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For a California County, Modernization Means an End to Silos

As Merced County, Calif., embarks on a multiple-year digital transformation journey to better serve constituents, evolving the permitting process involves the unification of previously siloed systems.

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Merced County, Calif., has started the journey toward modernizing its online permitting processes.

This transformation was kick-started with a 10-year contract with the software company Accela to help create a one-stop, simplified permitting process.

“We, in government … often speak a different language,” said Mark Hendrickson, director of community and economic development for the county. “It's more complex than that many people in our community routinely speak and so we want to break down those barriers.”

Merced County had been using antiquated platforms for years, Hendrickson said, and the hope is that the new platform will help constituents navigate the complex government processes in simple ways. Recently enacted state legislation — AB 2234 and SB 379 — mandated online permitting and accelerated the need to modernize, he added.

The primary components of the project include building and implementing the platform for permitting processes, which is expected to take around 18 to 20 months. This period will entail staff training and getting everyone — including constituents — comfortable with the new system. Beyond that, the 10-year contract will include ongoing efforts to ensure the platform evolves with technology and new legislation to continually meet community needs.

“We as a county have a razor-sharp focus on doing what we can do to have a positive relationship with our customers and our constituents,” Hendrickson said.

The recent reorganization of several county functions under the Community and Economic Development Department (CEDD) umbrella will play a big role in the undertaking. Prior to this restructuring, Hendrickson explained, permitting touchpoints were very siloed. Through the consolidation of functions and a shared location, things like environmental health, urban planning and fire prevention are able to work more cohesively.

“What this does for us, and what Accela is going to do for us prospectively, is it helps us button up all those functions with one singular platform that will allow us to communicate more effectively — internally, with a user from the platform, and externally, we can communicate more effectively with our customers,” Hendrickson said.

The new system will not only be more simple for county staff to navigate, he noted, but it will also help hold the government accountable.

“Measurement is critical,” said Dennis Michalis, chief revenue officer at Accela. He underlined that measurement can give counties insight into growth — including population, income and industry — to understand how the community's needs might change or evolve.

Hendrickson echoed this sentiment, noting that the platform allows the county to adjust as needed to legislative and regulatory changes, and underlining that the one thing local government can always anticipate is change.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.