City is going digital for permitting and licensing

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

No one likes bureaucratic red tape, but wading through it on your computer holds distinct advantages over languishing at counters and scuttling between government offices. More

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Focus: TECHNOLOGY

City is going digital for permitting and licensing

By Patrick Anderson
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 2/3/14

No one likes bureaucratic red tape, but wading through it on your computer holds distinct advantages over languishing at counters and scuttling between government offices.

That’s one of the drivers behind moving permitting and licensing functions into the digital realm, an initiative that’s making strides in Providence and statewide offices.

In December, the city launched an online permitting system for building projects that had been in the works for years and became a central priority in Mayor Angel Taveras’ economic-development plan.

A month later, the state unveiled its new e-licensing system which can process 77 different licenses for occupations, including real estate agents, auctioneers, liquor sales, engineers and upholsterers.

On a separate track but not yet ready to launch, the state Office of Regulatory Reform is working on an online permitting platform that can be distributed and used by municipalities across the state.

In Providence, the launch of the new digital platform coincides with the long-heralded shift of Providence Fire Department inspectors into the same offices as the Department of Inspection and Standards, allowing the two groups to collaborate on projects and preventing applicants from having to traverse different city buildings.

This unified permitting office has also seen the addition of three employees to expedite smaller projects and allow more senior officials to concentrate on larger, more complex applications.

Combined, the changes should improve a permitting process that business owners, architects, developers and homeowners have complained about for years.

In particular, businesses have described having to dig up typewriters to fill out paperwork that couldn’t be submitted digitally.

“The old style, you brought in paper drawings and it could take awhile,” said Jeffrey L. Lykins, director of the Providence Department of Inspections and Standards. “The new system logs changes as they are being made.”

Named ProvSmart, the new system was developed by InQuest Technologies, which also hosts it, for $279,952.

After applicants create an account, they proceed to a dashboard where they can start and track multiple permits. The system allows officials to make notes on plans and alert applicants to changes through email.

The digital system only applies to projects that do not require any zoning relief and are not large enough to trigger major project review by the City Plan Commission.

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