In 2005, Cape Coral, Fla., saw about 8,000 single-family home permits issued in the city - one of the largest in southwest Florida with a population of about 170,000. This swells to 220,000 when the retired "snowbirds" flock south to enjoy the warm winter weather. As baby boomers retire and move here, the community is expected to continue growing.

Single-family construction required a great amount of coordination among the builders, developers, homeowners and the city government's staff. Much of this coordination hinged on the site-plan approval process.

The process was so expensive and time-consuming; we knew there had to be a more efficient way. So we came together to develop a better, paperless system.

 
Old, Complex Processes
We previously used a manual, paper-based approval method that required developers and builders - of both homes and commercial properties - to submit as many as 18 copies of blueprints, plans, architectural documents and other supporting materials. These piles of documents had to be hand-delivered to Cape Coral City Hall.

This manual process was difficult, complicated and expensive. An applicant usually paid about $3 per sheet to print and copy large prints. With 18 copies required for the approval process, the costs could pile up to more than $1,000 per application.

Once the documents were in the door, the approval workflow began.

To move a site plan through, each reviewing agency needed to provide its seal of approval, usually completed with a rubber stamp. When dealing with a commercial project, which can have 20 pages of plans, each reviewing discipline - mechanical, electric, plumbing, etc. - would mark each page manually with its rubber stamp. Since the plans were so large, approvers would come to stamp the plans at a special table. This laborious process could take several hours to finish.

We knew there would be an immediate improvement in speed if an applicant didn't have to come to city hall to submit a site plan. Plus, if an applicant didn't have to submit more than a dozen copies of a plan, there would be substantial cost savings to both the applicant and the city.

 
Site-Plan Automation Is Born
The solution to our challenge came from an unexpected source - a software program from SIRE Technologies that was being used in the Cape Coral Clerk's Office.

Scott Craig, the business systems analyst in the clerk's office, had used SIRE's Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) for a few years to manage the city's documents and workflow processes, with tremendous results. Between the clerk's office and Cape Coral's Department of Community Development, the city has added more than 5 million documents to the system.

After observing SIRE's capabilities, we decided to look at the product's workflow portion and see what we could implement in our department. As we analyzed the product, we believed it could improve our process, so we created a workflow process to manage the stream of paperwork going to and from the city tax assessor's office. Craig put together a process that made it possible to electronically scan, submit and approve the paperwork.

We agreed that scanning the documents and sending them electronically was good. However, what if we could eliminate the scanning and have site plans submitted electronically by the customer? No one had ever done that, but SIRE representatives were optimistic that it could be accomplished. If we could map out the workflows and the forms, SIRE could program it for us.

We gathered people from different disciplines at city hall to brainstorm and bring their best practices to the table. Planning was important for this system to work; the team spent about two hours of planning for every hour of implementation.

Cathy McPeak, forms designer for the city, took the paper-based forms and created

Joe Mascari  |  Contributing Writer
Joe Mascari is the business systems analyst and workflow project manager with the Cape Coral Department of Community Development.