The Office of Central Inspection (OCI) in Wichita, Kan., has overhauled its permitting, licensing and case management system in a move officials believe will improve e-commerce in the city and lead to increased collaboration between departments.

Launched on Monday, Feb. 6, the Web-based Hansen 8 Community Development and Regulation solution replaces OCI’s outdated Tidemark application and will give city residents the ability to logon and check the status of permits, code enforcement cases and other issues.

Donte Martin, interim director of OCI, said the new technology would result in more efficient use of staff and take customer service to a level that OCI and other city agencies previously haven’t been able to provide. He explained that before the Hansen 8 system, staff had to field calls from citizens wanting updates on projects or general inquiries on building matters.

Now residents have the ability to look up most of the answers or background information they need online.

“It gets us off the phones explaining what is going on and allows us to do work that is probably a better use of staff and staff time,” Martin said.

In addition, users are now able to pay fees and apply for permits online. Martin said that while the ability to apply for permits online was available before, it was only on limited terms for specific types of permits and licenses. The new system expands that scope, however, giving patrons the option of handling their affairs on the Web instead of in-person.

No Easy Task

OCI got permission from the Wichita City Council in April 2009 to replace the Tidemark application and the process of selecting a replacement began shortly thereafter. When asked why the upgrade took almost three years, Martin said the biggest reason was the sheer scope of the project.

In addition to OCI personnel, the Hansen 8 system will also be used by public works staff and the city’s planning department. So the development, configuration and design of the workflow to meet those multiple needs was challenging for city personnel involved in the project.

“Sitting down with staff trying to understand the business processes of each group and how we could structure the application to meet those needs was definitely labor intensive,” Martin said. “But once we actually identified those business processes and start programming, it was a complicated effort as well.”

The new system cost approximately $980,000, which was paid for through equipment and software replacement funds collected by the city’s IT department. The initial price tag was significantly higher, however. Martin recalled that the original estimate came in at nearly $2 million, but because internal city staff and the IT department were able to do much of the configuration, they were able to whittle it down.

In regard to using the new technology, Martin added that since Tidemark had been in operation for “12 to 13 years,” getting employees trained on the Hansen 8 system could take some time. While staff members were put through training on their own specific needs in the past month, including some “training the trainer” exercises, instruction on some of the new features and tools will be an ongoing process through 2012.

One of the things Martin was most excited about regarding the new system was the potential for local government collaboration. While the city’s planning department is currently a city-county agency, Martin revealed that the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County were in discussions to join their code enforcement efforts into a single entity as well.

But would the additional collaboration put a drain on the new tracking and management technology? Martin didn’t think so.

“The system was designed with that in mind — that we wanted to be open-ended and have the ability to bring in outside agencies or organizations so that we can have shared data and improved data management,” he said.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.