Read frequent questions municipal building departments have about e-permitting.

More municipalities across North America are switching from paper-based and legacy systems to e-permitting for their building permit processes, but there are still many municipalities who are hesitant or scared to make the switch.  

Jarkko Turtiainen, Vice President of Cloudpermit, North America, talked with Municipal World CEO, Susan Gardner, in the Municipal World Presents podcast.  

The episode, Digital streamlining and e-permits with Cloudpermit, is about e-permitting and answers frequent questions municipal building departments have about changing their building permit process:

  • What pain points are solved from switching to e-permitting?
  • How does e-permitting help municipalities manage during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How does Cloudpermit work for municipalities of all sizes?
  • When departments go digital, where is the data stored and who runs the system?
  • What is the biggest barrier that holds municipalities back from switching to e-permitting?
  • Who is invited to the table to move toward digital transformation?

What pain points are solved from switching to e-permitting?

Transparency: Paper-based systems leave room for error and confusion as applicants do not know if they included everything required in their permit application, or the status of their application. With e-permitting, transparency is improved because applicants can submit complete permit applications and check permit status online.  

Communication: E-permitting helps improve communication because applicants understand what they need to include in an application, and when they need to apply.  

Speed: Municipal building departments receive complete permit applications because applicants understand what needs to be included when they apply for a permit.  

E-permitting also helps alleviate problems connected to a slow building permit process. Turtiainen references a release published in September 2020 by RESCON (Residential Construction Council of Ontario), Digitized e-permitting process would help alleviate housing shortage and kick-start economy, to share that there is a current housing crisis.

Turtiainen explains that the current housing crisis is happening in many provinces across Canada in part due to a slow building process. E-permitting speeds up the building process which brings more money into the Canadian economy.  

RESCON’s release references a report made by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis in September 2020, Impacts of Streamlining Construction Approval Processes in Ontario: A Socioeconomic Analysis.  

The release states: “The report found that an additional 33,100 homes could be built in Ontario above and beyond current baseline trends over the next five years if the development approval processes were reduced by six months. A six-month reduction in the approvals processes could also result in an additional contribution of $4.5 billion to Ontario’s economy annually by 2025 and support 40,500 jobs.”  

Customer Service: Applicants do not need to travel to the municipal office during business hours to apply for a permit. With e-permitting, they can apply for permits online at any time.  

How does e-permitting help municipalities manage during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has helped push municipalities toward digitalization at a fast pace. Municipalities have had to rethink whole business processes in response to new pandemic realities.  

Turtiainen remarks how most municipalities are medium or small-sized: “They didn’t think they could do everything digitally; they weren’t prepared for it and now something’s changed their daily life and they had to go and start doing things. And they’ve been doing an amazing job changing in a very small period of time to go digital, especially in the building departments.”

By going digital, municipal building departments can work remotely during the pandemic.

How does Cloudpermit work for municipalities of all sizes?

Traditionally, e-permitting software has only been available to large municipalities because, typically, it is a large investment into custom software specific to individual municipalities. This is not the case with Cloudpermit – it works for municipalities of all sizes because it is cloud-based, and as Turtiainen explains, it is not customizable, it is configurable.  

“In Ontario, for example, we’ve got most of the processes that the municipalities use, most of the forms that are required by law and also by building code, are already in the system. So, it doesn’t matter what municipality you are, we can use the library inside our system to set your process in there,” shared Turtiainen.

Cloudpermit encourages neighbouring municipalities to start using the same processes. As more municipalities adopt the software, Cloudpermit helps streamline and standardize the building permit process for applicants and municipalities of all sizes – Turtiainen challenges, “Why does it have to be different?”

When departments go digital, where is the data stored and who runs the system?

Cloudpermit’s data is stored and hosted in Canada, and its system is operated by Cloudpermit. It also helps relieve strain on IT departments because it is cloud-based (no installations) and automatically updates.  

What is the biggest barrier that holds municipalities back from switching to e-permitting?

Turtiainen explains that from his perspective, technology is the biggest barrier for municipalities to switch to e-permitting. Many municipalities are used to paper and pen and are afraid that technology will take their job.  

He shares that those who were scared to go digital but did anyways have grown to love working with technology. It gave them a clear process and showed them that digitalization did not take away their jobs, it helped them.

“That step of being afraid of computers and technology taking over my job, that should be forgotten about. It’s [technology] there to help you and be able to give you clear direction on what you’re doing,” Turtiainen shared.  

Who is invited to the table to move toward digital transformation?

Turtiainen recommends that when considering who to involve in the move toward digital transformation, look at municipal building departments as a company. The Chief Building Official is the CEO, and the municipal building department is their business. Turtiainen poses a question CBOs should ask themselves, “How do I improve my process and how do I make this better?”

Then they need to have a buy-in from the building industry. They need to ask their customers – builders, designers, and applicants – what change they want and how they want the change to happen.  

“I’d say 99% of people on that side of the table will say, ‘I want to go digital; I want to make my life easier’,” he shared.  

Municipal building departments should involve its municipal staff, IT department, council, etc., – the bigger the municipality, the more people need to be involved.

Turtiainen explains CBOs need buy-ins from municipal staff and the building industry before making the switch to e-permitting because these parties use the software daily.  

Listen to the Municipal World podcast and reach out if you have any other e-permitting questions.