There’s no one-size-fits-all digital solution in the world of permitting. The particularities of every city’s regulations and policies inescapably mean an off-the-rack product just won’t work, no matter the quality. To stick with the fashion analogy: It has to be expertly tailored.
At OpenCounter, we know service is the key to getting the right fit and harnessing the full benefit of our product because we know how local government works. That’s right — we aren’t tech whizzes who stumbled upon an unmet need in the market. We are city government experts and enthusiasts (okay, and tech whizzes) who have lived through the pain and frustration of permitting and decided to do something about it.
So when a city adopts OpenCounter as their virtual permitting counter, they get more than our unparalleled product. They get access to the knowledge and experience of our team of government experts, who have been in the trenches working with state, county, and local governments. And all that experience positions us to help municipalities take a holistic approach to their permitting processes, with the outcome being a modern, easy-to-use experience for City Hall staff and constituents alike.
But superior service doesn’t just mean timely responses in a friendly manner. Far from it (though you can certainly expect that from us, too). We facilitate highly intentional engagements — expert fittings, if you will — to ensure everyone’s needs are understood and effectively incorporated into the final product.
And how do we achieve that? By focusing on communication, organization, implementation, and incredible service. Let’s dig in.
Communication: Establishing a Holistic Approach to Permitting
The hard truth is that when it comes to permitting, it’s very common for there to be little to no communication among pertinent city departments, as well as a lack of transparency into the role other departments play in the process. People have their heads down, hard at work within their own silo. The result is a permitting process plagued with preventable delays, hiccups, and frustration.
OpenCounter breaks down those silos and works with each client to adopt a holistic approach to their permitting process. This is why we get everyone in the same room and identify everyone’s needs — those of the city (policies and regulations), its employees (schedules), and its constituents (navigation of the process and requirements).
It’s only then that we can dive into the most important questions that need to be addressed:
- How does each step impact each stakeholder?
- What are the biggest pain points for each department?
- What are the steps that always seem to bottleneck the process?
- What’s the constituent experience like?
- Why do applicants struggle with certain points of the permit discovery process and not others?
Without interdepartmental communication and a holistic perspective, these questions simply don’t get answered, and problems continue without solutions. This is why we put a premium on effective communication — not only with you, but across all of City Hall.
Organization: Permit Therapy
Organizing all of your city’s permitting particulars for use in a digital tool can be a cathartic experience. In fact, we’ve affectionately come to call this part of the process — when everyone comes to the table to hash out the specifics — “permit therapy.” The goal is to help your teams separate the signal from the noise: What are the regulations? How are they being enforced? And what really matters?
We’re uncompromising in our approach because we know how it can transform a city’s permitting experience. Take it from a happy client of ours, the Deputy Director of Community Development at a northern California county:
“OpenCounter really understood what we do. Having members of your team with planning and public agency background made a huge difference.”
In sum: We get it.
You might be surprised by what is discovered during these “therapy” sessions, but we won’t be. We’ve seen it all:
- duplicated uses and conflicting regulations
- discrepancies in permit processing and restriction enforcement
- forgotten or antiquated policies
- critical gaps in policy
- application redundancies
- incorrectly collected — or worse, uncollected — fees
Taking the time to identify these issues — and so many more — allows cities the opportunity to reconcile them. Maybe some regulations put unnecessary hardship on constituents or require redundant work in the application process. Perhaps some zoning restrictions are no longer relevant and therefore hold back business opportunities. We’ve even had cities officially change their code structure during this step to address the findings. What can we say? Therapy works!
Not only does this result in a more cohesive and considered permitting policy, but it lays a strong foundation for implementation. And speaking of …
Implementation: Building Your Virtual Permit Counter
The magic happens here — complex city government meets sleek and intuitive Silicon Valley-style tech. This is when all of the final regulations, improvements to the constituent experience, and department-specific considerations established during permit therapy are implemented into a dynamic, if-this-then-that digital experience that conveniently guides applicants and city employees through the permitting process.
From normalizing use tables to converting fee tables and integrating all applicable schedules and geospatial data (including base and overlay zones as well as planned developments) — every single option and its corresponding requirements are presented, in the correct order, with the flexibility and dynamism to incorporate subsequent contingencies. And we do this using natural, everyday language that applicants will understand.
Best of all: All of this is done in-house at OpenCounter. We don’t outsource this important technical work to a third party.
If you’re thinking this sounds like a miracle, we think you’re right. But don’t take our word for it — here’s what the Manager of the Building Department at a major midwestern city has to say about us:
“The way OpenCounter handled our regulations, it’s almost been like a miracle. I say ‘miracle’ because it’s something I couldn’t have comprehended achieving.”
Ongoing Service, Whenever You Need It
If you’re thinking this sounds complicated, you’re right. Permitting is complex. But don’t worry — OpenCounter takes on 80 percent (or more) of the implementation work.
We’re backed by a team of engineers, developers, and product leaders with deep experience in the public sector. We’ve successfully implemented OpenCounter across dozens of municipalities, so we’re confident in our expertise and our ability. So in the final stretch of implementation, we work closely with City Hall staff to ensure a smooth transition. We don’t pass the baton until everyone has the product knowledge they need to successfully finish the job.
You’ll likely be astounded at how efficiently our team works. Here’s what the Director of the Building Department of an Ohio city had to say about us:
“You guys started with what, to me, seemed like very little information and were able to get everything right. With the thorough understanding you already had of the processes, it took very little from us to get the site perfect.”
And don’t think our engagement ends once we launch your virtual permitting counter. We know codes, zoning, and so much more are constantly being updated. So baked into every engagement is ongoing support and maintenance, which means OpenCounter is always there for you and your constituents, whatever the needs may be — at no additional cost.
Our service-oriented, holistic approach to permitting means we don’t just deliver a top-quality product, we make sure it fits — and continues to fit — just like a finely tailored suit.
It’s OpenCounter, at your service.
OpenCounter: Your Permit Discovery Partner
OpenCounter has become the virtual permitting counter for municipalities across the country — from San Diego to Miami and from Detroit to Fort Worth. Our suite of portals makes it easy for everyone to understand the permit discovery process, which permits they need, how much each of them costs, and how to apply.
As you can tell now, we don’t just offer a great product — we deliver great service, too, thanks to the work of our Government Services team. In fact, take a few moments and get to know the team’s director, Linh Vuong, and project managers Matt Gilster, Matt Kawashima, and Jeff Taylor in a series of profiles. You’ll learn more about their experience in the public sector, what brought them to OpenCounter, and their commitment to our mission of making permitting work for everyone.