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How to Navigate Digital Transformation in Community Development

Streamlined Digital Solutions Transform Local Governance Processes

As local governments adopt modern governing tools, they can offer a roadmap for connecting communities in new ways. In recent years, two cities switched to digital solutions in very different circumstances. One with a rapid switch at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the other with a traditional long-term adoption.

Swamped with Paper

Columbia, Missouri's Community Development Department serves as one hub for project permits in the bustling university town of about 130,000. Senior Planner Clint Smith works with a team that processes over 400 applications a year. They used to take paper applications, often dealing with a crowd of people turning in up to 15 physical copies. Eventually, some divisions started accepting email copies, but inefficiencies still prompted a departmental change.

Listen and Learn Together

Staff were skeptical about leaving paper behind for a digital solution, Smith says. Managers and team leaders recognized the need for dialogue early in the process and fostered a team-focused atmosphere with all-staff training, open Q&A, and the flexibility to respond to what their employees told them.

This communication carried over to their constituents. Smith gathered the group of firms who regularly submit plans to give group training, and ensured staff were available in person or over the phone to give individual help after the rollout. A staggered adoption helped ease applicants into the process as well.

Time Saved, Knowledge Earned

More than three years after switching to Tyler's Enterprise Permitting & Licensing solution, powered by EnerGov, Columbia hasn't looked back. Every step of the process is easier: online submissions don't require a trip to city hall, and staff can add digital notes and signatures, anywhere, anytime. Smith estimates they save almost three acres worth of paper a year, as well as reduce their carbon footprint (and wasted time) now that staff don't have to drive from office to office to hand off permits.

Switching to the new software offered an opportunity to revise the permitting process as well. For example, as soon as they finish a review, staff now share a digital checklist with applicants, instead of sending a formal letter.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Smith's department already had a digital solution, allowing them to focus on other issues. The flexibility, efficiency, and ease of use of the digital permitting process now prepare them for the next challenge.

An Urgent Need for an Online Solution

Temecula, California is a town of 110,000 that is known as the center of Southern California's wine country. Their permitting office used digital solutions for back-end use but was still accepting paper applications as stay-at-home orders loomed in February and early March 2020.

Sara Seng, enterprise application supervisor, saw such orders coming and maneuvered her office to be able to serve their constituents from home. She led the adoption of Tyler's permitting & licensing solution and had a live website just four days after offices closed.

Her team rose to the challenge, finding camaraderie in the switch and their ability to continue helping people, even as they worked from home in an uncertain time. They offered walkthroughs and instructions online, as well as one-on-one video support if needed to create accounts, submit applications, and troubleshoot.

Long-term Benefits After Reopening

The intense adoption process prepared the team well for the transition back into the office. With a sharp decrease in in-person applications, they now have more time to review plans, work on projects, or help customers over the phone when needed. Seng sees where all of the little inefficiencies have gone away: no more walking paper plans from desk to desk or tracking down a co-worker for a signature. Every document is backed up to the cloud, leaving no chance that a permit or application could get misplaced.

Seng's office is now leading others in city hall toward electronic processes, and they're hearing from constituents that they want to do more online. The department is well-equipped to meet demand as Temecula's restaurant and hotel construction rises along with tourism.

Learn how new digital solutions can bring out the best in your community.


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Tyler Technologies (NYSE: TYL) provides integrated software and technology services to the public sector. Tyler's end-to-end solutions empower local, state, and federal government entities to operate more efficiently and connect more transparently with their constituents and with each other. By connecting data and processes across disparate systems, Tyler's solutions are transforming how clients gain actionable insights that solve problems in their communities. Tyler Technologies' client base includes more than 15,000 local government offices in all 50 states, Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, and other international locations.

About the Author
Andrea Williamson is Product Marketing Manager at Tyler Technologies

July 28, 2022