EnerGov Helps City Through Disaster
Location: Marco Island, Florida
Tyler Solutions: EnerGov, Munis, ExecuTime
As the largest barrier island off the southwest coast of Florida, the City of Marco Island’s 22.8 square miles are home to nearly 18,000 citizens during the off-season and up to 60,000 during the summer months. The city’s government is dedicated to serving those citizens and tourists well, and part of that effort includes using cutting-edge technology in public-facing city operations, like the permitting process. This dedication proved more beneficial than the city could have imagined when Category 3 Hurricane Irma made landfall in September 2017.
How Software Can Help When Disaster Strikes
Hurricane Irma is the strongest storm on record for the open Atlantic region and the costliest Caribbean hurricane to date. This was a catastrophic event for the Marco Island community and, as the city government helped shoulder the responsibility of aiding the community in rebuilding, workloads dramatically increased.
“Our permit volume more than doubled for over a year,” recalled Customer Service Supervisor Lisa Lee Loewer. “Our customer service communications doubled. We couldn’t have imagined taking in over 11,000 permits in a year. Our standard was around 5,000.”
Loewer went on to explain the piles of paperwork and multitudes of walk-in visitors put significant strain on the city’s staff in the aftermath of the storm. Fortunately, Marco Island had already identified the need to make its permitting and plan review processes digital and to implement an online portal for citizens.
This digitization helped the city more efficiently recover from the tragedy than it would have been able to do with its legacy system.
“We anticipated that if we had not been digital, we would have been standing room only. We would have had people taking a number and coming back the next day,” Loewer said.
Why Marco Island Went Digital
The city’s legacy permitting software was not keeping up with industry trends and demands, and the need to upgrade was identified long before Hurricane Irma struck. Loewer recalled the legacy system as essentially just a tool for issuing permits and collecting money. It had no internet connectivity or ability to save files.
“Our permit software had none of the facets we now expect from even the simplest software,” Loewer said. “It certainly didn’t share data with other departments. [It] had no graphic component or online component. Our permit and property files had to be outsourced for scanning and were being stored in a third-party software. There was paper everywhere. We were spending entirely too much time walking from desk to desk looking for plans, and the idea of simultaneous plan reviews loomed large.”
On top of gaining internal efficiencies, the city wanted to improve interactions with customers. Loewer and her colleagues realized software solutions existed that could provide improved accountability and transparency alongside digital record keeping, online permitting, and digital plan review.
“Online permitting and digital plan reviews weren’t going to change just how permits were processed, but also how we interacted with our clients,” said Loewer, adding, “We wanted something where we could share data with other departments and that other departments could also use, and we wanted to be able to save files to the record.”
All these needs were apparent even when the city wasn’t facing a time of crisis. Getting the local government on software to alleviate those pain points ended up being an unintentional critical component of Marco Island’s disaster recovery efforts.
Selecting a New Solution
The identified process hindrances and needed improvements led the City of Marco Island to Tyler Technologies’ EnerGov™ civic services solution. From planning, permitting, and licensing to asset management and citizen requests, EnerGov uses GIS to automate and connect critical processes, streamline workflow, improve communication, and increase productivity from desk to field. Thankfully, Marco Island’s selection of EnerGov proved even more timely and beneficial than the city could have anticipated.
In retrospect, we can’t imagine what our response to Irma would have been without EnerGov.
Lisa Lee Loewer
Customer Service Supervisor
Electronic Plan Reviews
The City of Marco Island began using EnerGov eReviews, the software’s electronic plan review process, in May 2013, but introduced the concept to the community slowly via beta testers. For the first few years, Marco Island accepted both paper and digital reviews, but switched to a completely digital review process on January 1, 2016.
“There was no way we could know how timely our implementation of EnerGov’s online permitting and [electronic plan reviews] would benefit us when we had Hurricane Irma hit in September 2017,” said Loewer. “Could you imagine our little office full of 10,000 permits worth of paper and all of the people having to come in and visit to submit?”
There were some concerns around going digital because the city wasn’t sure how licenses and seals would work, so Marco Island added specific notarized forms to its processes. The city also leased a blueprint scanner for those who didn’t own a digital seal or scanner and used that same scanner and temporary staffing to perform document archiving.
“Through persistence, training, and a general attitude change from the Florida Design Professional boards, most plans come in digitally now,” said Loewer. “I rarely see a clerk trudging to the scanner with prints anymore. That means better quality plans in the field and less scanning in-house.”
Moving forward, Loewer and her team are excited to upgrade to Tyler’s new and improved eReviews, which integrates with Bluebeam® for markups and EnerGov’s new HTML5 apps, which do not depend on a Microsoft® Silverlight plugin like earlier versions.
“This new method where you use Bluebeam and [the] Review Coordinator and Manage My Reviews [apps] is amazingly easier for managing the files, and it’s easier for the consumer because they don’t need the Silverlight plugin. They’re not limited to a browser.”
This upgrade will help better equip Marco Island for any challenges it faces in the future by making processes easier, more intuitive, and more self-directed.
In fall 2018, Marco Island upgraded its public portal from EnerGov Citizen Access Portal (CAP) to EnerGov Citizen Self Service (CSS) to enable online payments using BridgePay and MyGovPay.
Marco Island also uses Tyler’s Munis® ERP software for financial operations. With a Munis upgrade, the city will be able to have payment data from EnerGov transfer directly and automatically into Munis, which city staff is excited about.
Although Marco Island had not yet upgraded to CSS when Hurricane Irma struck, Loewer was pleased to report the city rarely fields questions from insurance adjusters anymore because the information they need is readily available in CSS, which will be incredibly beneficial in any future times of crisis. Over time, Loewer hopes to see more property owners using the portal as well, although she says many already do.
“We even had owners show up at a training session,” she said.
I think this new portal is making a big difference because there’s only one place to upload and download, and we now have online payments with ACH. EnerGov staff worked very well with our payment processor to hone the settings. This was probably the number one most requested feature and one we wished we’d had for years.
Lisa Lee Loewer
Customer Service Supervisor
Why Implementation and Training Make All the Difference
Much of Marco Island’s success with EnerGov can be attributed to the city’s dedication during implementation. Loewer stated she never expected the implementation process to be simple. She expected to work hard alongside the EnerGov team and spend a lot of time coordinating with staff.
“Being a cheerleader is part of the job. Being tenacious is important too!” she said, adding, “It was particularly useful to do as much workflow setup in house as possible.”
Loewer explained the workflow setup she and her staff performed required a lot of learning along the way but set the stage for easier implementations as new features were added. Marco Island was forward-thinking in its approach to training as well by focusing on training not only internal staff but external customers as well.
“We were concerned immediately about training our clients,” said Loewer, “who turned out to be not just contractors, but design professionals, developers, realtors, insurance adjusters, and of course property owners.”
Marco Island provided online training materials for all types of users and countless hours of training by appointment. Loewer noted the city tried classroom training but found most users responded best to online tutorials or one-on-one training.
“We like to think we’ve road tested this whole implementation process pretty well,” said Loewer. “We are a small city with small resources and a small budget, so motivation, hard work, and tenacity are really the key. It doesn’t hurt to have better than recommended specs on all hardware either. We make sure all the permit clerks know how to use the portal, and then of course the other manager and myself make sure we offer training, and I think it makes a difference.”
This community training certainly proved beneficial in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, as constituents were able to use the online portal rather than submitting paper manually for plans and permits.
Outcomes and Outlook
The City of Marco Island has realized EnerGov-related benefits beyond those gained from its use of eReviews and CSS. The city is pleased to report it is well on its way to reducing work times associated with inspection scheduling thanks to using EnerGov’s GIS functionality to map inspection zones. Marco Island has also been testing the new HTML5-based web app functionality and is excited to streamline processes even further.
“Basically, we’re now working on our wish list items,” said Loewer. “Our most vocal clients, typically contractors, often express desire for more data. They provide feedback to us about what features should look like and about device compatibility. They have pressed us to continue adding services and fine tune the portal to meet their expectations. In general, they seem to like the portal and want more from it, which is the same way we feel about our EnerGov products, so we do feel like we have succeeded with our goals.”
The City of Marco Island, Florida, put EnerGov to the test when it faced catastrophe, and emerged from the trials stronger than before. Hurricane Irma was a devastating disaster, but Marco Island’s dedicated local government didn’t let the storm keep the community down. The city rallied together and used every tool at its disposal as efficiently as possible to bounce back, making the City of Marco Island a great example of a vibrant, connected community.