Do More with Less: Efficient Services Among Staff Shortages
City of Brockville, OntarioDecember 20, 2023
How the City of Brockville embraced online software for streamlined building permitting and by-law enforcement.
Local governments in Canada are grappling with a common issue: not enough staff. As seasoned employees retire at a rapid pace, there are not enough new hires to fill the gaps. Online community development software can help relieve the strain on government services by allowing teams to do more with less.
Ontario’s City of Brockville went live with Cloudpermit in the summer of 2022 for online building permitting and is the city’s first department to accept online payments. In the summer of 2023, Brockville started using online by-law enforcement for streamlined services.
Do More with Less
The eastern Ontario city began looking for cloud-based software to prioritize efficient and mobile service delivery a couple years ago.
Before this software, we had non-practical steps,” says Sebastian Scott, Brockville’s Chief Building Official. “We would write reports in the field and then re-enter the information at the office. We also had issues with people missing permit drawings on-site.”
Scott explained that the Brockville team was shifting from paper-based inspections to using tablets and looked at their options. Cloudpermit was the answer.
Our previous CBO retired so we were down an inspector, and it can be challenging to find new inspectors. So, it was a priority to reduce the administrative workload of permit entry and project filing. Cloudpermit has helped us do more with less."
Now, Brockville can deliver service more efficiently.
We’re providing better customer service without needing to do much to provide better customer service,” Scott reveals. “Cloudpermit makes building permitting and by-law enforcement more transparent. Applicants have clearer expectations from the start.”
Communities can benefit from support resources to learn how to use the system better.
We have how-to videos embedded on our website which is helpful for our community. I can refer to the support portal’s resources when someone has a question. The support we can give our community has made implementing and using this software a success.”
Track Complaints with Ease
Many Ontario governments have difficulty finding talent.
Staffing has always been an issue for our service delivery,” he explains. “We only have one by-law officer, so there has always been a push to stress the importance of complaint-based initiation.”
Residents can now submit complaints online. This prevents complaints from coming in from too many directions – via email, phone calls, and in person at the office.
We capture more areas that need our attention because it's easier for our residents to make a complaint now. We can better track complaints and effectively visualize our community issues on a map. This greatly supports our mission.”
Brockville’s team used to manually input complaints into their old system from various channels. Sometimes, these complaints were as long as five pages.
Now, inputting complaints is the complainant’s responsibility.
Now that complainants handle this administrative work, our staff can concentrate on addressing real issues instead of getting tied up with paperwork,” explains Scott. “Since we’ve cut our administrative time in half, it’s much easier to issue and serve orders.”
Accepting complaints in one system has had a positive impact on Brockville.
With Cloudpermit, we can now respond to twice as many complaints than we could before. Since we record everything online, we capture more complaints now. If someone visits the customer service counter to file a complaint, we can record the complaint on their behalf. We gain a more accurate understanding of our work by keeping everything in the cloud.”
Centralize All Information
Brockville benefits from well-organized and transparent services.
Cloudpermit was an obvious choice because it keeps all information in one place and simplifies inspections," Scott shares. “We can do our inspections in real-time, so we no longer need to enter our field notes back at the office. Every deficiency has its own box so it's clear for everyone when there is a problem. From there, we can add photos to help our inspectors and applicants understand any issues."
Inspections are now easier for applicants, as they can schedule them online and receive automatic status updates. This eliminates the need to visit, call, or email the office.
This also reduces the administrative workload for governments since staff can access all necessary data online.
We’re working on various significant projects, such as an elementary school. Our architects and engineers appreciate the convenience of keeping all their work in one place. They can easily access my inspections and we can collaborate using the same real-time information.”
Brockville staff can view all documents related to building permits and complaints on their phones, tablets, and computers. This plays a key role in ensuring successful construction and emergency response.
Having all information in one accessible place, such as property insurance, is valuable during events like fires. Cloudpermit can help us respond quickly during emergencies.”
Recently, Brockville experienced some flooding. Residents needed to reinstall their basement water valves, or their insurance companies would drop their flood policies.
The city needed a cost estimate for insurance purposes. With Cloudpermit, we easily determined how many basements had the required building permits and inspections. Getting this information and creating a report was straightforward.
This helped the city decide who would receive insurance coverage for the flooding. In the past, without this software, it would have taken a lot of time to find the necessary data. Now, it just takes a minute.”
More accessible information has led to more reliable reporting.
Achieving this level of accuracy in our monthly council reports would have been impossible before Cloudpermit,” he continues. “These reports enable us to make informed decisions and provide the city with valuable insights.”
Make Builders Happy
Online software enables communities to collaborate and maintain accountability with documented conversations. Users can send time-stamped messages directly or in groups within the software.
Instead of reviewing a drawing from an email and answering a question, I can do reviews and answer questions in the chat. Cloudpermit records everything, so there is no need to keep emails as part of a file for future reference."
Scott says their regular builders appreciate how Cloudpermit improves transparency. They particularly like having immediate access to their information and data.
The permitting process has become easier for our frequent builders. They can copy an application and reuse the same information for fast and efficient applications."
Builders also benefit from enhanced government collaboration. Various departments can access each other's notes to speed up the review process and prevent duplicate efforts.
When we have multiple online reviews on a project, we're providing a better, faster, and more transparent review,” he explains.
An efficient development approval process is a win-win for the entire community.
Time to Face Reality
Scott highlighted the staffing challenges many Canadian governments face when asked for advice to offer non-digital governments.
In our industry, we're dealing with a shortage of staff, regardless of the technology or software we adopt. Without the right tools in this job market, it's challenging to attract talent. Municipalities must provide the necessary resources for their staff to succeed. Online software like Cloudpermit is one of these critical resources."
The urgency of attracting new talent grows as seasoned building and government professionals retire. Online software can be a valuable tool in achieving this goal.
Scott concludes, "Just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it should be the way of the future. It’s essential to embrace change and continuously seek more effective ways of working.”
This article was originally published in the OBOA Journal and can be viewed here.