Portland phoning in permit process

Officials in Portland, Ore., say their new interactive voice response system

is saving time for both employees and contractors.

The system, which debuted Oct. 5, includes a PC with voice cards that

enable a sound-based interface between users and the system. People communicate

with the system by talking and using touch-tone telephone buttons.

The city says contractors are saving time by using the telephone to

get automated inspection results instead of driving from a construction

site to pick up printed reports. They can call as late as 6 a.m. to schedule

an inspection for the same day.

Using the system, homeowners and contractors can request, reschedule

and cancel inspections; quickly retrieve inspection results; trade messages

with an inspector; or request a faxed status report for projects not yet

under inspection.

With a new software interface between the permitting system and database,

inspectors can mine more data about a site before they go into the field,

and they can post results via their cell phones.

The system handled an average of 410 daily inspection requests during

its first week, just slightly fewer requests than usual. Most people were

able to navigate the new system, said Ann Kohler, communications manager

for the Office of Planning and Development Review.

Buying the software from Selectron Inc. of Portland and integrating

it with the permitting database cost about $60,000, Kohler said.

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