Case Study

Salem, MA, Sees Jump in Permit Applications After Exorcizing Old Software Inefficiencies

In a city known for its hasty and vindictive witch trials, Salem, MA, took time to deliberate and establish a process before migrating eight departments from its on-premise solution to OpenGov’s Permitting & Licensing cloud suite.

There were several issues with Salem’s legacy permitting process: data wasn’t integrated, workflow rules were not built properly, permits were not designed correctly, reports could not be modified or updated, and public-facing portal descriptions were outdated and not always clear. “It took six months to get 3-5 permits up and running with the right language and workflows,” describes Salem CIO Matthew Killen.

Any of these fixes alone can take months to fix with a customized, on-premise solution. At the same time, Salem’s needs were also growing and evolving in a way that required greater flexibility and agility. They had initially set up the workflow for a small number of permit types, which did not scale for new use cases. Additionally, they needed to update the fee collection process to overcome the “payments two-step” where a permit applicant would have to go back and forth between departments to learn the cost and pay the associated fee.

After COVID-related delays, Salem went live in the cloud in summer 2020. The results have been unequivocal: residents and developers love that they can connect, submit an application, initiate payments, and get the permit document — all through Salem’s online portal.


Agency Type

Annual Budget
$172 Million



Permitting & Licensing

Customer Results

Substantial increase in fees collected

8 departments utilizing OpenGov

27 new permit types implemented

Fee accuracy and transparency

Implementation Best Practices

Setting up a custom, on-premise workflow is high stakes since you have to think through all potential use cases in advance. Though Salem spent quality time getting it right when they implemented their on-premise solution, steps were still overlooked and future needs went unforeseen. For example, the number of permits required for service stations and repair garages ballooned to five. With the move to the cloud, the Salem team developed a single permit for all of these businesses.


“When you set up a custom solution, you don’t think of everything. With custom, on-premise solutions, you have to deal with what you have, and with the cloud, you can make adjustments. It’s more flexible.”
Rob Banks, Business Systems Analyst, City of Salem, MA


Moving to the cloud also improves safety because more information is available to more people. With greater cross-departmental collaboration, it’s clear what steps are needed and when. “Nothing slips through cracks because automation ensures that the right steps are taken and that each department is accountable for their part,” explains Salem Fire Marshal Peter Schaeublin.

Set up your cloud software implementation for success:

  1. Build with accountability in mind. To do this, Salem’s CIO Matt Killen, recommends creating a project team with representatives from every department. That way they can bring forward concerns and risks and take answers back to their teams.
  2. Get air cover from executives. Arm your mayor, department heads, and key administrators with talking points about the value of adopting a cloud solution for concurrent and collaborative workflows.
  3. Gain a shared understanding of workflows. Make sure you have your subject matter experts at the table to determine when an inspection should pass or fail and what comes next. You need to resolve business process debates at the table and identify hand-off and notification points.
  4. Sequence your go-lives starting for optimal buy-in. Start with core permitting workflows (i.e., buildings) that involve many departments. After successfully implementing a critical process, ask: what additional workflow needs can we meet and successfully manage?
  5. Move from informed to streamlined. When you’re just getting started, turn on notifications for everyone involved in the workflow. Then, as you figure out who really needs to be informed, you can begin reducing the number of notifications to those involved.


Results for Salem

Since going live with OpenGov Permitting & Licensing, Salem has processed over $1 million in permit application fees, a substantial increase year-over-year. By ensuring an easy and efficient process, more people are electing to file permits. Using OpenGov, Salem increased the number of permit types from 40 to 67 by expanding into animal licensing, community planning and engineering workflows once critical permit processes were established.

With streamlined online payment, Salem can automatically set and send renewal notices which prompt a simple online payment form, rather than requiring a trip to City Hall. “OpenGov ensures that fees are accurately attributed, assigned, and collected, which provides greater transparency and instills trust,” describes Salem Business Systems Analyst Rob Banks.


“With on-premise, we would never have gone from 40 to 67 permit types implemented across eight departments with speed and agility.”
Matthew Killen, CIO, City of Salem, MA


About the City of Salem, MA

Salem is the country’s fourth oldest city and is just shy of its 400th anniversary. The City is famous for its 1692 witch trials, during which several locals were executed for allegedly practicing witchcraft. One of the most significant seaports in early American history, the City is the birthplace of the National Guard.



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