The emergence of the digital community is proving that any number of tasks undertaken by government can be radically improved upon. The doors opened by widespread, high-speed connectivity are too numerous to count and are impacting the daily lives of workers and citizens alike.
Such is the case in Washington County, Md., where explosive population growth signaled to county officials that their traditional methods of permitting and inspecting were rapidly becoming inadequate. The county faced a challenge shared by many local governments. Building inspectors were forced to do their jobs by wading through duplicative, paper-intensive processes that translated into errors and inefficiency.
The county needed a highly mobile, intelligent solution not only to improve inspectors' ability to work but to improve service to residents. By adopting Accela Wireless?, a mobile solution from Accela, the county is transforming the business of government and advancing the case for the digital community.
Angela Smith, deputy director of the Washington County Office of Permits and Inspections, said population growth left a well intentioned group of workers struggling to keep up.
"Washington County was growing very rapidly, and we were seeing a huge increase--about 36 percent--in the permitting process," she said. "We saw a lot of people moving down here from Baltimore and D.C. We were faced with a challenge of rapid growth, and it was getting difficult to keep on top of inspections."
Inspectors, who were already spread thin, wasted time on duplicative efforts that resulted from the paper-based process. Inspectors manually documented inspections in the field and then documented the same inspection in the office the following day. Employees hired to do inspections were spending nearly half their time doing clerical work while opening themselves up to errors associated with the repetitive documentation
process. With the amount of growth the county was experiencing, Washington County simply did not have enough employees to maintain the traditional system of permitting and inspections.
"Because we did not have enough people to meet the growing demands of the community, we began to look for a solution," Smith recalled. "What can we do to address situations as they arise at the site? What can we do to, at the same time, increase the customer service we offer our customers in Washington County? The solution that we came up with was Accela's mobile inspection management software, Accela Wireless."
Inspectors using Panasonic notebooks equipped with Accela Wireless now have their entire office at their fingertips in the field, where it is most needed. County workers have digital guide sheets and checklists on their notebooks that they can use to explain to customers exactly what they can expect from the inspection process. Inspectors can immediately download new building codes and explain them to builders on site, saving trips back to the office.
Inspectors often arrive at a building site and find it is not ready for inspection. In the past, this meant hours wasted traveling between the office and the site merely to reschedule. With Accela Wireless, inspectors can reschedule inspections on site. In fact, every aspect of their job can be done on site. Photos can be taken and immediately transmitted to county code officials, and building permits can be initialized by inspectors in the field instead of back at the office. A process that once took two to three days can now be handled in minutes. After an inspection site is documented, the data is easily transmitted from the job site to the county database, virtually eliminating errors and time spent reentering the data.
Accela Wireless also provides a virtual library of every code and law inpectors might need to access, all wirelessly. The wealth of knowledge and innovative tools available on site has fundamentally altered how county inspectors work. Even the simple