Assessing Needs and Planning for Community Development Software Implementation

Part 2 of The CDS Implementation Blog Series

Organizations that take the plunge to implement a contemporary community development software (CDS) system should expect to experience better workflow, increased efficiency, and streamlined permitting, inspection, and code enforcement activities.

For those organizations still operating under an outdated system, there is hope. Although implementing a new system can be daunting, we have created a four-part blog series that breaks down the CDS implementation process to make it as efficient and painless as possible.

Part 1: Common Pitfalls of Community Development Software System Implementation

 Part 2: Assessing Needs and Planning for Community Development Software Implementation

 Part 3: How to Evaluate and Select a Community Development Software System

 Part 4: How to Implement a Community Development Software System

Here in Part 2, we present a simple three-stage approach for assessing organizational needs and planning for a CDS system implementation.

Stage 1. Needs Assessment

In order to effectively transition your organization from an outdated legacy system to one with streamlined, automated, and expedited community development management activities, you must start with the basics.

Determine Your Organization’s Needs & Ask Some Basic Questions. Before any organizations pulls the decision trigger to implement a new CDS system, they must begin by determining their needs and conducting a self-evaluation. The easiest way to start is by asking some basic questions. For example, you may ask:

  • What is our legacy system lacking in functionality, usability, and performance?
  • Is inefficiency of our current operations driving the need for a replacement system?
  • What specifically does our organization need in a new CDS system?
  • What additional functionality do we need in the replacement software?
  • Do we want to maintain the system on premise; or can we improve citizen accessibility while reducing costs with a software as a service (SaaS) cloud-hosted solution?

These baseline questions will serve as the foundation for your organizational requirements which you will later present to prospective vendors, a system specification, or if required, a request for proposal (RFP).

Additionally, addressing these questions will help determine your organization’s readiness to implement a new CDS system. It’s imperative to conduct an internal assessment to analyze the underlying inefficiencies in your current business practices including planning, permitting, licensing, and enforcement. This in-depth analysis and upfront preparation will result in a more efficient implementation process and establish clear expectations between your team and chosen vendor.

Identify Where Improvements Can Be Made. During the needs assessment it is essential to identify where business process, workflow, data management, and reporting measures can be increased with a new CDS system. Not only will it justify the need for a new system, it will create awareness, support, and sense of ownership among employees who are involved in the current system assessment.

Analyze Your Current “As Is” & Future “To Be” Work Process. Next, analyze the work management processes and information management needs of your departments. For example are frustrated citizens and contractors coming to your permit counter and complaining: “it takes way too long to obtain a building permit.”  This type of feedback is a symptom of process inefficiency that can be remedied with workflow improvements enabled by modern software. Examine how your organization is currently processing and managing information in functional areas such as land planning, permitting, and business licensing.  Then, use that information to determine how information management and work management processes will need to evolve in order to optimally function during and after the implementation process.

Stage 2. Costs and Benefits Assessment

Obviously, the benefits of a new CDS system are a major influence to upgrade systems in the first place. However, evaluating the required costs for a system purchase, implementation, maintenance and support are just as important. Time invested in understanding the potential benefits and anticipated costs will expedite the procure decision and provide a baseline for evaluating software system solutions. Some basic questions to be addressed are:

  • Is a system replacement project financially feasible within our organization?
  • What is the expected Return on Investment (ROI) over the anticipated timeline?
  • Do we have the budget and staff resources required to implement a contemporary CDS system?

Assess the Potential Benefits of CDS Implementation. Conducting a benefits analysis provides essential reasoning toward the decision to proceed with the purchase and implementation of a new system. Below are several important factors to consider when conducting a benefit assessment.

Benefits to be expected are both tangible and intangible. The benefits analysis should be a thorough examination of what your company expects to gain and spend during the purchase and procurement process of the new system.  Examples where you can expect to achieve benefits for enhanced software functionality include:

Streamline Community Development

  • Simplify access and process for citizens and commerce including new business startups, building and construction, community expansion, and property valuation

 Workflow Efficiency for both Citizen and Staff

  • Track all aspects of zoning and codes in single workflow; permitting, planning, inspections, code enforcement, licenses, fees, and parcel contracts
  • Shorten permit processing time
  • Real-time permit, license, and enforcement review by various departments
  • Ability to leave notes regarding communications with an applicant
  • Reduced front office traffic
  • Streamlined issuance, scheduling, and routing of inspections to staff members
  • Reduce or eliminate paper handling, transfer, and storage between departments

Information Access and Transparency

  • 24/7 online public portal access allows businesses to do planning on their schedule
  • Online application submittal, status review, without calling or visiting city hall
  • Citizen access to application and submittals, scheduling, and status reports
  • Online payment processing available to citizens via the public portal
  • Choose what data is available to the public
  • Quickly access data and share meaningful information through business intelligence tools and ad hoc reporting

Cost Savings

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) saves customers and vendors data storage dollars
  • Time and money saved by automating activities available to the public
  • Time and money saved by reducing turnaround times
  • Reduced front counter operations saves staff and customer support costs

Become Environmentally Friendly

  • Reduce paper use and environmental impact by transitioning all process to an online system: electronic filing, plan reviews, permitting applications, submittal, and fee payments
  • Electronic filing means no more paper printing and reduced carbon emissions
  • Save travel costs via reduced office visits

Maricopa Az., the “paperless city”, is just one example of how a new CDS system can reduce paper, and in this case eliminate it altogether.

“Not just anyone can go paperless, but anyone using SMARTGOV could do it… SMARTGOV has the tools to replace every aspect of paper offices – communication, file sharing, invoicing, plan mark-up, notes, tracking, scheduling, and more…Our goal is to be the most transparent city in the world. SMARTGOV is a huge step toward that goal.”

– Robert Mathias, Development Manager at the City of Maricopa

Costs that need to be considered include all expenditures for initial software/system purchase, professional services for implementation, system integration, and ongoing administration and maintenance.

Examples of costs to consider include:

  • Software license or subscription fees
  • System integration costs which may include connections to internal or external data sources
  • Professional Services including data migration from your legacy system to the new system, software and workflow configuration, required reports, training, and travel costs
  • Internal costs for staff participation to implement the new system

Once the anticipated costs and potential benefits have been assessed and documented, you will have the facts to assemble a business case. Don’t be concerned if the costs appear to outweigh the benefits, or vice versa. The objective of the needs assessment and preliminary planning process is to collect information and become educated about the overall scope, cost, and goals for proceeding with the project.

The facts collected during the needs assessment and cost/benefit study will provide the organization with the information to determine the “Go” or “No Go” decision to move forward. If you decide that your organization is financially ready and operationally in need of a new CDS, then the next step is to start communicating with vendors.

Stage 3. Establish System Requirements and Begin Communication

The final step before the CDS evaluation and selection process is to establish system requirements and commence communication between your organization and CDS vendors.

Establish CDS System Requirements. Once the costs and benefits assessment has been conducted, it is time to establish concrete CDS system requirements. System requirements should reflect the necessary system components discovered during the needs assessment, as well as include the benefits you found most valuable as a result of the costs and benefits analysis. This will permit your organization to begin the “shopping” process and start looking for qualified CDS vendors that align with your organizations desired system functionality, cost projections, and implementation support.

Kick-Start Communication. Communication with potential CDS vendors is critical to further understand their business processes, management practices, and customer support system. Begin communicating with vendors who genuinely possess the system requirements your organization has established. Look for vendors who provide benefits similar to the ones identified in the benefits analysis such as streamlined community development applications, workflow efficiency, information access, and reduced costs. Stay clear of vendors whose services do not conform to your requirements. If able, avoid casting a wide CDS net and instead aim directly for a request for information (RFI) from the CDS vendor who aligns with your organizational objectives most.

Create a Request for Information (RFI). Unlike RFP documents which request specifications and procedures from CDS vendors, RFI proposals span the market for a broad range of information and data. RFI’s are an effective way to venture out into the industry for an initial, non-committal market survey. First, communicate to vendors the current problems you are facing with your legacy system, as well as what benefits you are looking to gain with the procurement of a new CDS system. Next, analyze the responses to determine the extent to which vendors can meet your criteria and system requirements. Finally, depending on your RFI responses, continue to peruse vendors of interest. Otherwise, if your organization would prefer to evaluate and select a vendor from a larger pool of candidates, the next step is to create a formal request for proposal.

Create a Request for Proposal (RFP). Lastly, if necessary, formulate a detailed RFP document that includes all of the desired functionality and requirements for the new system. The RFP must be written, highly specific, and concrete, in order for software vendors to respond appropriately.

A comprehensive but concise RFP should include:

  • Organization background and description of current “as is” system
  • Organization size, department names and number of users
  • Desired goals, objectives, and outcomes for the CDS system
  • Business and functional requirements
  • Required professional services to be provided by system vendor i.e data migration, configuration, training, etc.
  • Project timeline and list of project deliverables
  • Guidelines for the vendor proposal submittal
  • Overview of the selection process as well as the must-meet criteria for the software functionality and performance
  • Supplemental information specific to the organization’s procurement process

Again, if required, publicizing the RFP document would be the last step in this establishing requirements and communication process. Since most organizations likely have formal purchase guidelines for executing a larger IT procurement, following a formal process will take a longer, translating to higher project cost, but the overall result may lead to formally selecting a software system that best meets your organization’s needs while meeting your jurisdictions mandated procurement rules.

Once your RFP is issued, it will take some time to collect, review, and whittle down the list from a sufficient number of vendor responses. Anticipate adding no less than 90 days and more likely 180 days to the selection process. In the meantime, Part 3 of the CDS Implementation Blog Series will provide key information to help prepare your organization for the evaluation and selection process, and also provide valuable tips to plan for the implementation phase.

SMARTGOV streamlines permitting using cloud-based solutions to manage community development. Online permitting, licensing, code enforcement, mapping, payment collection, communication with constituents, inspections and more — the work of development is managed in one simple portal. Because SMARTGOV is modular and ready to launch, communities can adopt our solutions quickly and affordably, saving time and money while delivering better customer service. Contact us to learn more.