city construction (ShutterStock image)

Software ecosystem for integrating community development services

Jurisdictions need a modular end-to-end software system that can automate and streamline processes for land management and community-development services such as permitting, an expert said.

It should also be able to integrate with other systems, Jon Lipsitz, a change management consultant at Viva Civic, which automates project and document workflows, said during a recent ISAC National webinar.

“We’re talking about this from an entire life cycle of a project, from the inception, preliminary designs, all the way through the permits being issued, final approvals, everything,” Lipsitz said. A system should also be able to manage post-project work, including data preservation for compliance, future enforcement issues and community engagement, he said.

These next generation solutions integrate planning, design, permitting and licensing, inspections, construction management and related activities while enabling efficient and effective collaboration and communication between all stakeholders from both the private and public sector.

Agencies in the market to upgrade their processes should look for a solution with a three-tier architecture that has data stores at the foundation; various layers such as web, application programming interfaces (APIs), and authorization and authentication with systems such as mapping and finance within them; and user interfaces at the top, Lipsitz said.

Best practices for selecting a system architecture include platform independence, support for cloud-based and on-premises deployment, high availability and scalability as well as responsive design so that everything is accessible on any device, Lipsitz said. What’s more, it should be able to relate projects to one another.

For example, “as part of an overall building permit, you could have electrical, mechanical, plumbing … but you need to maintain the relationships between all of this,” he said. An end-to-end software system “makes data management a lot easier. It makes project management much easier. It makes the permitting process easier.”

A full audit log is also crucial, as is a search capability that makes items easy to find, as opposed to browsing for them.

Implementing a software solution is a great time for agencies to take stock of what already exists, determine where bottlenecks happen and add improvements, such as new analytics capabilities, Lipsitz said.

Agencies can also rethink their APIs, both in terms of what systems they integrate with and how others integrate the agency.

“We are a consumer of data, so we could be pulling in from [geographic information systems] … but we’re also a provider of data. A lot of the companies that we work with … could be consuming our data via an API, so you need to think about this holistically from your suppliers, from your customers,” Lipsitz said.

But while providing information to external and internal customers is crucial, he cautioned that limiting what is shared is just as important. That’s why agencies must be able to create dashboards and reports based on users, roles and personas. This helps with data security because it ensure that data that shouldn’t be shared isn’t.

“You really, really want to only provide the relevant information to the right person at the right time so as not to overwhelm them,” Lipsitz said. “It’s important to have the information that you need to do your job, but it’s almost as important not to have too much information.”

Other elements of a software system to consider include integration with GIS and mapping to alert the public to road closures or to route inspectors, and automation and workflows that meet needs today and in the future. Features to watch for include the ability to model complex processes, easily modify and make configuration changes and automate document processing, management and invoicing.

An integrated solution for land management and community development “improves the time and responsiveness of us getting back to our customers internally or externally, and it improves satisfaction, both of external customers and internal employees” Lipsitz said.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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