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North Andover, Massachusetts is situated along the Merrimack River, perhaps most famous for a book by Henry David Thoreau about his voyage from Concord, MA to Concord, NH. The Town lists three different license types for beaver and muskrat trapping on its Permitting, Licensing, and Code Enforcement portal. These two details disguise a key attribute of North Andover’s government: it’s a leading-edge example for how to build community resilience with collaboration and a shared, cloud-based platform.
Under the leadership of IT Director Christopher McClure, North Andover has transformed workflows across departments. Early on McClure understood that building a sense of ownership was just as important as implementing a best-fit solution. All too often, the people most excited about software are not the ones implementing it.
“To make more of our departments successful, we focused on building buy-in and a sense of ownership for the product and proficiency for developing workflows across departments. That was what determined our success,” explains McClure.
OpenGov’s Permitting & Licensing’s adaptable, cloud-based framework appealed to McClure, but the first order of business was getting buy-in and proving the usefulness of the suite for just a few permit types within one department. Later, he helped expand the use cases across departments which turned out to be a crucial step toward building resilience and protecting the community and economy when a catastrophic risk event hit.
“We want to operate every day like this is an emergency because, as we’ve learned, any one of these days we will have an emergency and then we have to operate like it’s every day.”
Chris McClure, IT Director, North Andover, MA
Well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, North Andover experienced a massive risk event when an overpressurized natural gas system exploded in 2018, causing over 70 local fires and displacing thousands of residents from their homes.
After first responders from North Andover and local and state police secured the scene, it fell to Town employees across departments to pick up the pieces and help the community rebuild its homes, infrastructure, and economy.
Teams across departments moved to quickly implement a rebate program that would incentivize residents to spend locally in order to help local businesses that were impacted survive. The Town refunded up to 50% of purchases depending on the amount of money spent and used Permitting & Licensing to create an online form where shoppers could submit their receipts and receive their rebate in the form of a gift card.
“We were thinking outside of the box,” shares McClure. “We knew [OpenGov Permitting & Licensing] could complete electronic signatures and sign-offs already.” From there, McClure and team brainstormed this new application to digitally manage the workflow process that would prove helpful in the community’s economic recovery after the disaster.
This line of collaborative, tech-enabled thinking action would prove critical in North Andover’s success in protecting permitting revenue and supporting departments’ ongoing work through the COVID-19 shutdown.
Having an adaptable cloud-based platform allowed North Andover to move quickly to disburse needed grants after the gas explosion. Permitting & Licensing was also used to protect permitting revenues through the COVID shutdown and then ensure safety with reopening.
“With the closure of the Town buildings due to the pandemic, the online permitting process has made it seamless to continue to serve the public in this way, even if not face to face. Staff and the public alike are seeing the value of bringing these services online and there has been a big uptick in online permit requests across departments.”
Christine McElhiney, IT Administrative/Technical Assistant, North Andover, MA
By successfully making the case for adoption by showing value to staff and the community, North Andover has implemented more than 50 permit and license applications across five departments, including the Building Department, Department of Public Health and Fire, the Town Clerk’s and the Select Board.
This means that the Town is able to integrate workflows to protect revenues and ensure public safety — sometimes in the same step. For example, North Andover has made signing up for its Smart 911 service part of its DBA certification process. Business owners register with its 911 platform when they apply for a certification, making it easier for 911 operators to get additional information when a call comes in from a business location.
Control over configurations and integrations appeals to North Andover’s IT department. Ease of use and the ability to remove bottlenecks and add checks to workflows appeal to staff. For applicants and the community, it’s all about getting their work done easily and efficiently.
“The value of all land use departments seeing the same permit application and associated materials has been immense. Departments are able to collaborate on the information submitted and provide timely and accurate information to the applicant. Overall OpenGov has provided an efficient, transparent, and customer friendly environment.”
Jean Enright, Planning Director, North Andover, MA
Taken together, efficiencies and configurations are greater than the sum of their parts. Connected workflows between multiple offices ensure that critical checks are in place. For example, the tax collector’s office is an approver for every building permit so that they can check applicants for any back taxes owed.
North Andover is also looking into bringing planning and conservation onto their Permitting & Licensing portal. In Massachusetts, the state mandates a number of paper-based forms, but Permitting & Licensing can be used to manage the process by capturing and ingesting all relevant information from these forms on the Town’s system so staff have it in one place online.
Balancing the right people with the right capabilities is the key to adopting a shared platform that works for everyone, and when it works for everyone then it begins to deliver outsized value for its users and community, as North Andover has adeptly shown.
The Town of North Andover, MA is home to more than 30,000 residents and located within a stone’s throw from Boston. The Town Charter was enacted in 1986 and preserves the tradition of public participation in government via the Open Town Meeting, characteristic of many historic New England towns. The meeting affords North Andover residents greater involvement in local affairs and decisions, facilitated by the five-person, elected Board of Selectmen, and financially supported by the nine-person Finance Committee.
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