The Alliance for Innovation presented the city of Las Vegas with a 2013 Outstanding Achievement in Innovation Award for its aggressive Development Services Process (DSP) program, which increases both the quality and speed of development services.
The program has already paid off, according to Diane Santiago Cornier, the DSP's enterprise project manager, telling Government Technology about a 1,000-house subdivision now in the planning process. "We haven't seen that kind of activity in the last three years," she said.
According to Cornier, with or without the serious consequences of the recession, the DSP program was overdue. "Many of our business processes were severely broken," said Cornier. "Departments were still operating in silos the way they had for 20 years."
Aging technology and infrastructure, coupled with budget cuts that impacted staffing levels, were taking their toll. In addition, applicants had to obtain business licenses through the city's finance department, despite their close association with development services.
"Our goal was to combine services from across many separate divisions," said Patricia Dues, information technology manager of the DSP project. "The customer shouldn't need to ask where he needs to go. He should be able to walk in the door and have someone help him. It is a development services issue or initiative that he's there to see us about, and we're going to help him get through the process as simply as possible."
Cornier explained that the streamlined process allows staff to alert customers up front about complicating factors that could potentially delay their license -- such as entitlement issues or special conditions.
Another potential cause for delay was a dizzying amount of choices for customers -- a year and a half ago, Las Vegas had 450 license categories. So far, that number has been collapsed down to 319, and officials are optimistic that it will continue to decrease to less than 200 by the end of 2013. At the outset, many categories were very narrow, or similar to one another, leading to confusion.
"We've done a great deal of cleaning up there and have also changed many ordinances. All of this has streamlined the various processes and tightened their alignment with the planning, building safety and fire departments," Cornier explained.
The DSP program focuses heavily on embracing new technology. "We are putting a strong emphasis on providing many of our services online as quickly as we can," said Rick Virmani, DSP program manager. "This will allow customers to go through the process of submitting their plans, getting back our reviews, submitting their revisions and receiving complete documentation -- all via email."
Conference rooms are now equipped with audio/visual equipment, and officials plan to offer teleconferencing options for customers to save them a trip to the DSP office. And going electronic saves customers money in a number of ways -- one digital copy of project plans replaces up to 24 physical copies customers had to produce under the previous system.
Virmani said that customers will be pleased by the time saved by using the new technology. "We've shaved weeks off the review process by switching from sequential to parallel reviews," he said, explaining that using layered files, reviewers can add to project documents simultaneously.
"This overhaul is actually saving the department quite a bit of money," Dues said. "The electronic plans checking, the software upgrades and other advancements are all improving our long-term efficiency. This is not something that was done overnight. It's taken us years to get as far as we have and it's going to take a few more years to get things where we want them. It's a whole paradigm shift."
One of the most daunting challenges to the DSP program was overcoming the entrenched culture of the government. "When making sweeping changes across an organization, you have to deal with that organization's culture and bring it along," Virmani said. "There are so many moving parts. We've had to make changes to several codes that have been in place for many years."
Cornier predicts that Las Vegas' innovative approach to business development will catch on in other cities across the U.S. "I am starting to see other places adopting this more holistic approach to implementation," she said. "Our DSP program will probably be duplicated by medium-sized cities before it catches on in larger cities, because larger cities usually have more politics involved."