Stand on Your Own Digital FeetJuly 12, 2022
FOCUS ON DOING THINGS RIGHT, NOT JUST DOING THEM FASTER
The construction industry is facing many challenges, some of which are:
- The labour force is shrinking
- Demand far outweighs supply
- High customer service expectations
- Building booms are rampant
- Slow development approval process
As governments continue to go digital, the benefits of cloudbased software are hard to ignore across Ontario. Online and standardized processes continue to contribute to efficient and effective processes for planning and building departments.
Local governments can do more with fewer staff and share services with neighbouring communities when they use online systems. They can also speed up their development approval process to help handle non-stop building booms, plan and build more to meet demand, and deliver stronger customer service without travel or paper.
On a federal and provincial level, there has been an increased effort to help the construction sector with various initiatives, laws, funds and programs. Yet demand continues to increase at an unmatchable pace, and legislation has not caught up.
Some of these initiatives and practices aim to:
- Streamline the development approval process
- Build more homes
- Hire consultants
- Collect and standardize data
- Increase permit fees
These initiatives and practices are valid and deserve consideration to help combat current construction challenges. This article will present why moving building permitting and planning processes online is a better solution to plan and build for a stronger Ontario.
HOW TO STREAMLINE THE DEVELOPMENT APPROVAL PROCESS
Ontario’s Streamline Development Approval Fund aims to help streamline the development approval process and increase the housing supply. The intention is right, but how this goal is reached could be improved.
Right now, only Ontario’s 39 largest municipalities are eligible for the more than $45 million afforded to this initiative. Those municipalities can use the funds to implement online systems to plan and build faster, but the remaining 405 municipalities do not have access to this support.
Offering support to all of Ontario’s departments to digitalize, regardless of their population size, would provide a greater advantage to the province. Small and medium-sized local governments have been leading the way in modernization and innovation across the province and, if given more resources to move online, they could continue to digitalize at a remarkable pace for a faster development approval process.
HOW TO BUILD MORE HOMES
Ontario’s new Bill 109, More Homes for Everyone Act, has made strides toward outlining faster construction to increase supply as demand continues to rise. The goal in mind is important to achieve as the nationwide housing crisis impacts Ontarians, but the way of getting there could be improved.
The bill encourages planning departments to accelerate their review process. However, by doing so, there may not be enough time for planning departments to review applications or receive adequate public input to move projects forward with confidence.
It would be more beneficial for planning departments to implement online software to accelerate their review process. As a result, they could speed up how quickly they review applications without potentially removing or cutting down on a critical step in their process.
They could also benefit from great efficiencies with online application submission, circulation, communication, two-tier decision making and interactive maps integrated with their GIS (Geographic Information System). Essentially, staff could make their processes better to achieve the same desired and swift result.
USE FUNDS ON ONLINE SOFTWARE
Oftentimes, consultants are hired to help local governments decide how to achieve more success and efficiency. There is some uncertainty in this choice as there is no guarantee that online software or modernization will be considered as a solution.
Applicants want to submit their building permit and planning applications online instead of needing to travel to their local government office, so it is important to prioritize funds to consider this option instead.
STANDARDIZE BUILDING PERMITTING AND PLANNING PROCESSES
The focus on data collection and standardization is a step in the right direction, but perhaps one that is too many steps ahead. Sharing data between authorities is important, but this should come after improving how planning applications are circulated and building permits are issued.
Instead, the process behind the data should be prioritized, and data can become a bigger focus down the road.
Many paper-based or on-premises systems leave much to be desired when it comes to their processes. They often lead to incomplete applications at the front desk, endless back-and forth communication with applicants and builders, many trips to the office and duplicate work for local government staff.
Online software enables departments to eliminate these problems with online and remote access to building permitting and planning processes. And when those processes are standardized, it only helps local governments even more as they can share resources and build together faster.
ENCOURAGE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
There have been many non-stop building booms across the province for a few years that have put some departments in a tough spot. Some local governments have increased their fee structure to make ends meet during labour shortages both onsite and on staff.
This practice does not allow departments to future-proof their business. Increased permit fees may encourage builders and others in the development community to plan or build in surrounding areas with more affordable fees, which is especially important as material costs continue to rise and budgets become increasingly difficult to maintain.
Instead, departments can implement online software to keep up with building booms during labour shortages. By doing so, they can issue building permits significantly faster, sometimes by as much as 80%. A simple and fast building permit process sends a message to the development community that theirs is a wonderful place to develop. This could result in more money being brought into the economy as more business moves in.
WHY MOVING ONLINE IS AN IDEAL LONG-TERM SOLUTION
Moving online, even with inflated costs of labour and fewer staff, puts local governments at a great advantage. Online software
- Significantly speeds up building permit issuance (in some cases, as much as 80%)
- Allows for online collaboration and circulation
- Has little to no strain on IT departments with no installations or manual updates
- Forces applicants to fill in all mandatory input fields so all applications are complete upon submission
- Consolidates all communication into place with direct or group time-stamped messages
- Enables flexible and remote work outside of business hours
- Can be accessed on any mobile device
- Encourages and enables shared services between local governments
- Supports mobile field inspections
- Helps attract new talent and retain existing staff
- Eliminates travel to the government office and printing costs
Cloud-based software empowers staff to leave their own legacy on their local government while benefitting everyone involved. It is a solution that benefits everyone.
GIVE LOCAL GOVERNMENTS MORE SEATS AT THE TABLE
All levels of government are making a conscious and valid effort to combat construction’s latest challenges. One change that can be made in the decision-making process is to give local governments more seats at the table.
It is a common misconception that all local governments have unique processes that cannot be replicated. The details may be different, but the overall process is the same.
Planning and building departments all have the same goals in mind: efficiently and effectively encourage community development, bring more money into the economy, provide exceptional customer service, and stand out as an easy place to plan and build for builders, engineers, architects, homeowners, consultants and everyone in between.
Why not use the same tools if the big picture and overall processes are shared among local governments across Ontario? Standardized and online ways of working encourage collaboration and shared services, make it easier for those who work in multiple surrounding communities, speed up the development approval process and are Ontario’s best shot at supply catching up to demand.
By giving local governments more seats at the decision-making table, they can decide for themselves how they can help combat construction’s current challenges and demand the support they need to make it happen. Now is the time for local governments to stand on their own digital feet.
Carly Thackray is Cloudpermit’s Marketing and Communications Manager, North America. She uses her marketing, public relations and communications experience to help the building community share their community development stories. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the OBOA Journal Issue 134.