architect at Clariti, knows a thing or two about what can make or break an implementation. 

Having worked with governments such as the City of Norfolk and City of Phoenix to transform their permitting and inspection process, she can confidently say when it comes to implementation, there’s no such thing as cutting corners. 

As Nicki explains, setting yourself up for success begins early on in the sales process, and you can expect your team to be heavily involved all the way through to 60 days post go-live. All together, when you factor in the early stages of project planning, the 12-18 month implementation timeline (maybe less depending on the size of your organization), and the 60-day hyper-care period once the system is live, you can expect to devote a sizeable chunk of time to getting your new system up and running.

“The best way for you to get the best system is to provide access to your best people. You need to come to the table prepared to put in a lot of time.”

- Nicki Decloux

But don’t be dissuaded. The time investment up front will be well worth it in the end. You’ll be able to provide a winning customer and staff experience; applicants will be able to get through their permit application with a few clicks; staff will be able to make system updates on the fly without code; and in general, every day will be easier. Just make sure you take the following path of success to get there smoothly.

How to prepare for your permitting technology implementation

Before you kick off your project, you need to ask yourself 2 things:

  1. How are people going to change?
  2. What impact will this project have on them?

Preparing for change and how you’re going to manage it across the organization is critical to success. When you write your project requirements, everyone’s likely going to say, “yes, yes, I love that - that’s what I want”, but then you roll the technology out to a few inspectors and permit techs and they’re not ready for that change. It’ll be like night and day to your staff. You need to prepare for that with an effective change management strategy.

“When you shut down your old system Friday, and start your new system Monday, it would be as if I walked into a room of all English speakers and said, ‘today we're all going to speak a different language.’ That’s what it feels like to users who have had their existing system for 10 years.”

- Nicki Decloux

You also need to be sure you’ve done a comprehensive needs analysis: the what and why of looking for a new system. This will help you ensure everyone’s crystal clear about the project goals and why it’ll be worthwhile. It’s critical all stakeholders know why the project is being undertaken, and that you internally advocate for the change early on and often.

Then, once you’ve completed a thorough needs analysis and change management plan, you need to gather your best people, and build your best team. The people on the project team should be the people you can’t imagine your organization functioning without - the people that know your processes inside and out and can advocate for their coworkers’ best interests.

Finally, last but not least on your pre-kickoff checklist should be planning for training early on. Ask yourself how you’ll support people through the transition, what sort of training you’ll provide, and ultimately who will be responsible for it. As Nicki explains, your vendor can help you with the training blueprint, but it should be your team that takes the lead on internal training. It should come from respected leaders in your organization, and be in your voice. Your people know best how this change will affect the day-to-day life of staff, and will be better equipped to deal with any challenges as they arise. 

So, in sum:

  • Ensure you’ve done a needs analysis: the what and why of looking for a new system.
  • Internally advocate for the project and the process change - then advocate some more. 
  • Gather your best people, and build your best team.
  • Build a comprehensive change management plan.
  • Plan for training on the new system and processes early on.

6 best practice tips for a successful implementation

Even though there’s no such thing as an implementation going exactly to plan, Nicki explains, there are things you can do to limit the number of roadblocks you encounter along the way. 

#1) Make sure you go into the project with realistic expectations. 

Your new permitting system has to meet all regulatory requirements, so naturally, implementing a new system is going to be complex. In all likelihood, you’ll make changes along the way because you’ll figure out additional requirements or things that you want. The generalized RFP requirements simply can’t account for everything - they’ll probably only get you 80-90% of the way there.

Only once you’re in the thick of User Acceptance Testing (UAT) will you realize the missing 10-20% of requirements you need and extra functionality you want. From the point of view of the implementation and project team the system will work as expected, but it’s not until you turn it over to the users that you realize how it performs in the real world. Which is why system configurability is so important, Nicki says. Being able to configure without code enables you to react quickly to that 10-20%.

“[The vendor has] no intention of building a system that does 100% of what the client needs to do. We’re trying to build a system that automates 80-90% of their processes, and then make sure there’s a plan in place to incorporate whatever exception is found in the system. That’s why configurability really pays dividends for a permitting solution - it makes the solution adaptable and evergreen.”

- Nicki Decloux

#2) Prepare to provide access to your best, most knowledgeable people.

To put it into perspective, Nicki says that in her most recent implementation for a large, local government customer, she met with a team from the planning and zoning departments for roughly 1.5 hours every day for several months. 

Your case of course may be completely different depending on the size of your organization (expect far less time commitment if you’re a small department), but it’s important to be prepared for your best people to dedicate time to the project in addition to their regular responsibilities. 

#3) Follow the iron triangle of project management

Iron triangle of project management

For any project to be successful, you need to have good processes in place to manage cost, time, and scope. How will you manage changes in scope during the life of the project? How will you ensure you stay as close to on schedule and on budget as possible?

It’s critical to plan for inevitable changes in project scope, deal with risks as they come up, and ensure you have processes and people in place to manage change.

#4) Practice open communication with project leadership.

It’s as simple as it sounds. The more open you are, the better result you’ll get. Communicate clearly and communicate often.

#5) Start from the customer's point of view.

Above all else, in addition to making your team’s day-to-day easier, you’re trying to create the best experience for your customers. So look at the project from a customer-centric lens. Before you make any decisions about the system you should ask: how will this look to our customers? How will this make their lives easier?

A well-designed customer portal will make it obvious for users what they need to do, so when you’re designing your portal, keep this in mind.

“When you're designing the portal, design it with an expectation that there will be no training. It has to be so intuitive that users can just click their way through.”

- Nicki Decloux

#6) Plan for testing from project inception.

Your project team will test the system and know that it works and meets the requirements it’s meant to, but to truly test if it’s ready, you need to hand it over to the users.

Get a focus group involved before you go live whose job it is to go into the portal and try to find areas for improvement. That way you can reduce the risk of any adoption issues once your new system is live.

#7) Lean on your external partners for support.

Lean on your software vendor and system implementation partner (if you have one) for support. They’ve got years and years of experience doing permitting system implementations just like yours, and can support you every step of the way. 

Want support with your change management strategy? Get your system implementation partner involved. Unsure of UAT best practices? Ask your software vendor. 

Taking advantage of your partners’ expertise is a critical part of building your best team.

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