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City of Lethbridge’s advanced online permitting system a vital resource during pandemic

​When it comes to providing online permitting services, the City of Lethbridge is digitally ahead of the curve thanks to the diligent work done several years ago to introduce a digital service platform. The eApply and eInspections systems used to receive permit applications positioned the City well to shift fully online when the pandemic hit and an impressive 98 per cent of permitting applications are now received electronically.

This system provides excellent customer service by offering a transparent, paperless process that give residents and business owners the flexibility to apply for permits when and where they want.

In 2011 the City's Development Services team began exploring online permitting and digital plan review, and have been consistently making construction permit applications and other online services available. By the time the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, an entire suite of Safety Codes permit applications was already implemented and available to homeowners and the construction industry. Even through the temporary closures of City hall, Development Services was prepared and positioned to be able to reliably serve customers and issue permits while maintaining high levels of service.

Since you can apply for a permit at any time, from any location, there is no longer a need for out of town contractors to courier plans or documentation or make a trip to Lethbridge. Applying online also limits the risk to individuals who don't want to come to City Hall due to the pandemic.

A great example of this flexibility comes from a young father who is a plumber in the city and was trained by a Permit Technician at the front counter of City Hall on eApply. Once he was trained in the online process he could apply for permits at a more convenient time for him. The team heard back from the gentleman who was thrilled saying the online permitting system changed his life and the way he did business. He no longer would have to leave in the middle of a customer's job, to go to City Hall to apply for a permit for his next plumbing job. He was able to finish his work day, go home, enjoy quality time with his family, and then later at night, at his convenience, he could login and apply for upcoming permits.

The eApply online process helps eliminate errors says Julie Smith, Development Services System Analyst.

"Address information is pulled directly from the land database which allows for greater accuracy in the information received by eliminating keying errors. Less errors results in time savings by our Permit Technicians and Inspectors," says Smith.

Booking inspections have also moved to an online platform in the form of eInspections. Inspections can be scheduled online anywhere, any time, on any online device. The digital permitting process is much more transparent to customers as they can review the status of their permit application online. Applications come into staff immediately when they are submitted by the customer and are processed in the order by which they are received.

The online platform also allows for greater collaboration between different City departments. The applications can be sent to multiple different departments such as Electric design or Fire Prevention. These different departments can review the application concurrently rather than the process being linear as it was with paper-based applications.  Since the review is now simultaneous, issues are found and addressed which results in quicker notification to the customer.

There is also cost savings to homeowners and contractors with the online platform. Customers can upload digital copies of the documentation and printed paper copies are no longer required. The customer uploads a copy of their plans and supporting documentation and the files are digitally reviewed and approved by Development Services staff.

A successful strategy for providing remote support to customers has also been developed. Department staff provide information, guidance and technical expertise to customers through phone and email ensuring successful permit applications are achieved for homeowners and construction industry partners. Multiple step- by-step tutorials have also been created to assist with online permitting. Once a customer completes an application successfully, they gain the knowledge to proceed on their own for future applications.

"Customers are no longer confined to the 8:00-4:30pm City Hall hours," says Janine Small, Permit Technician. "There is a greater level of flexibility for busy individuals to apply for the permit anywhere at any time of day."

Many cities across Canada and the USA have reached out to the department inquiring about the system and finding out ways they could incorporate it into their business practices.

"Our team has created a state of the art system, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," says Ryan Slovack, Manager of Customer Services and Business Support. "The system is not static, we will continue to improve, evolve and add application types online."

The movement online had the Development Services Customer Service and Business Support team ready to tackle pandemic restrictions and proved that the City of Lethbridge is an industry leader in online permitting. For information on the online permitting process visit www.lethbridge.ca/eapply.