Electronic Plan Review for Cities and Counties

Electronic Plan Reviews for Cities and Counties

In the past decade and a half the internet has revolutionized various industries and its impact on Cities and Counties is no different. Cities and counties now increasingly look to web based Land Use Management software to allow their customers to avail various services online. The vast improvement in Internet bandwidths, the availability of large screen monitors, extremely cost-effective software to both generate and review electronic plans have cumulatively created new and exciting opportunities for city and county planning departments of all sizes to perform Electronic Plan Reviews. Software to manage Land Use was previously believed to be something that only large jurisdictions could avail. The thinking in the past has often been along the lines that software implementations mandated large up-front expenditures. This notion has been challenged by the rise of Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) allowing Planning Departments spanning a few people to a few hundreds of people all to avail the power of software to manage their Land Use processes on a pay-as-you-go and a pay-only-for-what-you-use basis.

Electronic Plan review

Electronic Plan review

Description of the Electronic Plan Review Process

The Electronic Plan Review process allows a City or County’s customers (Builders, Developers, Architects and Engineers) to submit plans for their projects online. Customers use their existing Computer Aided Design (CAD) software to generate Plans in digital formats (PDFs). These files along with information relating to the project are then submitted to jurisdictions for review. Jurisdictions use cost-effective Review software to review and markup the submitted plans on their Desktop machines. The files with the markup and review comments are electronically made available to the customers who can they make the required modifications to these plans and resubmit. Upon final review and approval of plans, the plans then become city and county records and are made available to customers and for other downstream activities.

Impact of Electronic Plan Reviews on Customers

The submission and review of electronic plans will result in tremendous cost savings to customers. A typical plan in a project undergoing review contains about five (5) pages per plan. The cost of printing for each page amounts to about $6.00 per page. During the life-cycle of a typical project 6 copies of the plan are expected to be printed for initial review, modifications, subsequent reviews and final approvals. This leads to an overall cost of $360 (10 pages per plan x $6 per page x 6 copies over the course of the review process) per plan. Depending on the size of the project, various plans are submitted for the review process ranging anywhere from 1 plan per project to up to 10 plans per project. If 5 different paper plans are submitted for a project on average, the typical cost per project comes up to $1800 per project.
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Customers then have employees deliver these paper plans personally to city and county planning departments. This again entails costs to the customer where the person delivering the plans is being paid for their time and transportation costs.

To consider things from the Customers’ perspective, as more and more jurisdictions move towards electronic review, a city or county not participating in Electronic Review becomes unattractive to the customers. For example when Walmart Inc is in the process of deciding which among a host of competing locations to setup its next store, with all other things being equal, the decision to setup in one city or county over another might come down to how easy the jurisdiction makes it for Walmart Inc. to go through the Land Development processes in that city. The decision might hinge on which among those jurisdictions participates in an Electronic Review process. In an environment where a majority of jurisdictions participate in Electronic Review, additional costs are imposed on Walmart to engage with a city or county that still does reviews on paper.

Impact of Electronic Plan Reviews on the City/County

Electronic review means that the jurisdiction receives the plans to be reviewed electronically. This entails that Planning and Permitting departments no longer need to expend resources on design, implementation and ongoing operation of processes to receive the physical plans, and store them in appropriate bins for retrieval when the actual review will be performed. Costs the jurisdiction faces for storage and management of these physical plans are eliminated when the jurisdiction moves to Electronic Review.

The electronic submission and review of plans entails significant cost-savings for the jurisdiction’s customers. And reducing the cost of the review process by a significant amount means that the jurisdiction can now capture some of the value created for customers via cost reduction, as higher review fees. Customers will be amenable to the higher fees since this creates a win-win scenario where customers are glad to pass on some of their savings over to the jurisdiction in return for the efficiencies gained.

Green Initiative

Over the last few years numerous cities and counties across the nation have taken a stance to be “Green”. Electronic Plan Reviews allow City and County planning departments to conform with existing municipal mandates and allows them to abide by guidelines to reduce paper usage.

Concluding Thoughts

The recent advances in Internet Bandwidths, Large screen Computer monitors, Review software and Cloud Computing have now made it economically feasible for municipalities for all sizes to adopt the Electronic Review process and Land Development software. With all the advantages outlined above, it is becoming evident why Electronic Review process will be the most common type of review that Municipal Planning Departments will perform in the future.

Comments

  1. What is not covered here is the mindset of the industry and professionals to share electronic files. Seems like there is still a widespread notion of designs being copied and plagiarized once the electronic file is floating around the web.

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