How Mobile County Tackled Digital Permitting and Inspections
Mobile County, Alabama, reduced permit lag times by expanding its enterprise information platform to include digital permitting and inspections. Key to the transition was staff trainings.
Mobile County is the second most-populous county in the state of Alabama with more than 413,000 citizens. Historically the county faced challenges when it came to inspections, delayed processes and providing good customer service due to limited access to information.
Traditional and outdated paper processes were making it difficult for government staff. Permits processed per year average around 6,700 in Mobile County, staff would spend a majority of their time looking for the actual paperwork, which would often get lost, had illegible handwriting or unreliable data.
Due to poor accessibility and lack of transparency, processing permits, inspections and plan reviews were taking much longer than they should. The municipality was in need of a solution that would enable digital permitting and inspections to realize efficiencies.
Improving Transparency and Information Access
Expanding the county’s current content services platform OnBase, gave staff instant access to review and approve, or provide notes immediately after a permit, inspection or plan had been submitted. Following approval, automatic email notifications are sent to requestors, viewable from any device, removing roadblocks that were caused from information lag. As a result, processing times have been cut in half.
“Inspectors are able to offer consultation services to instruct contractors on what the building code requires” explained Cindy Patrick, director of IT at Mobile County. “Staff can now proactively remind contractors when their licenses are about to expire because that is tracked in OnBase and they are no longer spending much of their time looking for paperwork.”
In other departments, employees are now able to find documents independently instead of coming to the file room and asking for a file to be retrieved. Because employees have more timely access to information, the public is not having to wait on paper files to be pulled but instead can have their questions answered while on the initial phone call. In addition, the file room staff is not having to retrieve as many files for employees, so they have been able to eliminate the backlog of scanning and filing.
Managing the Transition to Digital Permitting
Expanding OnBase to allow for transparent and automated information flow was not without its challenges. A large majority of Mobile County staff had very limited knowledge of PCs and they were skeptical that they could learn to use the system while doing their very busy jobs at the same time.
To overcome this, the county held an initial training session with them to introduce the system and then stayed one hour late about three days per week for several weeks to roll play customers coming to the front window using various scenarios until they were comfortable with the enterprise information system. The county went live with the solution only after the staff was comfortable, and some of the IT staff stayed onsite with them for the first few days.
Mobile County is currently exploring how feasible it would be in extending the solution to help in additional areas such as processing contracts and handling commission meetings.
Another reason Mobile County chose to extend capabilities was due to its concurrent user licensing. Rather than being required to buy a license for every single user, instead there is a pool of licenses that is shared among users. Such a user model helps smaller governments provide the capability of a robust information management system in a very cost-efficient way.