E-Permitting on the Rise – More municipalities across Ontario are switching from paper-based and legacy systems to e-permitting as the province moves toward digital transformation. A digital building permit process benefits municipal building departments by improving efficiency, communication and file management with paperless and 24/7/365 access, but how does it impact building communities?
The Town of Huntsville, a town in the District of Muskoka with over 20,000 full-time residents and 40,000 to 50,000 additional seasonal residents, took a unique approach with its switch to e-permitting – the building community was involved in the decision to select and implement Cloudpermit, a cloud-based e-permitting solution.
Why and How Huntsville Involved the Building Community – The municipal building department incorporated the local building community in the process of deciding how to change permit application, submission, issuance and reviews.
“It was important to involve our building community in our e-permitting decision-making and implementation process,” shared Christopher Nagy, Chief Building Official for the Town of Huntsville. “We understood we were changing their day-to-day work, so we wanted to give them an opportunity to decide what was going to work best for them.”
Before starting the RFP (request for proposal) process in March 2019, the Huntsville municipal building department talked with its building community about e-permitting. Preliminary conversations were helpful to learn more about their perspectives and feelings about leaving paper behind.
In response to these discussions and after further research by staff, the Town invited several contractor and designer groups to look at e-permitting software in advance. After giving them a glimpse of possible solutions, Huntsville determined its building community was ready for a digitalized platform and could move forward with an RFP.
“Since e-permitting would advance the building industry quite a bit in our area, I wanted to get a buy-in from our building industry before even starting the RFP process,” revealed Nagy. “After signing the contract for Cloudpermit, we’ve had contractors who were involved in those preliminary discussions reach out because they want to be involved in the initial launch, which has been great.”
After receiving submissions to its RFP, Huntsville invited the top two e-permitting solutions to give a presentation to its municipal staff and building, planning, GIS, and IT departments, as well as selected a few designers and contractors in Huntsville. From there, a community-based decision was made.
“We took a community-based approach to our decision because we wanted to choose a software that made sense for our building community as end users,” said Nagy. “It was a wonderful experience to listen to their feedback and find a solution that makes them happy.”
Lauren Spivak, an Architectural Designer in Huntsville, was one of the designers involved in the community-based approach to selecting an e-permitting solution for the Town. “I’m thrilled that Huntsville involved contractors and designers in the e-permitting selection and onboarding process. It was a very smart decision to include the end user in these discussions,” explained Spivak.
Software Launch in Huntsville – In November 2020, Huntsville launched Cloudpermit internally for its municipal building department and those selected within its building community. The software will be rolled-out for public use in 2021. This creates an opportunity to ensure those who submit and manage building permit applications most often can become Cloudpermit experts before it is available for public use.
Working Toward the Same Goal – The Huntsville municipal building department set out to streamline the internal and external building permit process with e-permitting.
“We wanted a system where internal and external user groups shared the same platform to ensure consistency with building files,” Nagy shared. “We’re working together to achieve the same goal, so why not use the same tools?”
Cloudpermit offered an almost-identical front and back-end interface for all parties involved in the building permit process so it was an ideal choice for the Town. Since municipal building departments and building communities access essentially the same layout, Huntsville can relate and help if its building community has any issues.
Benefits for Contractors and Designers – A community-based approach created a space for the building community to share their positive Cloudpermit feedback, and to be heard.
“Our building community appreciates how Cloudpermit gives them a single point of contact in the municipal building department,” explained Nagy. “Before e-permitting, there was not one place they could go to look at everything. Now, contractors and inspectors can easily check their permit status, follow-up, and schedule inspections in one digital space.”
The cloud-based software presented an opportunity for contractors and inspectors to easily keep track of specific requirements and inspections.
“Using an online checklist, Cloudpermit helps the applicant review items required for application submission, including septic, MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources), and MTO (Ministry of Transportation) requirements specific to that property,” Spivak pointed out. “This will prevent surprises and delays down the road. Another great feature is that Cloudpermit will remind property owners and contractors of required inspections, and where their project stands in that process.”
Besides clearer communication and better application submissions, Cloudpermit is a time-saver.
“I’m looking forward to the system being live. Designers, contractors and our clients will spend less time following up on permit applications with municipal building departments since we can check permit status online,” said Spivak. “Additionally, everyone involved in the building permit process will know which drawings are approved and current, because all drawings are stored in one place on the cloud. There will be no excuse for using outdated drawings.”
Benefits for Applicants – The Huntsville municipal Building Department gained valuable insight into how e-permitting would impact the public by taking a community-based approach to its decision.
“As a designer, I’m on the computer all day, so I could have worked with any of the e-permitting options presented,” explained Spivak. “But some of the options seemed like they would be too complicated and confusing for people who don’t regularly use computers – I think the town would have had to spend a lot of time answering questions about those systems, which would cancel out any time saved at the desk.
“Cloudpermit, on the other hand, has a user-friendly interface that appears to be designed for an end user who may not be familiar with the permitting process, and may be making an application for the first time. This is excellent because many applicants are home or business owners, not designers or contractors.”
Advice for Municipal Building Departments that Want to Switch to E-Permitting – E-permitting is on the rise across Ontario and, as more municipalities make the switch, its benefits for municipal building departments are becoming well known.
The Huntsville municipal Building Department understood that by adopting e-permitting, efficiency, communication, and file management would be improved by becoming paperless and having 24/7/365 access online in one space.
“We knew there were clear positives for us as a municipal building department by switching to e-permitting, but with this community-based approach, we learned how e-permitting impacts and benefits our municipality and external user group,” explained Nagy. “If I had known how many benefits our building industry would experience from Cloudpermit, I would have started onboarding even earlier in the process.”
By taking a community-based approach to choosing an e-permitting solution, the Town of Huntsville was able to make its building community feel valued.
“My advice to other municipalities that want to switch to e-permitting is to involve your building community early on in the decision-making and onboarding process,” shared Nagy. “It has proved to be invaluable to have their insight and to give them a voice in the decision. We are off to a great start in Huntsville because we’ve chosen a platform that our municipal building department enjoys and is appreciated by our building community.”
Originally published in the 2020 December Issue of the OBOA Journal.