Plan review No. 4: Your checklist for transforming plan review

If you’re ready to explore electronic plan review, you’re probably also looking for key features that support the customer experience, achieve end-to-end results and ensure a sound IT investment. Digital transformation may be a lofty analyst idea, but it can offer real improvement for the review process and the experience of submitters and reviewers.

Solution features that support the idea of “end-to-end” processes also have their part to play in your efforts to transform your plan review process. Ensuring that data is available and that manual data entry is never repeated can be one of the most important contributions you make to the operations of your organization.

End-to-end also implies less switching between applications to improve efficiency while staff (and customers) need to learn fewer solutions. For IT staff, fewer applications means less to support, update and secure. It’s another benefit to a department that faces challenges of modernization and cyber-security.

These efficiency gains rely on choosing a solution with the right features and capabilities. Choosing a solution that can adapt to the changes in our communities and responsibilities – affordably and easily – makes it easier for your IT department to be responsive to business needs.

The essential plan review list

So what should you look for in an electronic plan review solution?

  • Content services core

Permits, letters, reports, photos, video and plan set versions are all collected and consulted as a plan is reviewed. In the future, they might even be consulted again in another plan review. But perhaps more importantly, first responders may need these items.

A content services solution handles all types of content, makes finding it easier and can serve it up from other solutions used by staff. This core is a long-term repository accessible only by your review staff, meaning critical content isn’t in a silo when public safety needs it.

  • Integration to permitting data and GIS solutions

Passing data forward from your permitting solution to your plan review application means less re-typing for submitters and the ability to archive permits along with the plans and other documentation around the project.

  • Web portal for submission

A core tenet of digital transformation is having an online presence and a web portal to accept electronic plan sets is a key way to start the process. It also creates a lower cost for submitters.

  • Dashboard for managing reviews

Managing an internal review process is tricky. There can be several reviewers, internal and external, multiple reviews assigned to a single staff person and even legal timeframes for completion.

Limited views of individual projects isn’t helpful for those with a coordinating role over the reviews in process. A key part of the customer experience is to provide the right tools to staff when they focus on individual projects or the process itself.

  • Workflow to automate routing, staff notifications and review deadlines

Automating tasks drives efficiency. With workflow, automatic emails and timers can keep staff within timeframes for reviews and assignments.

Most reviews require more than one submission. So a solution that can keep track and control versions and revisions is essential to ensure that staff review the most current version and that the final approved plan is stamped that way.

  • Integrated, real-time collaboration comparison tools

Seeing the comments of reviewers as you work is helpful and quickly seeing how plans changed are benefits that make reviewers more efficient. A plan viewer that can colorize differences between versions means staff don’t miss requested and unrequested changes and approve something that wasn’t fully approved.

  • Correspondence creation and status updates for submitters

Tools that support communication to submitters and make it easy to aggregate the comments across all reviewers is a real time saver. Look for a solution that can automatically aggregate the comments into a letter for submitters and send status updates of the review without requiring staff to answer telephones or sit in long team meetings to aggregate comments and mark up plans.

  • Reporting

Coordinators need the ability to see reviews in process. But other managers, executives and elected officials may want reporting to understand what is happening in their jurisdiction as well as the review process itself. Dashboards that can describe a process and leverage data from other systems is helpful when you get a question from someone outside of the review team.

  • Electronic delivery for marked-up plans and final plans

Digital plan sets are significant files, so being able to share them back electronically in a format like PDF/A with bookmarks and pointers to comments extends the convenience to submitters. It also saves postage and courier fees for your department via secure online delivery.

  • A central, secure repository for all content and the final plans

As I mentioned in my last blog post, preserving the process and the final plans in a way that makes it easy for later generations and other staff to do their jobs is the true meaning of end-to-end and will save your community ever-growing storage fees for paper plans.

  • Mobile access

A solution that offers mobile access and tools for electronic inspection forms can drive even more efficiency for your overall community development effort. And, in the event that a project requires a public safety or other emergency response, supporting their access in the field can literally save lives.

  • Configuration, not custom code

This last point is more for your IT staff, but it is essential that the solution you pick can be changed and expanded affordably in the future. Government processes change and solutions need to change with them.

If you pick a solution that uses custom code to integrate or automate your process, you can face significant costs and deployment delays while needed changes are made. Picking a solution that can be configured, and doesn’t need to be coded, helps ensure that a solution has a long life and a good ROI.

Use this list

As you consider transforming your review process, use this list to search for the solutions that have the most potential to improve your external customer experience and support review staff. And, use this list to match real plan review tools to the loftier goal of digital transformation and the important goal of investing in a robust and sustainable solution.

With this kind of tool kit, you will achieve that rare moment when real work intersects with analyst ideas and delivers better government.

Terri Jones is an enterprise advisor with Hyland’s Global Services team. Before coming to Hyland, in her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she’s managed IT departments, implemented ECM strategies and written legislation and program policies. As an enterprise advisor, she uses her background in IT deployment, change management and strategic planning to lead workshops that help Hyland customers get the most from their solution investments.
Terri Jones

Terri Jones

Terri Jones is an enterprise advisor with Hyland’s Global Services team. Before coming to Hyland, in her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she’s managed IT departments, implemented... read more about: Terri Jones