It’s no secret that cities are at war with paper. Paper forms, paper records, paper ledgers and notices -- they’re often dubiously interwoven into civic duties.
On July 10, however, the New Jersey-based startup GovPilot officially launched a replacement to the cumbersome paper trail at the National Association of Counties 80th Annual Conference, held July 10-13 in Charlotte, N.C. GovPilot is a cloud platform that connects a proprietary GIS mapping system with government forms -- a pairing that enables departments to channel rivers of completed documents into a centralized city database while tying in geography for analysis.
This means that cities can offer a set of features that lets pet owners submit dog licensing information while officials can see a color-coded map of potentially harmful pets. The same kind of functionality applies in the area of code enforcement, where fire and police departments are equipped with building histories, and inspectors can submit information in the field in real time. GovPilot is ambitiously attempting to be a national service across multiple services niches, with offerings in payment systems, planning and zoning, customer service, building and construction, and more.
Casting this large net places GovPilot in competition with a pack of civic tech and gov tech startups. One of these is the permitting and licensing startup Civic Insight — that also incorporates mapping into code enforcement. Then there is Vuspex, the mobile video inspection app for building inspectors; SeamlessDocs, another digital form and database provider; and OpenCounter, a startup that began as a business licensing service and recently expanded into all forms of city permits and licensing.
The great gamble is whether GovPilot’s array of solutions can be competitive against this narrowly targeted field.
GovPilot Founder and CEO Michael Bonner believes it can. Bonner brings more than 20 years of leadership experience from the real-estate and software industries and sees a market advantage with a holistic approach. Government customers get a set of packaged features to share across departments instead of piecemeal technologies, and the startup is willing to customize apps for each jurisdiction.
“One of the advantages is that our back end is fully dynamic,” said Bonner. “We’re not a fixed system that municipalities have to shoehorn themselves into. We’ll go into a municipality and find out what their processes are and replicate those processes within our system.”
Sweetening the pot, Bonner said the GIS system is even faster than some metropolitan mapping systems deployed in cities like Los Angeles and New York City, and boasts a wealth of preloaded data taken from a multiplicity of federal, county and state sources.
“Our preloaded GIS system can be up and running in a matter of minutes … and for a municipality to go out and fill a system with all those various data sets would be quite time consuming,” Bonner said. “So we did it for them.”
Since 2012 the startup, previously under the name PropertyPilot, has been in a transitory state as it pivoted from real-estate applications to government. A variety of New Jersey cities and counties have supplied feedback, including Morristown, where Mayor Timothy Dougherty and staff assisted with crucial user experience refinements and feature tuning. The town is among GovPilot's first eight New Jersey jurisdictions.
“We are very satisfied with the success we have had with GovPilot," Dougherty said, speaking of GovPilot’s support with town code enforcement. "Over the last year, we have been able to streamline our permit issuing process and convert many hard paper files to a Web-based storage system."
Dougherty endorsed the startups capacity to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and generally improve transactions for community businesses and tasks related to it more than 4,000 properties.
“Now, instead of trying to maintain a paper trail of needed inspections or violations," Dougherty added, "inspectors can track the workflow online through GovPilot — which gives inspectors alerts as to what needs follow-up attention."
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.