A refresh this fall to Springfield’s permit application and development review process got off to a rocky start.
Harlan Hill, director of Building Development Services, said the transition to eCity, Springfield’s brand of Infor cloud-based software, caused undue delays for permits, with some large reviews taking up to two months. The city’s goal is 10 business days for most projects. Officials at one of the largest general contractors locally, Branco Enterprises Inc. with $52 million in 2017 billings, said their projects have experienced delays.
“When the new system came on the line, it did not bring that data conversion of existing projects smoothly,” Hill said. “It created a backlog of unforeseen challenges.”
The software went live Oct. 15. The goal was to bring the city’s building development review process to the 21st century by allowing contractors, developers and architects to submit applications, check the status of reviews and pay fees online, rather than coming into the office.
The city signed Phase I of the contract with New York City-based Infor to develop the software for $580,000, said Jeff Coiner, Springfield’s information systems director. Unforeseen issues and software changes have added an estimated $120,000 over the budget, he said, bringing the Phase I cost to roughly $700,000.
“We knew there would be some issues, but we didn’t anticipate we would have as many issues as we did with the conversion,” Coiner said. “We kind of had to squeeze a square peg in a round hole.”
The development community has expressed frustrations to city staff, Hill said, prompting Building Development Services in December to request a list of issues and suggestions from the Springfield Contractors Association.
“It was supposed to make everything more expedient. You didn’t have to stand in line at the counter,” said Sean Thouvenot, vice president at Branco Enterprises. “The reality was when they made the switch, they were told that it would integrate with their old system. That didn’t happen.”
For the first couple of months, Hill said city staff was stuck manually entering permits previously applied for into the new system.
Hill said starting in late December, new projects submitted through the system were running more smoothly, averaging about 14 business days for review.
Thouvenot said two of Branco’s projects were affected by the delays, and one client might wait to start a project if the permit processes will be “less than expedient.”
In addition to the initial challenges transitioning to the software, Thouvenot said key issues remain.
One is a linear submittal process. He explained that if one portion of the project is under review and a change to the project needs to be made, that cannot be processed until the first item’s review is complete.
Ramsay Manning, vice president of operations with DeWitt & Associates Inc., has experienced similar challenges.
“Because the system only allows one of those to be submitted and reviewed and approved by the city at a time, if you have multiple changes occurring, that can compound to a large delay to the project,” he said.
He said one or two changes to a project weekly are common. Manning said because of the timing of DeWitt’s current projects, only a few now are hitting delays.
Another software issue, according to Thouvenot, centers on the automatic assigning of a prescribed set of inspections, not taking into account that not all projects require every type of inspection.
“Someone has to go through and wipe out the request for those inspections,” Thouvenot said. “The city has been great with working with us. I think they realize they were sold a bad deal and they’re doing everything they can.”
Manning also said city staff has stepped up to help navigate through the challenges, including to phased projects, which he said the software does not indicate, causing confusion for plan reviewers.
Officials at Infor, a global, cloud-based software development company, could not be reached for comment by deadline.
The company produced $2.9 billion in fiscal 2017 revenue through some 71 million cloud users, according to its latest financial overview report. Privately held by Golden Gate Capital, Koch Industries Inc. and Summit Partners, its 5,300 developers build software applications from industries ranging from the public sector to retail and hospitality to aerospace and defense.
Thouvenot and Manning both thought there was need for additional training for businesses.
SCA Executive Director Megan Short said the group submitted an extensive list of specific issues with the software last month, per the city’s request.
“The system works for a perfect project that doesn’t have multiple changes or anything go wrong,” Short said. “It isn’t intuitive enough to be able to determine certain inspections or [when] paperwork isn’t required. Then it shuts down and won’t go any further without an actual explanation.”
As a result, Short said project managers and owners have contacted city staff more than usual, adding to the backlog.
Hill acknowledged eCity’s rough start, which he called “the perfect storm.” In addition to the conversion issues, he said a city server crashed in July, Building Development Services lost roughly a fourth of its 32-person staff during the summer and fall, and commercial project applications increased 70 percent to 2,066 permits in 2018. The seven vacant positions have since been filled, and three months after launch, he said the majority of the problems with eCity have been addressed, or have a plan to be addressed.
He said submitting changes to a project once it’s been submitted has always been an issue with the city process, but the other challenges with eCity “compounded our ability to respond to those change requests.” He said he is working on securing funding for a $78,000 upgrade to the city’s 6-year old ProjectDox software ePlans that would allow for project managers and architects to upload and submit revisions and addendums to a project already in the review cycle. He expects that to go live this summer.
Hill and Coiner expressed confidence that all the software issues can be remedied, though there is no timeline.
Coiner said the next phase with the Infor software is to bring business license applications online, which is expected to go live in December. The yearly management of the Infor software, which is used by several city departments, comes in at about $250,000 per year and is included in Information Systems’ $4.1 million budget for fiscal 2019, Coiner said.
Delays push $4.5M renovation project into 2021.
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