The value of contactless solutions for business continuity became apparent in 2020 as municipalities and utilities were faced with the need to dramatically change the way they execute their tasks. Case in point: Carmel, Indiana. With a population of 100,000, Carmel is a rapidly growing suburb in the metropolitan Indianapolis area that processes up to 500 building applications and construction permits monthly.

“We’re a very busy shop,” noted Shane Burnham, a GIS technician. “It was a priority that we had to have some kind of software solution in place.”

In spring 2019, the city partnered with GISinc, A Continental Mapping Company, to replace an 18-year-old system that once served as accounting software and was shoehorned to be a records repository for permits. Given the city’s utilities and streets departments already had Cityworks AMS in place, it was only logical to choose Cityworks PLL for building permit and planning application needs, says Burnham.

On February 4, 2020, the city went live with Cityworks PLL. On March 16, 2020, city offices closed in response to COVID-19. “It was a stroke of luck that we got Cityworks PLL and the Public Access app up and running when we did,” says Burnham.

Although the term ‘contactless solutions’ may be new to some organizations as it relates to remote workflows, its applications are not. Contactless solutions have been used for years to process online payments, order food from mobile devices, and engage with doctors in telehealth.

With contactless solutions, utilities and municipal organizations can maintain continuity of services and help staff work more efficiently across departments with businesses and residents—regardless of where staff and customers are located. Remote work with less contact at the office can be accomplished just as efficiently, if not more so, than traditional high-contact workflows.

Reducing disruption with GIS-centric cloud solutions

Even before the operational shifts that took place in 2020, Cityworks offered contactless solutions as part of its software-as-a-service platform. Cityworks not only creates a convenient avenue for online collaboration, but it does so in a manner that minimizes workflow disruption, noted Thomas Wilson, Cityworks architect for GISinc. Organizations see the benefits in increased workplace efficiencies, enhanced civic engagement, and improved environmental sustainability through reduced waste.

“In the short term, GIS-centric cloud-based solutions offer a foundation to keep things going through a crisis. In the long-term, it gives organizations a flexible framework for mobilizing their workforce, collaborating in real-time, and building resilience for future emergencies,” Wilson points out. “It keeps your staff out in the field doing what they need to do, and it fosters online collaboration—not only with the residents and contractors, but also with other city departments.”

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Permitting applications are an example of how Cityworks serves as a contactless solution from start to finish. The Public Access portal for Cityworks PLL enables residents and contractors to perform tasks such as applying for permits online or scheduling inspections with the ability to track progress.

“Cityworks is web-based, so our employees can approve permits and applications from anywhere they want,” says Burnham. “All interaction with our public is now done remotely as well. There’s no need for any of our constituents to come into our city offices to fill out any kind of city permits and applications.”

Not only can the application be submitted online through Public Access, but so too can the supporting digital documents as well as the ability to pay applicable fees for each step in the process, which are calculated based on the information input.

“All of this normally would be submitted on a piece of paper or PDF, handed to somebody at a desk, and they would key that in,” notes Wilson. “Not only does this save time from not having to do that data entry, but it’s also reducing the need for the resident or contractor to have to come into the office and give that piece of paper to somebody.”

Various controls can be configured into the system, such as the ability of the user to pay fees upon submitting the information or later in the process, such as before a permit is issued or before the review stage. Fees can be submitted through authorized gateways for the internal staff to process. Upon validation of the application, documents that have been submitted from the portal go into the plan review stage.

“The plan review stage may include one or multiple departments inside of or external to the organization,” says Wilson. “Cityworks eliminates the need for passing physical documents between departments or sending them by courier.”

Cityworks APIs support many third-party integrations. For Carmel, the most valuable integration was with ProjectDox, a plan review software from Avolve. The seamless integration enables a plan review approved in ProjectDox to be sent to Cityworks and the workflow inside Cityworks PLL continues.

The electronic plan review process enables markups, comments, and communications between departments as well as communication directly with the applicant for the need for further information. As tasks are completed, they are visible in Cityworks for status checks and can be monitored by other users or departments—for example, to track related service requests or work orders in the public works department.

“Once those permits are accepted, electronic plan review can support those different workflows and processes as the permit is going through its approval stages and review,” says Wilson. “Employees can then conduct permit inspections and follow-ups in the field using Respond or the Cityworks mobile app, and the customer can track permit statuses online without having to go into an office and pass paper back and forth between departments.”

Carmel also integrated Laserfiche, so that when any kind of planning application, docket number, or building permit is approved inside Cityworks, it automatically pushes out to Laserfiche for public visibility.

Workforce efficiencies, safety, and transparency

Operational awareness offers information on what, when, where, why, who, and how work is being done in an effort to keep everyone informed, notes Dinorah Sanchez, Cityworks subject matter expert.

“Transparency is important not only to your community and residents, but also to your workforce so they can do their jobs effectively,” she adds. “Knowledge is power. Contactless solutions provide employees with the information and connectivity they need to feel safe, while also being efficient and effective in their operations.”

Equipment Checkout—a tool enhanced in the Cityworks 15.6 release—enables crews to remotely determine the availability of equipment, reserve it with hours and date ranges needed, retrieve it and return it, with status updates noted.

“This can be from your cell phone in a truck or a laptop in your office, wherever you need to get the job done,” says Sanchez.

Supervisors use Cityworks to ascertain the location of various jobs, collect asset details, view work-related activities, and determine whether there’s an inspection associated with a payment and work order. Workload allows supervisors to remotely review, assign and modify work activities by viewing tasks on a map. Overdue tasks are noted in red.

The value of the data transparency offered by a GIS-centric platform “translates not just during a pandemic, but during any emergency and or major project,” Sanchez points out, adding the software is used not only to take in community requests but proactively put out messaging as needed.

Organizations need effective tools to visualize and share the data being managed within their business systems. The Cityworks enterprise universal resource locator (eURL) is a simple but powerful tool to create, save, and share data queries to Esri web maps or ArcGIS Insights. Parameters can be set on desired returns and what fields will be served out externally. Carmel uses eURL to feed information real-time information to operations dashboards for the building and code department, notes Burnham.

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Contactless solutions are likely already available to you within your organization. But leveraging mobile functionality, third-party integrations, cloud-based workflows, and data analytics tools, your organization can be will on its way to improved resiliency. Contact your Cityworks representative to learn more.

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