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Miami's Electronic Plans Review: a Digital Transformation Journey

Updated: Jul 31

In today's fast-paced digital age, many cities are embracing technological advancements to streamline their processes and enhance efficiency. In 2016, with the continuous boom in construction, but significant delays in the permitting process, the City of Miami’s City Commission commissioned that City leadership improve the process. The City of Miami under our Chief Visionary Officer leadership embarked on a remarkable digital transformation journey for its plans review process. The City of Miami embarked on a transformative journey to streamline their cumbersome building permitting, entitlement, and right of way processes through the implementation of Electronic Plans Review (EPR). By implementing an Electronic Plans Review system, Miami aimed to tackle the challenges posed by manual, disjointed processes and create a more streamlined and efficient system for permit and entitlement processing. Let's delve into the problem they faced, the approach we recommended and was adopted, the solution that was implemented, and the measurable results achieved along the way.

The Problem

Like many cities, Miami struggled with a manual, paper-based system for reviewing building plans, excavation plans, right of ways closures, sidewalk café, waivers, warrants, exceptions entitlements and issuing permits. This traditional process was time-consuming because reviews were done one discipline at a time, prone to errors, lost plans even though there were designated plans rooms to check out and check in plans for reviews, promoted departmental silos, and often resulted in delays for builders, architects, and homeowners. Recognizing the need for change, Miami's officials understood that embracing technology was the key to resolving these challenges and creating a more efficient system.

Our Approach

To ensure the success of the project, it was crucial to establish and articulate the organization’s goals and the project’s scope. An applicant may require a permit to build a house or the next high rise, but the intricacies and nuances that’s involved in obtaining approval for construction projects is quite involved. It was, therefore, imperative to determine if this would be a departmental project or an enterprise project. The recommendation was to tackle this project from an enterprise perspective considering the cross functional reliance on multiple departments. This meant, the City of Miami engaged its Building, Planning, Zoning, Public Works, Fire, Information Technology, Procurement, and Legal Departments as core stakeholders to this project.

Miami adopted a comprehensive approach that involved collaboration, process documentation, space planning, and technology implementation. The first step was to document the existing end-to-end process at the enterprise level, identifying bottlenecks, pain points, and areas for improvement. This thorough understanding laid the foundation for the subsequent steps. Based on the process documentation, Miami's project team worked closely with stakeholders to define the requirements for electronic plans review system. By engaging architects, builders, permit runners or government consultants as they prefer to be called, permitting and entitlement department staff and IT, the team gained valuable insights into the functionalities and features that would best serve their needs. The requirements included must haves such as ease of use, collaboration capabilities (the system must be able to facilitate concurrent reviews), document management, and integration with existing systems.

The Solution

With the requirements in hand, Miami sought a technology solution that could fulfill their vision. They partnered with a trusted vendor specializing in electronic plans review systems. Over the course of 11 months, our Chief Visionary Officer, a group of highly skilled technical resources, and the City’s IT Department implemented over 33 system enhancements to their legacy systems to facilitate an online application submission process, integrated the electronic plans review solution with in-house developed applications, reimagined the physical space for visitors and staffs by restructuring the layout to facilitate a more user-friendly experience, and deployed a robust virtual, in-person, and on demand training plan that ensured all stakeholders were well prepared for not only the digital transformation, but equally as important the cultural shift that comes with such a paradigm shift.

On December 1, 2018, the City of Miami went live with ePlan and have not looked back. Because of ePlan, Miami now provides applicants with real-time transparency on where their projects are in the pipeline, has the capability for all disciplines to perform plans reviews concurrently, can implement accountability measures for employees, and provide more predictability and certainty to stakeholders.

The Results

The implementation of the Electronic Plans Review system brought about tangible benefits for the City of Miami. By digitizing the process, the city experienced a 70% reduction in traffic to the building, alleviated congestion and enhanced overall operational efficiency. Moreover, the streamlined system enabled Miami to issue permits for single and two-family homes in less than 30 days, a remarkable improvement from the previous 354 days’ timeframe. A 30+ story mixed-use facility was reviewed in less than 20 days and approved by all City Departments in 54 days. For the first time ever, the Planning and Zoning Departments were able to systematically track and monitor entitlement applications from application through Council approval.

For administrative entitlements, departments realized that it took 65 to 90 days to issue entitlements as opposed to 180 days that has been the longstanding record. The reduction in processing time not only saved valuable resources but also increased customer satisfaction. In 2020, when the world went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the City was faced with a public safety crisis because of Miami’s commitment to digital transformation, city employees continued their work remotely for 18+ months, applicants were able to complete 100% of their permitting transactions online, and the City was able to generate more than $2 billion dollars in revenue from permitting functions from 2021-2022. The cornerstone of an organization’s digital transformation strategy is a commitment to continuous improvements. Miami continues to remain agile and iterate on solutions as a part of their operations, a framework also created by our CVO to ensure sustainable and responsible continuity once a project has ended.

Miami's digital transformation journey with Electronic Plans Review showcases the city's commitment to embracing technology for the betterment of its residents and stakeholders. By partnering with our CVO, Kemarr Brown to identify the problem, document processes, and implement a robust technology solution, Miami has revolutionized its building permitting system. The measurable results, such as reduced traffic, faster permit processing times, and improved user experience, are a testament to the success of this transformative initiative. Through such endeavors, cities can harness the power of technology to create more efficient, streamlined, and citizen-centric services.

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