Electronic Plan Review: Standalone vs. Integrated - When, Which, and Why - e-PlanSoft

March 3, 2021by e-PlanSoft™ Team

The move to an electronic plan review has been on the minds of permitting and other public sector agencies for a while now, especially as it seems like almost every process is going digital and away from manual modes of operation. Even in public agencies, where changes are embraced more cautiously than their private sector counterparts, it’s been clear that electronic, and specifically cloud-based solutions can no longer be considered a “nice-to-have.” They are now a “need-to-have.”

Why? Simply stated, the public sector is constantly expected to do more with less. So, maximized efficiency cannot be considered optional. It’s indisputably the nature of government agencies, as they are held accountable to their constituents. Add a pandemic, as happened last year, and virtually all organizations, whether public or private and across all industries faced fundamental changes to the way they conduct business. Organizations needed to find ways to accommodate remote work wherever possible. In the blink of an eye, crowded lobbies and waiting rooms were forced to be a thing of the past. Operations as normal as working in the office, passing around paper plan sets face-to-face from reviewer to reviewer, and plans being touched by multiple people either had to be eliminated in favor of remote, no-touch options, or required workarounds that were far less efficient. Sound familiar?

For those agencies who had already moved to a cloud-based plan review model, business kept moving along virtually uninterrupted, because they were already set up to work remotely, collaborate in real-time, and perform intake fully online.

However, those who were still working in the office with paper or on-premise plan review solutions had a very different experience. Those folks had to, or are now, scrambling to adapt and adjust their mode of operation. And they are faced with some big decisions.

Standalone or integrated electronic plan review solution?

That is the question, but the answer may not be as clear-cut as you would think. Possibly the biggest decision after the decision to move to a cloud-based electronic plan review solution is whether to opt for a standalone solution or a solution that integrates with your permitting platform. Where do you even find an unbiased source of information to help you make this very important decision?

As you might expect, your current situation and your plans affect your best course of action.

To drill down to the best choice for your agency, you must consider:

  • Do you currently have a permitting system?
    • If so, is it antiquated, and/or do you plan to replace it soon?
  • If you don’t have a permitting system, are you planning to acquire one soon?

Notice a theme? For most agencies, an integrated solution will offer the greatest efficiency and ultimately, the greatest functionality. But the timing can be an important factor as to if and when that’s true. It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer.

Let’s look at each situation.

Situation: You have a permitting system in place, and it’s expected to continue as your permitting solution for the foreseeable future
Best choice: Integrated

If your agency has a permitting solution in place that is working well for you and is expected to continue to be in place for the foreseeable future, the integrated solution offers a true end-to-end permitting and plan solution. Each system works with the other, feeds information seamlessly back and forth, and provides the greatest efficiency. Further, each step triggers the next step within the other automatically for even greater time savings. And there is no need for redundant data entry, which saves time immediately and reduces the chance of input errors. It’s a synergistic system that will maximize your organization’s efficiency with streamlined workflows, and no lags between steps.

Situation: You have an aging or antiquated permitting system in place, and you’re planning to replace it. Or, you don’t have a permitting system but are planning to get one.
Best choice: Standalone now, then integrated

If you’re working with a permitting system that isn’t keeping up with your needs, you’ll undoubtedly be planning to replace it. Logic might point to the idea that it makes the most sense to adopt a cloud-based electronic plan review solution at the same time. Maybe, but maybe not. It’s important to remember the implementation times involved. The permitting system touches almost every function in the agency, from financials all the way to plan review and intake, and everything in between. So, it’s not surprising that to select and fully implement a new permitting system will take an average of 12 to 18 months. And that’s great for a year and a half from now but doesn’t give you the ability to move to a remote working model for your plan reviews as soon as possible.

Remember, it’s never too early to be more efficient, and the requirements for social distancing and the need to work and collaborate remotely are right now. In this case, the best course of action is to implement a standalone cloud-based plan review and intake solution now. Your agency will be working efficiently and collaborating remotely in a matter of weeks. You will improve efficiency, productivity, and  service to your customers right away. You’ll also realize a nearly immediate ROI.

Then when your new permitting system is up and running, your plan review component can be integrated to become your final best solution. The phased approach will allow your agency to realize additional efficiency quickly and allow for remote work now. Then, when all systems are implemented, it steps up the efficiency even further.

Situation: Your agency has fairly low traffic, an aging or no permitting system, and no plans to get one
Solution: Standalone plan review and intake

In this situation, it can make sense to adopt a standalone cloud-based electronic plan review solution, either with its own intake system or even with your own in-house developed intake portal. With a low volume of projects, it can be a successful long-term solution to bring on a standalone solution. You will realize increased efficiency over paper plan reviews or even on-premise solutions and you will gain the ability to work and collaborate remotely and concurrently so that whatever situation arises that may require a remote work model, your projects will continue uninterrupted. As with the previous scenario, you’ll have a nearly immediate ROI with a standalone solution, and perform your plan reviews faster and more efficiently than is possible working with traditional paper plan reviews. Your staff and applicants can communicate quickly without the need to be in proximity to others, and your level of customer service will dramatically improve.

To sum it up, for most agencies, an integrated solution for both permitting and a cloud-based electronic plan review and intake will ultimately be the most efficient and powerful tool. However, in many cases, a phased approach that starts with a standalone solution and integrates with a permitting system as phase 2, can address your immediate needs to allow work outside of the office, improve efficiency right away, and in many cases, avoid furloughs may be the right solution.

e-PlanSoft™ is a leading developer and provider of plan review, intake, and document management solutions. Their leading solution, e-PlanREVIEW® is a cloud-based electronic plan review solution that allows full functionality as a standalone solution and integrates seamlessly with virtually all leading permitting solutions on the market today. e-PlanREVIEW offers the most flexibility of any leading electronic plan review solutions available. Intake can be performed using e-PlanSoft’s goPost™ Public Portal, through the integrated permitting system, or using your agency’s in-house developed portal. It offers a quick implementation and training to have your agency and applicants operating more efficiently faster than with any other solution. To learn more, visit www.eplansoft.com.