Less than five years ago, the Humboldt County, Calif., Planning and Building Department was operating according to stacks of paper, spreadsheets and index cards. Employees were walking across buildings to deliver basic information, and the lack of workflow accountability meant that uncompleted tasks often went unnoticed.
“It was in 2007 when we realized we needed to make some strategic investments in our inter-systems,” said Steven Santos, the department’s development assistant manager. “We were absorbing redundant data entry, tasks were taking days to complete, and we were getting complaints from the public about wanting more modern services.”
One of the workflow issues the county experienced was consistent task log submission. County employees are responsible for completing tasks logs that specify how their time is being spent so they're paid from proper funding allocations. Without a consistent way of monitoring the assignment, task logs were often not completed — in some cases, staff members were six months behind.
Enter Interneer, a company that specifically designs applications to help companies manage day-to-day workflow and enforce task completion.
“Companies get to a point when they decide they don’t want to do things ad-hoc,” said Interneer CEO Romeo Elias. “We facilitate technologies from permit review process, hiring an employee, tracking time, etc. The software allows them to do this in an automated way.”
With the Interneer platform, employees cannot exceed 28 days beyond the deadline for a task log. Additionally, the technology has enhanced the county’s permit application process. Building permits, inspection records and transaction receipts are completed in one system.
This also allowed the county to provide the public with online access to browse permits. The platform lets the department tell the public how many inspections the inspector has in one day and in what order the inspector is doing them, which helps contractors plan their day by knowing where they fall on the list.
“As a consumer of government, the public cannot wait until we have more automation and access to data online, like what Humboldt did,” said Elias. “It’s amazing how quickly they are responding to these requests on their own. When a company is working with an off-the-shelf solution that is vendor managed, they cannot respond in a timely fashion.”
Interneer’s custom software cost the county about $50,000 in licenses and $80,000 in professional services and training, whereas an off-the-shelf solution from another vendor would have cost about $500,000, Santos said.
Interneer creates a working prototype based on spreadsheets or visual diagrams that display what a company is doing today. It integrates everything into one environment to simplify the learning process. Once the product is complete, a company can set reminders, notifications and quickly answer questions such as “Who has the latest data?” and “How long has it been sitting there?”
During the implementation process, Interneer uses what it calls the “phase” approach.
“The biggest risk of any software is going to be the change management issue,” Santos said. “The company is usually going from something manual, and now, you’re introducing something automated and more transparent. There’s a cultural issue to get over. Everyone agrees that there are big problems, so we have to show them value of this platform.”
Employees in Humboldt County are on board with this technology and continue to find new solutions to old headaches. Santos said the public is now requesting that the planning building department notify people when permits are about to expire. Whereas in the past it would be been too labor intensive and cost prohibitive, the county now has the ability to track the status and date of submission, and send out an email to the applicant.
“The return on investment is self-evident,” said Santos. “The nature and the form of the complaints that we get from staff and the public have changed. Instead of complaints like, ‘This doesn’t work,’ and ‘How can we do this?’ we’re now in a domain where we can come up with new ideas. It has allowed us to be more proactive in ways that we would have never considered. We are able to provide a new level of service that we never would have been able to before.”
(By Jessica Renee Napier)