Transforming plan review No. 2: Customer experience isn’t just for the public

Last time, we talked about plan review, digital transformation and the customer experience of those who submit plans for local government to review. Going paperless changes the costs, time and annoyance of plan reviews for submitters, and those can be great results for your planning department.

But digital transformation also requires that we find tools to support our own staff so the efficiency driven by a convenient electronic front end isn’t wrapped around the same paper-driven internal process.

Raising expectations

Many aspects of paper plan reviews can sap the efficiency and output of review staff. And, when this is sitting behind a web-based electronic submission tool, you raise the expectations of submitters without doing anything to address some of the underlying challenges that your staff faces.

Here are some examples:

  • The black hole

This is the great black hole of plan review. We have the plan, but we don’t know its status in the review process.

If you accept electronic CAD files but store them in a siloed solution, it’s still hard to know where the project is in the review process. Having electronic files that aren’t connected to a workflow engine means you created a different kind of file cabinet, but not necessarily a better one.

  • Silos

Storing disconnected electronic files in a CAD solution doesn’t help make information available. It offers limited long-term storage options and lacks process transparency.

This is the perennial issue with information accessibility. Where is it stored, and how do you find it or even know it exists if there isn’t a single place to store it?

  • Versions and revisions

Bigger plan review projects often have multiple review cycles with marked-up plans. Keeping the latest versions straight can be difficult, as is ensuring that the final, correct plans are the ones returned to submitters for construction. With multiple paper documents or electronic ones and no version control, you risk finalizing the wrong set.

  • Comparing versions

Staff will rightly focus on the required changes. But in a large plan set, do they have the time to review every sheet for all potential changes? And if they do, how does that slow the process?

Multiple review cycles also highlights the need to compare plan sets. And the bigger the project, the harder it is to know what has changed.

  • Mismatch between reviewers and community growth

This forces local governments to wait to add staff until the growth cycle kicks in. In the meantime, workloads increase, review times lengthen and submitters complain.

If you live in a high-growth community, you might have a true mismatch between the number of reviews and available staff. This is exacerbated by the reality that the revenues from that growth usually lag behind staffing needs and infrastructure development requirements.

Delivering on your promise

So how does electronic plan review help your staff cope with these challenges? Here are a few ways:

  • Submission portal

An electronic start to the process means that staff can take advantage of workflow, which automatically notifies them when reviews are needed or due. It also adds clarity as managers can see all the reviews in progress.

  • Central repository with version control

Having a single place to store plans while maintaining all the versions correctly helps to eliminate time lost to file room searches.

  • Workflow automation

Utilizing electronic workflow and digital plans means that review statuses are easy to see, assignments can be tracked and review deadlines are easier to meet. This eliminates the black hole of plan review.

  • Comparison tool

Accepting electronic plans also allows you to leverage tools that can colorize changes to different plan versions. This helps staff immediately consider required changes and helps ensure they don’t miss unexpected changes that might not be to code.

  • Real-time collaboration tools

Real-time collaboration means that they no longer endure long meetings where they attempt to aggregate and consolidate all comments.

While staff often review plans based on their discipline, collaboration is necessary. And being able to work on one plan set and see each reviewer’s comments can increase the effectiveness of reviews.

  • Correspondence generation

A solution that can automate the creation of correspondences while leveraging a single marked-up plan set with a comments tool translates into faster communication to the submitter. It also means time savings for staff as they communicate necessary changes.

  • Mobile access

Moving to digital plans increases the field accessibility required by inspectors. This includes the possibility that what they encounter in the field might be unexpected.

Offering a better customer experience is often discussed, but that is only part of the transformation equation. Customer experience improvement isn’t just for the public, it helps our staff care for our residents more efficiently and effectively. Investing in electronic plan review will achieve results for both sides of the fence and put your community on the path to good development.

Next time we’ll discuss your long-term responsibilities for plan sets such as critical records.

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