Essential tools for your plan review process
If you are in a building department or perhaps a plan reviewer, your job can be stressful. Commercial and residential development in your community is an important economic engine and, if your community is experiencing growth, your workload may be increasing but your staffing may not be.
Completing reviews and inspections is important, but, at times, it’s perceived that they are holding up development, and, by extension, job and property tax growth. On the other hand, reviews and inspections ensure safety and conformance to the very standards that may make your community a great place to live and locate a business. It’s fair to say that inspectors and plan reviewers can find themselves in the middle of a classic duel between zoning and standards and development.
If you find yourself in the middle, how are you coping? What tools are you embracing that can help you collaborate better and conduct reviews faster? Does your submission process frustrate developers, starting your relationship on difficult footing? Are submission fees a bone of contention? And, how do you preserve the final plans? Paper storage? Can your public safety peers access final plans if they need to respond to an event at a site?
If one or more of these questions captures your experience, here are some ways to transform your plan review process:
Portal for submission
Your paper-driven process means submitters are spending extra money to create paper plan sets and submitting multiple plan sets and revisions. This is no way to take the pressure off a regulatory process that is generally not appreciated by the business community. You’re expected to go paperless.
Perhaps you have moved to submission on CDs and DVDs, but then how much time is spent burning new disks with mark-ups and comments? An online portal for submission eliminates all that, streamlining re-submission. Instantly, you have reduced the cost of doing business in your community and improved the review process.
Integration to your online permitting process
How do you improve a paperless submission portal? You connect it to your permitting portal so project managers can apply for permits online and transfer that data to their plan submission. Portals allow submitters to track the progress of their submissions without having to call you or visit in person. This improves your customer service and maintains high standards for review.
Making the customer experience better is great, but what about the internal pressures of workload? Reviews require collaboration between many staff and disciplines, and we must admit that multiple parties can add to the time it takes to complete a review. And, what about the correspondence back to submitters? How is that aggregated and sent back? In pieces? Have you ever discovered conflicting changes back to submitters?
Going paperless means that all reviewers can work from a central copy, see comments in real time and gather comments into a single letter back to submitters. Real-time collaboration saves time and produces better reviews.
A real repository
You may have already made the leap to electronic plans, but can you preserve those well into the future? Is there a way for the final plans to be shared or accessed in the field via mobile devices? Can your first responders access the plans in case they need to respond to an event at a location? While projects are under review, a focused mark-up application might work for now, but how will you preserve those records and make them available to others who do not have that application? Your local developments need a permanent, electronic repository that can serve every department with regulatory and public safety responsibilities for that location.
The classic duel between development and planning doesn’t have to persist. Electronic permitting and planning processes allow us to address the customer service experience, application costs and efficiency without lowering the standards we enforce. This means that with technology, we can have the communities we love while welcoming development that fits everyone’s needs and enhances our economic health.