Chicago merging permit systems

Chicago officials hope that a new citywide building permit, inspection and

code enforcement system will change the way departments interact.

More than 500 employees in the health, fire, environmental protection

and building departments would benefit from technology that automates scheduling,

tracking and processing violations while also generating reports, bills

and notices.

Sacramento, Calif.-based Hansen Information Technologies, which has

a three-year contract with the city, will install the back-office system

in several phases beginning in April. Chicago began looking at its inspection

system more than two years ago and signed with Hansen last summer.

Eventually, inspectors will receive handheld devices or laptops — a

Hewlett-Packard Co. Pocket PC with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE 3.0 or a

laptop or pen-top device running Windows 98, 2000 or NT — for fieldwork

starting this summer. The city has issued a request for services for the

devices.

Deborah McCann, Chicago's deputy chief information officer, said the

building department would be the first to automate its back-end systems

so that supervisors can schedule inspections and data entry operators can

key in data. She said the city wanted to get the back-end running before

bringing on handheld devices.

She said the project has involved all departments and their employees.

"Human nature and human response to change is the vast majority of this

project," she said. "This is not just automating a process.... We're always

asking, Why do you do it that way?" she said.

Brian McGinnis, the building department's managing deputy commissioner,

said the new system will make his department more efficient by reducing

duplication of work and by being proactive with inspections. He expects

the department to be fully automated a year from now.

"It's dramatic," he said. "It's changing the way we do things here.

You're going from a paper type of environment to automation. We're trying

to take the pieces and put it all back together. It's like a huge puzzle."

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