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Paperless Permitting and Building Inspections Expedite Growth in Brunswick County

Brunswick County is the fastest-growing county in North Carolina, with permit offices that serve more than 3,000 building inspections and process more than 150 permit applications for new construction projects each month.

The Problem

The permitting and inspection processes are crucial to economic development, and the speed in which a county or city responds to these requests can impact negotiations between the government and an interested business. Brunswick County understood the importance of a responsive department and sought a solution to better service its citizens through automation. The solution was a conversion to Laserfiche and resulted in the county being awarded MCCi’s Excellence Award for Most Transformative Change Management Initiative for their paperless permitting and building inspection processes.

Brunswick County encompasses a total of 846 square miles, and driving to the county offices to wait in long lines to see a permitting representative was frustrating to both builders and homeowners. And once a permit application was submitted, projects took longer than necessary to be approved because documents traveled between departments, revisions and special conditions were hard to track and communication (or lack thereof) between departments and citizens caused confusion.

Michael Read, deputy MIS director for Brunswick County, said he knew that the permitting process needed to change, because citizens were spending too much time trying to obtain a permit.

“MCCi gave a great demonstration on what Forms and Workflow do, using our situation as an example, and by the end of that meeting, everyone agreed that this was the direction we needed to go...”

The Solution

To solve the problem, Brunswick County worked with MCCi to develop a proof of concept for a new, streamlined permitting process utilizing Laserfiche Forms and Workflow to present to the county.

“MCCi gave a great demonstration on what Forms and Workflow do, using our situation as an example, and by the end of that meeting, everyone agreed that this was the direction we needed to go and that this could work for our project,” said Read.

The prototype of the new process also integrated Laserfiche tools into the county’s custom AngularJS application to fill in any gaps.

“Almost the entire online application was built in Laserfiche Forms,” said Read. “The only thing we added was a little CSS styling and some minor JavaScript, but 99 percent of it was built with the tools in Forms. It’s a very simple wizard—you go in and select which options you want to display and under what conditions. We don’t have to worry about people getting confused and wondering if certain questions are relevant to them or not.”

Read estimated that 80 percent of Brunswick County’s permit applications were coming from a few contractors in the county who knew and understood the permitting process and would benefit from the streamlined approach. While the office was developing the new permitting process, feedback was solicited from major builders in the area.

“That really bought us a lot of goodwill with our builders,” said Read. “They saw us listening, they saw us doing what they wanted, so they were a lot more willing to work with us.”

After the system went live, the office called those builders again to make sure they understood how to fill out the new application—though, in some cases, they found that the new process was so intuitive, no further explanation was needed.

“By the time we called one of our builders, he had already completed five applications,” said Read.

Since going live in October, the county has processed more than 900 permit applications, 1,200 change-out applications and 10,000 inspection requests. Just by providing the web portal that allows the public to download their permits, receipts and other documentation, the county will save about $4,000 in paper costs per year.

The remaining 20 percent of the county’s permit applicants, citizens who are largely unfamiliar with the process, can also benefit from the new system. Whether citizens choose to use the new web-based solution when applying for a permit or visit one of the county offices, permit office personnel now have more time to focus on these individual applicants, who often need more assistance than the builders.

In addition to the permitting process, the office created a Laserfiche mobile app solution for building inspectors to use in the field. The solution works with ArcGIS to create a map of job sites. Inspectors equipped with iPads can access application materials and other documents relevant to a job in real time and no longer have to call the office and have office personnel pull files.

The public can also view the map of job sites, though their access is more limited. They can use the application to check the status of their own inspection and other details, such as the name of the inspector and when the inspection is expected to be completed.

Right now, four different Brunswick County departments are using Laserfiche, in addition to building and permitting: planning and zoning, public works, code enforcement and environmental health. Because of the immense success with the building and permitting department, other county departments are lining up to implement Laserfiche.

“We’re not having to go to departments and solicit Laserfiche solutions,” said Read. “They’re coming to us and asking how they can get on board.”

The county’s future plans to incorporate Laserfiche include further augmenting the permitting process to include sub-permits, such as electrical or plumbing work permits. Right now, the process only allows for initial permit applications. The county also has plans to implement Laserfiche solutions for code violations, automatic listing forms for the tax department, employee action form processing for the HR office, and many more.