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Permit Software Buyers Guide: Everything You Need to Know

What is Permit Software?

Permit software is a solution for governments to better manage and track everyday processes related to the management of permits and licenses, and may be cloud-based or hosted on-site. At its core, it is designed to eliminate manual regulatory processes with features that support a fully digital end-to-end permitting process, from application through to issuance.

Clariti Permit Software Buyers Guide


Shortcuts

  1. Introduction
  2. Types of Permit Software: Cloud vs. On-Premise Solutions
  3. Permit Software Use Cases
  4. How Permit Software Works
  5. Features and Functionality to Look for When Selecting a Solution
  6. ROI - How it Supports Citizens and Staff
  7. Pre-Configured or Enterprise?
  8. Purchasing: Putting Together a Winning Proposal

Introduction

“The utilization of electronic permitting – an online automated permitting software system with a public user interface – is gaining traction for the efficiencies and timeliness provided to all who interface with the system. [It supports] a process that is similar to customary permitting and inspections, but more accessible, expeditious, and accurate.”

- Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (neep)

Clariti Permit Software


Neep’s summary of permit software as a solution to achieve a more accessible, quick, and accurate permitting process is exactly right. The government permitting process is complex whatever way you look at it, and even more so without technology in place to automate administrative tasks and improve collaboration and efficiency at every step. From application through to issuance, processes can be difficult to navigate, and may become entangled between different departments and stakeholders creating delays. These delays are not only frustrating, but
costly for all involved. Lengthy and unreliable permit approval timelines hinder new construction, cost developers and businesses money, and cut into local government revenue. Consequences best explained by a developer questioned for an article looking at the inefficiencies of the environmental permitting process: “It took 4 years, $1 million, and actions by our local congressperson to obtain a permit to build green infrastructure. The construction work took $2 million and 8 months. [There’s a clear need to] develop a [way] to streamline permitting. [It] could lower [our] costs by almost half.”

That’s where government permit software comes in. Explained simply, permit software, also referred to as permit management software or permitting software, is a solution to improve and speed up the process of applying for, managing, and approving a permit. Differing in functionality and complexity, solutions come in many forms, and can meet the needs of any government, no matter its size or budget. Solutions may be home-grown, off-the-shelf, or cloud-based, and offer varying levels of automation and integration, with the most robust solutions offering the greatest efficiency benefit.

In this guide, we explore what permit software is, what it does, and how it benefits everyone involved in the permitting process. Let’s start with different types of permit software, potential use cases, and go into more detail about how it works.

Types of Permit Software: Cloud vs. On-Premise Solutions

When searching for a permitting solution, governments have a choice between an on-premise or cloud-based solution. So, what’s the difference? 

In recent years, cloud solutions have surged in popularity due to the allure of infinite scalability and agility, both of which are essential attributes of permitting efficiency. Conversely, on-premise solutions – installed on a government organization's own servers – have given up their reign as the go-to for government due to a lack of scalability and high ongoing maintenance costs.

Here’s how the two compare:

Cloud On-Premise

Infinitely scalable to meet as many users and departments as required.

Not scalable. Increased hardware investment required to scale.

Everything - including data and applications - is hosted in the cloud by a third-party provider.

Installed on an organization’s on-premise servers.

Data resides with the third-party provider.

Data located within in-house servers and IT infrastructure.

Regarded as one of the most secure forms of application and data management, with providers required to adhere to many national security standards such as FedRAMP, MIST, SOC Type 2, and others. Learn more about government cloud security here.

Potential for added security provided by full in-house control and data storage, or on the other hand, vulnerability if poorly maintained.

Lower total cost of ownership: no maintenance or upkeep costs - users only pay for the resources they use.

Higher total cost of ownership: maintenance costs, hardware, power, staff-time, and space.

Customization requirements vary depending on system configurability. Highly-configurable systems require minimal to no customization for changes, integrations, or updates, and are infinitely scalable.

Heavily reliant on customization for any changes, integrations, or updates - not scalable without considerable work.

Minimal demand for IT resources.

Demanding on IT staff for upkeep - staff responsible for maintaining the solution.

Pay as you go models: software-as-a-service models (SaaS).

Requires a software license that will eventually require additional costly infrastructure upgrades.


All things considered, some governments may still lean toward the familiarity of on-premise solutions, comforted by the perceived higher level of control and system security - once a fair choice. But now, with working remotely more normalized courtesy of the pandemic, and online government service delivery the default expectation from the public, on-premise solutions simply don’t make sense. Despite being a step in the right direction away from siloed, paper-reliant systems, on-premise systems aren’t a long-term solution: they don’t scale, aren’t agile, and lack the benefit of a once and done implementation. 

Who can predict what permitting in the future will look like? It’s better to be prepared with a system that can easily be updated without a heavy lift from IT or system integrators. 

For more on why governments are digitally transforming and moving away from on-premise systems, check out this blog

Permit Software Use Cases

Permitting is a core government service involving multiple stakeholders and unique steps depending on the permit type. As such, it can be an extremely complicated process, especially as geography, zoning, and environmental factors differ from place to place, precipitating different approval steps. 

For the most part, however, the basic process is the same whether applying for a building permit or environmental health permit. First, an applicant fills out and submits their permit application. Then, staff review it to ensure compliance before moving it to an inspection queue (if required). From there, upon passing review and inspection, the permit is issued. 

Of course the process is more complicated than that, but it helps to understand the general permitting process in order to understand how permit software can be configured for any use case. The core functionality is there, and can be adjusted to meet even the most complex and unique requirements. 

A permitting solution built for land management, for example, can be configured to meet all land management requirements such as permit approvals and planning and zoning, or even be used to process business licenses and tree permits. With the most configurable permit software, everything is repeatable, so creating a new permit subtype can be as easy as clicking a button to copy and paste, and then adding or rearranging a workflow, or changing the associated fee by typing the new amount into a field.

In saying that, permit software can come with everything you need to start processing permits without undertaking any configuration. Depending on the use case, a solution can come pre-configured with features to meet the unique requirements of that particular permit journey, such as for a building or construction permit. Alternatively, with an enterprise solution, you determine the configuration that best suits your complex permitting or licensing needs. 

Whether pre-configured or not, the main use cases for government permit software include:

Now, we’ll look at how it works.

How Permit Software Works

How Government Permitting Software Works

Permitting solutions, though not all equal, share the same purpose: to make permit management easier and more efficient.

As explained by the World Bank Group, they’re designed to “...coordinate all [permitting] department activities [electronically], connect to other stakeholder agencies, and provide end users with a public interface through which to submit permit applications and monitor the review process.” 

Most solutions consist of a centralized online platform - including a public-facing portal - that connects all stakeholders involved in the permitting process with applicants; a back-office workflow ‘engine’ to automate processes; inspections capabilities; and some sort of reporting feature. 

Key features to look out for when scoping out a permitting solution are covered in the next section, but first, let’s explore what a typical permitting process looks like using permit software, starting at the application stage: 

Application: 

Permit applicants apply online via an application portal, submitting all required documents for review by staff. Everything can be submitted digitally, without visiting a government office, and depending on the solution, paid for online, too. Essentially identical to the process of online shopping. Documents are then automatically routed to the appropriate agencies and stakeholders, allowing application reviews to occur concurrently as opposed to sequentially, and enabling effective communication between all involved. Immediately upon submission, staff and applicants have full transparency into the permit’s status and associated records online - no need for phone call check-ins.

Review:

After the electronic permit submission, staff are notified in the back-office portal that there is a permit in queue for review, and when ready, can begin the review process online. This notification will differ depending on the solution, but may show up in the form of an addition to a department’s dashboard used by staff to track activities. To start, from the dashboard, staff can click into the permit application to ensure all required documents have been submitted, and that no information is missing. Then, if all is in order, they can check GIS data to ensure the application isn’t impacting any other ongoing work, and that all zoning regulations are met before moving on to plan review, inspection, and permit issuance. At some point in the process, depending on an organization’s preferences, staff will request fee payment from the applicant with the click of a button, too.

Inspection:

Many permits require inspections, whether for a building permit or food service permit, so inspections backlogs can accumulate fast without support from online inspections capabilities. With permit software, inspections can be automatically scheduled and assigned to inspectors based on specific criteria such as area or inspection type, and with GIS integration common with many permitting solutions, automatically routed to cut down an inspectors travel time. Then, once on-site, inspectors can access plans and documents via their mobile device, and even input information about their visit in real-time from the field, eliminating the possibility of losing documents or data. 

Issuance:

Similar to the application and review process, a permit, certificate of occupancy, or other proof of code compliance can be issued electronically once everything has been reviewed, paid-for, and approved. Done through the back-office portal, issuance can be as simple as a few clicks through a workflow to finalize the applicants permit. Once ready to be issued, staff can select existing PDF permit templates available in the system, and click to automatically fill the permit holders information into the document. From there, after updating the permit’s status to ‘issued’, the applicant will be notified that their permit is ready, and can be accessed through the permit application portal.

For more on how permit software works in real life, check out this on-demand webinar where permitting staff from Orange County, California, walk-through the typical permitting process for customers and staff.

 

Features and Functionality to Look for When Selecting a Solution

When scoping out a permitting solution, there are several essential features to look for, and questions to ask to ensure your team will be set up for success. 

  1. Is it scalable? 
  2. Is it configurable?
  3. Is it easy-to-use?

In addition, you’ll want to ensure the solution supports a fully digital end-to-end permitting process, meaning staff, applicants, and other stakeholders involved in the permitting process can manage their step(s) through one centralized online system. 

To support this, the solution will need these core capabilities:

Government Permitting Software Key Features

Here’s how they work:

Online Community Portal: 

With an online permit application and management portal, no action in the permitting process requires an applicant, developer, or any other stakeholder to come into a government office. Everything from selecting what permit to apply for, to requesting an inspection, to receiving the final permit is managed online. Applicants simply pick from a drop down list what permit they want to apply for; click through the guided application steps; attach all necessary documents; pay the assigned permit fee using credit, debit, or another payment method of their choice; and submit for review. Then, once submitted, they can log back in at any time to track the status of their application, or make any revisions before being notified by staff to complete next steps. Everything is completed and stored in one centralized online location, saving time and effort, while preventing duplicate efforts, miscommunication, and errors.

Learn more about the benefits of an online application portal, and why it’s an essential part of permitting efficiency in this blog.

Integrations: 

In order to get the most out of your permitting solution now and into the future, you’ll want to ensure it can seamlessly connect to all of your existing (and future) tools and systems such as GIS, ERP, and electronic plan review. This way, you’ll be able to fully take advantage of available supporting technologies, and freely and unwittingly move between solutions and tools for a smooth experience.

Communication Automation:

To save time and manual administrative work, your permitting solution should be able to automate all physical correspondence required to deliver a permitting service. This includes violation notifications, emails, renewal and payment notices, and more - all able to be created and sent automatically when triggered by a user action. 

Process Automation:

With an easy-to-use back-office workflow builder that allows you to create workflows and make updates to requirements without code or IT help, your team can quickly react to change, and more easily meet spikes in permit demand. With the right process automation, you can make seemingly complex updates in minutes, not weeks or months (just like Orange County’s 1-day update) - all it takes is a few clicks to configure a new permit type, workflow, requirement, or fee. 

Inspections Management:

Your solution should support fully online inspections management, including scheduling, assignment, optimized routing via a mapping function, and data input from the field using a mobile device or tablet. This will ensure inspectors and code enforcement officials can access their assignments, daily itinerary, checklists, and all information associated with a permit application through your centralized permitting system. Whether in-office or in the field, inspectors can add photos and comments directly into the system, and mark an inspection as compliant to initiate next steps in the approval process.

Financial Management:

Look for comprehensive capabilities that allow you to manage everyday financial workflows and transactions from end-to-end within your solution, including: cashiering, accounts payable, accounts receivable, subledger accounting, and payments. You should also be able to easily connect to and sync data with your existing ERP solution to ensure data accuracy and effortless collaboration with your accounting department. 

Online Payment Processing:

Ensure support for online payment processing so your permitting department can emulate the straightforward process of buying any other good online. With online payment processing, you can accept multiple payment methods via your Community Portal or via a pin pad in-office, and refund and void transactions with the click of a button.

Reporting and Dashboards:

Essential to any permitting solution, dynamic reporting and dashboards ensure your department can easily generate reports and visual dashboards using any available data. In just a few simple steps, you can pull data into reports to share with executives or management, or drag it into a dashboard that’s accessible to your entire department. Whether it’s current or historical data, with 100% digital reporting, finding information and fulfilling compliance requirements is quick and easy. 

Learn more about the importance of government data health, and the power of dynamic reporting and dashboards in this blog.

If your chosen permitting solution includes the above, you should be set on the functionality front. But make sure it’s configurable and easy-to-use, too. Ideally, system updates should be doable with minimal IT support, or none at all, and the interface easy for all users to navigate. A solution that’s configurable with clicks, not code, will set your team up for success, and ensure you can adjust permitting requirements or make changes to your processes quickly when necessary.

For more on the essential features of government permitting software, check out this blog on everything you need to know about permitting and licensing software.

Now, let’s dive into the benefits, and how permit software supports everyone involved in the end-to-end process.

ROI - How it Supports Citizens and Staff

As reported by the National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards (NCSBCS), on average, permit software reduces processing time by 20-80% depending on the solution, with the most comprehensive solutions typically speeding up the end-to-end process by more than 50%. This not only helps to reduce or eliminate backlogs, but also to cut costs attributed to lengthy permit wait times - costs that can add up fast. For example, a new business can rack up considerable leasing costs while awaiting an operating permit or license, similar to a developer unable to start construction until their building permit is approved. These leasing costs on top of losses related to lost employment and supplier sales are not insignificant, and have the potential to add up to thousands of dollars per week in additional costs for both the permitting organization and permit applicant. 

In addition to speeding up the end-to-end permitting process and minimizing costs, permit software also significantly improves the experience for applicants and government staff. All steps involved in applying for and issuing a permit are accessible via a single sign-in to a permitting platform, and information and status updates immediately available with the click of a button, making in-office visits and phone call check-ins unnecessary.

Other benefits for applicants and staff include: 

For Departments and Staff For Applicants

Faster permit turnaround times.

Faster permit approval times, and an overall easier process to navigate.

High system configurability and scalability to better and more quickly adapt to changing permit requirements and zoning regulations.

Easy application process via an online portal with guided steps to minimize the possibility of error.

Limitless integrations with other tools and systems.

Full transparency into the permitting process with the ability to login at any point to track a permit’s status, schedule an inspection, or pay a fee.

Seamless data sharing across departments.

24/7/365 online service availability.

Mobile inspections, automated route scheduling, and route optimization using a mapping tool.

Enhanced quality of service.

Real-time reports and dashboards that can be created within minutes to better track department metrics and find areas for improvement.

Payment flexibility with support for multiple payment types.

Customer satisfaction and an enhanced working relationships with builders, contractors, elected officials, and the public.

Reliable and consistent permit approval timelines that ensure projects remain on schedule.

More efficient use of resources, and decreased administrative work with automated workflows and action-based triggers for next steps.

 

Automated reminders and notifications for inspections due or permits up for renewal

 

Minimal to no duplication of effort

 

Potential for increased revenue from property taxes and permit fees

 


For more on the benefits of permit software, and the ROI for government permitting departments, check out this blog that goes into more detail. Or, for a quick calculation of the ROI for your department, use this calculator to generate your estimated cost savings, reduction in issuance time, and additional revenue.

Next, now that we’ve covered the basics of permit software, what features you should look out for, and what benefits you can expect, we’ll look at the difference between a pre-configured and enterprise/platform solution, and how to know which one’s right for you. Then, we’ll cover putting together a proposal, and how to ensure it’s a success.

Pre-Configured or Enterprise?

In addition to deciding whether you want an on-premise or cloud-based permitting solution - and ensuring it offers all of the functionality you need to be set up for success - you’ll want to understand the difference between a pre-configured and enterprise/platform solution, and what your budget can afford. So, let’s break it down.

What is a pre-configured solution?

A pre-configured solution is designed for a specific permitting or licensing use case (such as building permitting or land management), and comes pre-packaged with all of the essential features and functionality necessary to manage that process efficiently. Generally best-suited for small to medium sized governments with a smaller budget, a pre-configured permitting solution offers an overall lower cost of implementation with minimal to no customization required, and a faster go-live compared to a heavily customized enterprise/platform solution.

What is an enterprise/platform solution?

An enterprise/platform solution is a fully configurable permitting and licensing platform that provides complete flexibility to an organization wanting to build a unique solution. Usually best-suited for multiple use cases, or a large organization with complex approval processes and a need for more tools and integrations, it offers a blank canvas for governments to pick and choose what features and integrations they want, and an opportunity to centralize multiple siloed business functions. 

In short, a pre-configured permitting solution is best suited for smaller governments or departments looking to transform a specific business function. If you’re looking to transform your building permitting operations for example, and you work with a team of 10, a pre-configured building permitting solution is likely the best and most budget-friendly fit for you. 

Conversely, if you’re a part of a large organization similar to Orange County, California, with many users and business functions to transform, and a bigger budget, you’ll want to consider an enterprise solution.

In either case, you’ll want a simple interface that staff can maintain without code, as the ability to quickly pivot to meet new permit requirements or make a slight adjustment to your process is key to running a successful permitting program. No matter which model you choose, code-free system admin capabilities should be non-negotiable.

Purchasing: Putting Together a Winning Proposal

A winning proposal is essential to making your permitting goals a reality. Whether you’re competing for access to grant money, or making your case to leadership about why you need funding for a permitting solution, a successful proposal is key to maximizing your chances of success. But if you don’t know where to start, the process can be daunting. So, where should you begin?

First, you’ll need to identify the key decision makers, and assemble the necessary team. This should include everyone inside and outside of your team that will benefit from the project - the more perspectives and expertise the better. Then, once done, you’ll be ready to get started on putting together your proposal.

Keeping in mind that all proposals will differ slightly, here’s the basic format your permit software proposal should follow (you can find a more comprehensive guide here), and questions you should address:

  • Basic details about what your agency or department does
  • A description of your pain points, and if applicable, how they’re negatively impacting your community
  • How permit software will solve these challenges
  • Your expected return on investment (ROI)
  • Your proposed budget for the project
  • The expected project timeline and a clear plan of action for purchasing through to implementation
  • Your recommended vendor solution, and why, including a detailed cost breakdown

Also, follow these tips for best practice:

  • Involve your vendor as you gather budget quotes to ensure you are including all necessary expenditures.
  • Include “SMART” goals for your project: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Timebound. 
  • Provide a detailed budget justification. Explain how each individual line item will help you accomplish the goals of your project.
  • Get feedback from your vendor or consultant. They will generally have experience with working on proposals like this and can provide support on how best to craft them.

Finally, once you’ve completed the hard work of researching and evaluating solutions, putting together your proposal, and selecting a vendor for your permitting project, you’ll be well on your way to achieving permitting efficiency

Questions?

Ask us how permit software can make your teams day-to-day easier.