Project: Planning and Building Standards
Business goal: To streamline planning application processing by automating paper-centric processes and turning many public-facing functions into web-based services.
Project partner: BT Consulting and Systems Integration
Award sponsor: Atlantic Global
Until recently, the planning and building standards section at the City of Edinburgh Council was drowning in paper and encumbered by manual processes. As the busiest department of its kind in Scotland, it was struggling to keep up with an ever-increasing workload of planning application processing and building standards enforcement – all driven by paper-based processes.
Not only were those documents prone to inaccuracies and deterioration, but they consumed costly office storage space.
Tackling those issues with the help of BT's consulting and systems integration arm, the council embarked on a three-part programme to digitise much of the department's document processing and turn many public-facing building control functions into web-based services.
The first phase was to clean up its location files. At the inception of the project, it became clear that any modernisation of property-based services would require unification of all of the council's property address data. A new corporate address gazetteer was built based on a geographical information system and integrated with different departments' databases. The next step was to capture and make available all planning documents in an electronic document management system. This was then integrated with the databases used by planning staff to process applications.
Lastly – and critical to the perceived benefits of the project – the team created a public-facing portal to provide citizens and building professionals with online access to all the information on planning and building warrant applications, the infrastructure to allow for the submission of applications over the web and the ability to buy Property Enquiry Certificates online.
One key aspect of the project was how it was funded. Under a Private Finance Initiative agreement, BT initially financed the work, with the council making a minority contribution. To recoup its costs, BT makes a small charge each time a transaction is completed on the system.
That meant the council could get the benefits of a sophisticated system without a large capital outlay – cutting its costs in the process. Over the ten years to 2012, the council expects a saving of £3.5 million.