What Level of e-Permitting is Right for Your Municipality?

4 March 2020All, Constructionmunicipal, permits



According to the Construction Coverage article “The Hottest Real Estate Markets of 2019,” construction is hot in the US, particularly in:

  • Tucson, AZ;
  • Visalia, CA;
  • Columbus, OH;
  • Colorado Springs, CO;
  • Milwaukee, WI;
  • Lincoln, NE;
  • Memphis, TN;
  • Grand Rapids, MI;
  • Provo, Ogden and Salt Lake City, UT;
  • Killeen, TX;
  • Salem, OR;
  • Spokane, WA; and
  • Boise, ID.

As the need for construction permits increases, municipal planning and building departments are stretched thin because the historically-manual review process is also labor intensive, which can bring the wheels of pending infrastructure and construction projects to a grinding halt.

One solution for fast growing municipalities is to transition to an electronic permitting process. In 2002, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a guide for implementing electronic permitting systems. But 2016 estimates are that only one-third of municipalities had a full workflow system, while 89 percent had at least some downloadable forms. Most cite funding as their largest implementation barrier. On the other end of the spectrum are municipal leaders in this effort like San Francisco, Denver, Omaha, Baltimore, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Houston (none of them, oddly enough, listed in the hottest real estate markets). As the recent article in Daily Commercial News, “BIM Insights: How BIM and e-permitting can transform municipal operations,” explains, the primary benefits of e-permitting include:

  • Reduced paperwork;
  • Improved data management;
  • Increase efficiency;
  • Accuracy;
  • Transparency;
  • Enhanced compliance and enforcement;
  • Consistency;
  • Multi-agency integration.

To elaborate on the last point, by using electronic processes, all of the agencies involved in permitting can have a collaborative part in the review process using BIM (building information modeling), GIS (geographic information systems, like ESRI ArcGIS), and code checking algorithms.

As far back as 2011, building code compliance using BIM was being studied and reported on. The whitepaper “Building Code Compliance Checking Using BIM Technology” published by California State University, Long Beach, explained the difficulties inherent in having computers check designs for code compliance. BIM pushed the process forward, since the project model contains the data that is needed to assess building performance. However, the process is slowed by the human component still required to compare how building components fit with codes and regulations, and that slow down can be exacerbated by design changes.   

The best-case scenario is that all construction projects use BIM, and all construction projects can be expedited using e-permitting. Of course, this isn’t the reality. That would essentially require all municipalities to mandate BIM for new projects and e-permitting. On the international stage, Singapore and the U.K. have both mandated BIM/GIS for design and e-permitting. According to Autodesk, there are about 10 countries operating under partial or full BIM mandates, with 14 more working on it. In the US, companies who have adopted BIM are still stuck with wading through a manual permitting process when working with about two-thirds of municipalities.

From the most labor intensive to the most efficient, the levels of permitting are:

  • Level 0 – paper drawings
  • Level 1 – digital drawings
  • Level 2 – BIM models
  • Level 3 – BIM models integrated with GIS
looking at a blurry cityscape from above through spectacles, with a clear view of city buildings through the two lenses, e-permitting
  • Level 0 is a completely manual process.
  • Level 1 incorporates digital files with a manual review process.
  • Level 2 involves BIM models and compliance checking software tools.
  • Level 3 uses BIM with its associated GIS information and a collaborative review by all of the permit decision makers.

Recent estimates are that about two-thirds of the construction industry has adopted BIM. With its proven track record of saving labor and materials, BIM will become more widely adopted by necessity. Soon, it won’t be a big stretch for municipalities to require permit submittals in the form of BIM models, which would move them up to Level 2. The digital transformation is also taking the industry by storm. As that happens, most municipalities with increasing development pressure seem likely to follow the trend and bring construction permitting into its next iteration. If your agency needs a partner when considering an upgrade to e-permitting, contact the BIM experts at Applied Software. With a quick discovery call, Applied can help your municipality map out the process that’s right for your specific situation.



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