How Humboldt County is reinventing business workflows


How Humboldt County is reinventing business workflows

When Humboldt County, Calif., installed the Intellect business process management solution in 2009, the plan was to use it to improve the permitting process. Since then, officials have scaled it up to meet the needs of other departments -- often in ways that surprised even them.

“We’ve kind of turned into a little software company -- just me and my information systems analyst -- and it’s become so integrated now into our department operations and our department culture,” said Steven Santos, development assistance manager at the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department. “Whenever we are faced with an issue that needs a technological component, the question isn’t can Intellect help, but how.” 

Basically, Santos discovered that the app he built for permitting can be tweaked to meet other needs. Most recently, he customized it for use at the Division of Environmental Health to ease project management workflow and billing. It took about three months to create the workflow module.

A project that starts in one county department often needs another to review it, so the workflow module will route the project to the reviewing agency. If, for example, someone wants to build a new home with a septic system, the Environmental Health Department needs to approve it, so the building application is sent there for review. Once done, environmental officials send it back to the building division. Using Intellect, all those handoffs happen seamlessly within one platform.

“Efficiency gains include not having to do redundant entry, so there’s fewer errors, making it easier for both agencies to determine at a glance where the project is, who’s looking at it and what its status is,” Santos said. “A customer calls and says, ‘Hey, what’s the status of my project?’ Someone can query the system and say, ‘Oh, it’s over in Environmental Health and it still requires their review and approval.’”

The billing module automates the process for invoicing people who have nonstandard, or customized, septic systems that require annual renewal.

“Intellect keeps track of who needs to be billed. It generates the invoices in PDFs; it generates the cover letters in PDFs,” Santos said. “As payments come in, it keeps track of who’s made a payment, so if they have to send out a reminder letter, they know which owners need to get reminder letters and which ones don’t. And it’s much, much easier to tell at a glance to tell the status of that process.”

For both modules, a working group was established to review existing systems and forms in order to understand what changes were necessary. “The fun part or the creative part is getting to the point in design where we ask the question, ‘OK, what’s been bugging you for years that you’d love to be able to fix?’ or ‘What can’t you do now that you really wish you could do?’” he said. “Those enhancements get built into the app as we move forward.”

Data is transferred within the platform with a click of a macro or next-step button. Sometimes additional materials such as studies or maps are shipped over in physical form, but for the most part, all of the critical data and handoffs happen by moving through the Intellect workflow.

Porting the permitting app for these other uses is inexpensive because the county already has the hardware, and the staff has been trained on configuration. To implement it, all that a department needs to use it is a web browser; the servers have been in place since 2009. Although Intellect has cloud capabilities, the county runs it locally.

Also, Intellect can be accessed by mobile devices, but so far the county hasn’t made use of that because it would first have to address infrastructure issues that would ensure connectivity.

“The two most likely candidates for mobile access are those that have an existing customer portal where the public can query the database and get permit information. “Making that piece mobile-friendly will probably be the first thing we do,” Santos said. “The other potential application on the mobile side might be for our building inspectors to build a mobile app. Instead of taking their field notes on paper out in the field and coming back to the office and entering them into Intellect at the end of the day, they’re given tablets and can do that all out in the field.”

Next in line for an app is the county’s Public Works Department, which will get a project management workflow similar to Environmental Health’s. After that, Santos will likely address how policy documents are managed when legislative changes affect maps. Right now, those changes often lead to disconnects about who’s responsible for making them, he said.

Intellect uses Microsoft’s .NET platform to provide a standard interface for integrating back office systems into the platform, allowing the end user to configure the business logic. With web services or XML, users can import, export or copy data into a new application without any programming.

A Windows server provides web and application services, and an SQL server supports queries across the Internet and beyond the firewall. Users need only a Windows machine and broadband access. The Intellect platform is available as a subscription.

According to the Intellect website, other public sector customers include  San Mateo County and the City of San Jose in California; King County, Wash.; several school districts and universities; and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Editor's note: This article was changed May 8 to remove an instance of 'Interneer' (Intellect's former name) and to clarify purchasing options. Also changed May 21 to correct Stephen Santos' title and department.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.


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