Paper-Based Permitting Hampers Development
One of Kirk’s first initiatives was to eliminate the City’s paper-based permitting system, which was a complex and time-consuming process that often caused delays in development and renovation efforts.
According to Greg Rowland, Director of Building & House Codes at the City, “The most challenging part of the paper-based system was the time it took to apply for a permit. A contractor would fill out a paper application, then one of our staff would have to re-enter the same information. Then print the permit.”
The City’s permitting department was frequently overwhelmed with community members and contractors dropping off and picking up permits, which resulted in a constant influx of phone calls and requests for assistance that often diverted the permitting staff’s attention from other important tasks.
Kirk worked diligently to find a software solution that could streamline and digitize the City’s workflows while seamlessly integrating with their existing processes, including their financial system. She also prioritized a solution that would collect data in a way that could quickly demonstrate improvements to stakeholders and the community. Ultimately, this led to the City’s partnership with OpenGov.
“OpenGov not only has the things we need to meet our functionality needs, in terms of the nuts and bolts of the permitting process, but also that storytelling component… it’s important to us that residents can see why we brought our permitting process online,” said Lauren Kirk, CIO, Jackson, TN.
Transforming the Planning and Building & Codes Departments
The City of Jackson’s Planning and Building & Codes department are live on OpenGov Permitting & Licensing, with over 30 applications online. City staff have found it much easier to keep up with tasks using the new systems, where they can pull reports and approve permits instantaneously without having to sift through files or wait on contractors.
“OpenGov is leaps and bounds better than what we had…I’m looking at about 20 filing cabinets right now that we will no longer need. We’re excited that more and more applications are digital now,” said Rowland.
The streamlined workflow of approval steps and the ability for applicants to pay online reaped massive efficiencies. Not only was building approval time reduced by 67%, but walk-in traffic also noticeably decreased now that applicants could apply for a permit, submit plans for review digitally, and request inspections from their homes. Applicants can also see inspection results immediately after the inspection takes place as the system updates in real time.
Watch: See how Cypress, CA Reduced Walk-In Traffic by 80%
“Twenty to thirty minutes has been cut to 5-10 minutes. There has been tremendous time saving, permits are getting issued much faster,” Rowland added.
But it wasn’t just City staff and contractors that raved about the new digital permitting process. “When our Building Department showed the State inspector the types of reports we could capture [like this comprehensive report of inspection results], he was very impressed. He said it could be a model for the state,” said Kirk.
A More Collaborative Future
Kirk’s ultimate objective is to ensure that Jackson stays current with innovative practices and data management, and she plans to bring more departments onto OpenGov.
With multiple departments using the same system, she aims to shift the government culture towards a more collaborative approach where departments work together on shared challenges rather than in silos. By redesigning processes and establishing shared goals, each department will be able to see progress in the areas they impact.
“I would love to get to the point where I can come in on a Monday morning, make a couple of clicks, and see the level of reporting I can see with OpenGov system-wide,” said Kirk.
In It For the Long Haul
Mayor Scott Conger and CIO Lauren Kirk have brought a new era of innovation and transformation to Jackson, TN. Their focus on sustainable change and renovation efforts has revitalized the City, starting with a significant impact on the Planning and Building Departments. While significant change has been made, Kirk sees the City’s partnership with OpenGov as a long-term investment.
“The accessibility of the OpenGov team and leadership was a big factor. They really wanted to understand what our needs were in Jackson and not only on this project and in this department, but for getting Jackson up to 2023’s standards across the board and what we envision as long-term innovation practices and data management,” Kirk said.