Albany Building Code Is in the Cloud

Users can search code complaints and construction permits by name, address or street.

by Paul Grondahl, McClatchy News Service / December 6, 2013

By spring, Albany, N.Y., residents will be able to look up building code violators in their neighborhood, and city officials are encouraging a citizen army with Internet access to report quality-of-life issues online through a new cloud-based technology portal.

"It will offer a complete profile of every building in the city," Mayor Jerry Jennings said. "We want to get people involved so an issue does not become a crisis."

Jennings spoke at a Thursday news event that provided a demonstration of the Web portal. He added that he had been asking for such technology for the past few years.

Following a competitive bidding process, Tyler Technologies, based in Plano, Texas, will be paid $170,000 to build the database and searchable Web portal, and operate it for the first year. It should be functional and online by April.

"The mayor mandated that we become faster, smarter, cheaper," said Mark Dorry, the city's CIO.

He said a cloud-based solution, which allows users to access data on demand from Tyler's remotely based servers that are "in the clouds" of cyberspace, was much cheaper compared to a large investment of computing infrastructure and training in-house support staff.

Tyler will also receive a $36,000 annual licensing fee after the first year to host and maintain the website. The next closest bid was $240,000 and the highest bid of six companies was more than $500,000, said Jeffrey Jamison, director of the city buildings and regulatory compliance department.

"It will break down silos," said Jamison, who said the vast amount of data on everything from building permits to code violations and complaints about blighted abandoned buildings, potholes, junk vehicles and weedy lots will be available with a click of a mouse to police, fire and city officials, as well as ordinary citizens who log into the website.

Residents also will be able to track, in real time, the status of complaints to Jamison's office. "It's a report card to keep us accountable," said Deputy Mayor Philip Calderone.

"This city has been waiting for this for a long time," said Common Council member Joe Igoe.

Chris Harpenau, an account executive with Tyler, offered a demonstration of the features of the highly searchable database.

Users can search code complaints and construction permits by name, by address, by street or by a variety of parameters. In addition, both contractors and residents can pay fees and other charges online by credit card without having to come in person to City Hall to make payments.

City officials stressed that people will still be able to access the information and pay bills in person at City Hall. Also, the website will not provide any data that is not already gathered and available to the public, allaying privacy concerns.

Tyler has built similar websites in several cities, including Savannah, Ga., Redmond, Wash., and Cambridge, Mass. Within 10 months of going online, 75 percent of permit applications and other code department business in Cambridge is being done online, Harpenau said.

(c) 2013 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)