Case Study

Serving a Growing Community with Digital Permitting

Economic development is a top strategic priority in Cranberry Township, PA. As a fast-growing community that processes and performs more than 1000 permits and 10,000+ inspections annually, the administrative and code services team spent their days manually processing paper applications.

 

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Two years ago, Cranberry Township, PA, stored its permitting applications in paper files. The permitting process was paper-based, dependent on manual entry, and involved lots of back and forth across departments, according to Dean Simpson, Manager, Development & Code Services for the Township. They needed a more efficient, paperless process.

Population
31,560

Agency Type
Town

Annual Budget
$39.5M

Role
Community Development

Region
Northeast

Solution
Citizen Services

Customer Results

50%

Reduction in permit processing time

1000+

Permits processed annually

 

An Immediate Need for Change

 

When the pandemic hit, developing an online permitting and inspection process became a top priority. With offices closed and government employees working from home, there was no one onsite to collect paper permit applications.

When the permitting and inspection process ground to a halt, there was instant financial impact. As a quick fix, the permitting team accepted scanned and emailed applications. However, the process still didn’t allow for seamless data sharing and workflows. Most steps still required a human being to forward an email or walk a file to a colleague.

More than ⅓ of local governments reported that licensing and fees were negatively impacted by the pandemic.


The Good News


Cranberry Township was already in the planning process to update their permitting workflow before the pandemic. The many developers they worked with often complained that the permitting process took too long. With the paper process, it took up to 15 business days to complete the application process. Plus, applications had to be dropped off at the Township during business hours. Many developers complained of the  lengthy process and limited hours for submission. 

Not to mention, the process was far from seamless for the Township employees. It involved lots of back and forth across internal departments, causing delays. Plus, all fees had to be manually entered, which often resulted in errors.

Because of external feedback and internal headaches, the gears were already moving in the direction of online permitting before the pandemic, speeding up the implementation process.

 

The Need for Speed  


Ultimately, the pandemic led to a lofty goal: Find and implement a solution by the end of 2021. 

“We were given the direction from our leadership that this needed to happen sooner rather than later.” Dean Simpson, Manager of Development and Codes Services for Cranberry Township. 

The team got to work. They started by outlining their current permitting and licensing workflow from start to finish. This exercise allowed them to show the team at OpenGov the exact features they required in a permitting platform. Plus, it allowed the OpenGov team to suggest best practices learned from working with other cities. 

After initial planning, it took less than six months to launch OpenGov Citizen Services as the Township’s online permitting and licensing process. The launch was scheduled for May, one of the busiest times of the year for permit applications. However, adoption and implementation were so seamless that the team continued moving at full speed during their peak season.

“Being able to build [the process] out ourselves prior to going live really helped us understand how the software works, and [how to] make it work for us and automate as much as possible,” says Simpson. “It has made it quite simple.”

 

Processing Time Cut in Half


The results were felt across the community. Permit processing time was cut in half, from 10-15 days to 5-7 days, thanks to the elimination of manual data entry for the administrative team and collaboration among multiple permit reviewers simultaneously.

Many inspections are now done virtually. This gives inspectors the agility to accept day-of inspections, without having to drive back to the offices to pick up papers. The Township no longer has to backfill an empty inspector position thanks to the increased efficiency and streamlined process.

For applicants, they can submit their applications when they need to, wherever they are, instead of only during business hours at the Township offices. 

The icing on the cake? No more paper and no need for a paper storage room. Now, the only item printed is the actual permit for the building sites.

 

What’s next?


Now, the entire government is working to improve processes across the board and roll out additional services to the community using OpenGov Citizen Services. For example, the engineering department is starting to use the platform for road occupancy permits, and the sewer and water department will use the tracking and analytic capabilities to optimize their services.

In addition, the online move reduced the need for onsite servers. With all of the information safely stored in the cloud, the community’s data is better protected and the upkeep of software is minimal. 

“We’re the first ones to get there, and it’s leading the way for other departments in our Township,” says Simpson.

This case study was excerpted from a September 2021 Next City webinar that was hosted by OpenGov and featured Cranberry Township.

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