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Municipal managers learned about the experiences of Yarmouth and Reading with implementation of online permitting software during the April 14 meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Management Association in Wrentham.
Yarmouth Information Technology Director Shawn MacInnes discussed the benefits and challenges of the permitting software Accela as a regional solution for Barnstable County, while Reading GIS Administrator Kim Honetschlager reviewed her town’s experience with ViewPoint software. Both said that their community sought greater accountability over the permitting process.
Before Yarmouth switched to online permitting, MacInnes said, small building projects were often completed without a permit due to the inconvenience of traditional permitting, causing revenue loss. Permits getting lost in the shuffle, incomplete or incorrect records, loss of staff time, and the inability to electronically track and route permits to other departments were among the issues that the town hoped to resolve by using online software.
ViewPoint sped up Reading’s building permit approval process from at least 14 days before issuing a permit to within two days, with most issued on the spot, Honetschlager said. The GIS feature in ViewPoint allows permits that require review from other departments to be flagged and immediately sent to those stakeholders, she said, adding that the switch to ViewPoint caused more work for some employees but overall increased efficiency.
MacInnes and Honetschlager warned of focusing on customizable features of the software when starting out, which can slow down adoption and implementation. Instead, they said, communities should focus on implementing and learning the base software, while remembering that they have to consider ongoing operations.
Both stressed that implementation would take longer than anticipated. Reading used user group meetings and listservs (electronic mailing lists) to isolate issues and hold the vendor accountable, Honetchlager said.
Building off the work done by other cities and towns that already implemented software is crucial to the process, they said. Other communities could use customized templates created by one town in Accela, MacInnes said, and another community adapting the platform was significantly aided in their implementation due to the work of Barnstable County.
Both Accela and ViewPoint have grown significantly in the past couple years, which caused some growing pains for consumers, MacInnes and Honetschlager said.
Both towns secured funding for implementing permit software. Yarmouth received a state Community Innovation and Challenge Grant in 2012, while Reading’s $1.25 million request to update technology hardware and software was approved by Town Meeting in 2007.