Database upgrades and maintenance are scheduled to begin on Sunday September 3rd at 1:00 AM EST. We expect the application to be fully operational within 30 to 90 minutes.
The idtPlans development team has been working hard to both make improvements to system performance, as well as implement a variety of client feature requests. Here’s a brief rundown of the improvements and new features that you may have missed.
General System Improvements
- Time Zone Localization
This one has been active for a while now. You may have noticed that all system date/time stamps are now localized to your specific time zone. You can change your time zone at any time by editing your account preferences.
- Performance Improvements
We continually monitor system performance and work hard to proactively apply performance updates. Here are some of the most resource consuming processes that were vastly improve.
- project information page
- custom variables
- custom document generation
- Issue Attachments
- Offline Technology for iPad
- Post Approval Uploads
An optional feature that allows an applicant to submit documents after a project has been approved. This is useful if they need to provide any supporting documentation during the inspection or construction process.
- Withhold Documents
Many clients have asked for the ability to create approval documents, certificates, and stamp plans but not release those documents to the applicant until all fees have been paid. This feature was created specifically to do just that. Once a project is approved, an administrator can complete their work by stamping documents, and generating the appropriate certificates but withhold these documents from the applicant. Once the applicant pays their final fees, these documents automatically become available to them without any administrative action needed.
- Static Issue Numbering
Issues have always had a numbering sequence. This was a handy way to identify which issue someone was referring to within a comment letter or at a point in time. These identifiers were not consistent though and could change during the life of the project. After much consideration, we’ve decided to make these identifiers static numbers that will no longer change during the life of the project. This should help to reduce any confusion between review cycles.
- Reduce Duplicate Submittals
Occasionally applicants would inadvertently create duplicate submittals. We’re now proactively attempting to prevent this by automatically detecting any pending submittals and asking the applicant if they would like to continue with an existing submittal, or begin a new one.
- Round Robin Reviewer Assignments
You can now default a workflow to several members of the same discipline and have them automatically assigned sequentially. If a new project comes in, the first reviewer will be assigned. On subsequent reviews, that same reviewer is auto-assigned to leverage their existing knowledge of the project. When another new project comes in the next reviewer in line will be auto-assigned. An administrator can manually override the round robin assignment at any time.
Fees & E-Commerce
We’ve added the option to pay fees via e-check in addition to credit cards, or offline payments. This feature has been in production for several months now and is working very well. The merchant processing fees for e-checks are much lower than that of credit cards and encourages the online payment of large fees.
- New Feature to Categorize Fees
This feature improves the way that fees are accessed and applied manually. Often times certain departments are in charge of their own fees. By categorizing them by department, we can now provide a short list of fees, as well as output fees by category. Some clients need applicants to make offline payments with more than one check made out to different departments. This new feature facilitates that automatically.
- Improved fee reporting output by category
- Added custom variables for fee totals by category
- Improvements to Service Charges
We’ve added the ability to create service charge formulas based on payment type. For example, if a user pays by credit card, you may wish to apply a 3% convenience fee to account for processing charges. If a user pays by e-check you may need to base your service charge on another formula such as ($2.00 + .75%). Fees are now recalculated every time a payment method is changed to apply the correct service charge if any.
- Improvements to Fee Auditing and Reporting
We’ve added sequential identifiers to all transactions to better conform with auditing requirements. We’ve had unique identifiers all along but they will now be sequential (Reference ID). Additionally, we’ve added functionality to apply credits back to transactions that may have withdrawn an application.
- Improvements to inspection report formatting
- Added administrative functionality to edit inspection requests
- Added inspection overview filters modeled after plan review
- Reduced emails sent out when multiple inspections are requested at once.
- New feature to categorize inspections by department
- Cityworks Integration – final testing stage.
- Hansen Integration
- Homeowner Registration Improvements
- GIS Mapping
- Round Robin Inspector Assignments
There are so many organizations that benefit from using our electronic plan review software, that we here at idtPlans thought it might be a good idea to share some of their perspectives with you. To that end, we’ve started a new quarterly blog series where we can highlight some of the great folks out there using idtPlans, and share how it has affected their day-to-day work.
This month, we spoke with Lauren Simmons, of Brighton, Colorado. Check out her interview below!
NAME: Lauren Simmons, AICP
JOB TITLE: Senior Planner
ORGANIZATION: City of Brighton, CO
Why did the City of Brighton start looking for an electronic plan review platform?
The City started looking for ways to use planning staff’s time more efficiently in a fast-paced growth environment. I came on board with the City of Brighton in early 2015 and saw a great opportunity to use technology to assist planners in managing development projects with electronic plan review. I had worked in a municipality that was using electronic plan review in my previous position and saw that it enabled staff to not only easily manage their own projects in a high-growth environment, but allowed staff to comfortably manage more concurrent projects than Brighton staff were managing at the time.
How long did it take to get the software set up? What was that like?
We met with idtPlans’ staff once a week via GoToMeeting in order to go through all of our paper applications, workflows, processes, and regulatory items. After seven months of steady work from the City’s staff and the staff at idtPlans, we were ready to go fully electronic with a custom website containing all of our land use applications including rezoning, site plans, annexations and plats. idtPlans staff customized the software and work flows where we needed to accommodate our processes and regulatory environment.
What made you decide to go with idtPlans over the competition?
We looked at a few different systems and found that idtPlans had the specific plan review software that we were looking for. Some vendors had a program that we could use for plan review, but it was intended as document review and storage software, or their software did not have all the capability we were looking for. We were also impressed with idtPlans’ support program and ability to customize the review process with the software and the user-friendly interface.
In what ways has idtPlans improved your plan review process?
Our review process before idtPlans depended on the Planner managing the review process by creating review memos, setting up tracking, sorting plan packages, and managing emails and the applicant’s responses. We used many programs that did not talk to each other, so it was up to the Planner to keep track of everything. idtPlans cuts down the original time it takes to send out plans from several hours to just a few clicks of the mouse. We also started using Bluebeam (software) which has been a great improvement over redlining plans manually.
What unexpected features have been the biggest game changers for you and your team? Why?
Definitely adding Bluebeam to our review process. We were redlining plans before, but each reviewer was redlining separately. Bluebeam allows for each reviewer to redline the plans in real time, which reduces redundant comments and allows everyone to be on the same page. It clearly draws the applicant’s attention to marked up areas of the plan sheets and for reviewers, has an overlay feature that makes finding changes from submittal to submittal very easy. We also work closely with a plethora of outside review and viewing agencies due to the regulatory environment in Colorado. idtPlans helps us coordinate directly with those agencies in a timely and efficient manner through its email function that not only gives them immediate access to the plans, but allows their comments to be seen by all the reviewing parties.
How has electronic plan review been received by the community?
We have found the system is easy to use and the community appreciates the precise checklists and application requirements embedded into the system. We worked closely with idtPlans to create several guides and walk-throughs, many of which are now included on the idtPlans website. And, to make these easily accessible to our users, we linked to these documents directly on our custom idtPlans website.
How has your job changed since the implementation of idtPlans Electronic Plan Review?
As a Planner, I spend more time working on the technical aspects of my projects and less time coordinating submittals and administrative functions of the plan review processes. I am also able to assist the management team at the City with project tracking, using idtPlans’ reporting functions as well as their easy to use interface for looking at projects in progress.
Lauren Simmons, AICP is a Senior Planner for the City of Brighton, Colorado. Brighton is a fast-growing community, located on the Front Range of Colorado, just northeast of Denver. Lauren has worked for over 10 years in municipal planning in Florida, North Carolina, and Colorado. A big “thanks” for her time and contributions to this interview.
I don’t need to meet you to know that at some point in your life, you have made this face. The squished-face-to-palm-eyeballs-burning-exhausted-overwhelmed-face looking out at you from the picture above. I’m guessing you made this face because of something at work. Your boss probably asked you to put together an extensive report or document that you had limited turnaround time to create. Or maybe they asked you to review something that was just downright mind-numbing and to provide feedback.
Maybe you’re the person responsible for writing out your organization’s Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new software purchase.
Perhaps that was a bit of psychic-level guessing. Or more likely, you saw the headline of this blog post and thought, “Hey, I’m trying to write an RFP.” Either way you slice it, if that’s the winner, then I’ve been there too. Where do you even start on something like that? What questions should you ask? How extensive should your organizational background be? What information is a necessity and what information is just helpful? It’s so easy to get stuck at the beginning, not sure how to proceed, so I’m going to help you avoid making this face in the future by helping you now.
Use an RFP template.
A good template will organize your information in a clear and concise manner.
There is so much information that is contained in an RFP that it can easily get overwhelming. Terms of bidding, schedule of events, background of the organization, goals and objectives, existing system architecture and possible software integrations…the list goes on and on. A template can help you approach these logically, laying out the groundwork for a strong base of information pertaining to the organization itself, then expanding to talk about specific goals and objectives and how those might be reached. Starting broad and becoming more specific, your RFP should share the long-term vision in addition to the specifics of how it will be addressed.
A good template will provide helpful examples of how to share that information in a way that will be most impactful to respondents.
Maybe you are like me, in that a well-organized chart or matrix is going to be easier to understand than paragraph after paragraph of narrative. While charts aren’t always appropriate, when it comes to an RFP, they are a necessity. Take pricing information for example. What better way to get clear at-a-glance information on cost? And more importantly, what better way to easily compare your bidders? When everyone breaks down their information into the same format – understanding the differences becomes a lot easier.
A good template is easy to use.
A template is just your starting point, and as you continue to build your RFP, revisions and modifications will likely be necessary. With that in mind, a template should allow for these changes. Be wary of templates that act as a template wizard. These are the templates that ask for the basic info and then use what you input to create the document on your behalf. While there is something to be said for making things easier, there is such a thing as TOO easy. These often leave little room for editing, modifying, or otherwise. The result is a document that looks nothing like what you want and doesn’t cover what you need. Use a template that’s provided in a word format, and is editable down to the most minor formatting detail. This way you can truly make it yours.
So what now?
If you have read this blog and think an RFP template may be helpful – then I’ve done my job. And if you are in the market for electronic plan review, and wish you had an RFP template, I’ve got one for you. Just go to the RFP Template Page on our website, fill out the required information, then download the template.
Whether you choose idtPlans for your electronic plan review platform or not, we want to be sure you start on the right foot in getting your information out there. Download the template today and get started.
idtPlans is excited to announce our attendance at the:
Have you registered?
If you are planning to attend this year’s National Planning Conference in New York City, stop by and see us. idtPlans is excited to join the exhibit hall and we are looking forward to sharing some of the new features we’ve rolled out in the last year. We’ll also introduce you to our friends from iPlan Tables, creators of large format touchscreen displays used across the country for plan review.
New to Electronic Plan Review?
Our CEO, Jace Coleman and our Implementation Manager, Katy Rucker will be on site May 6th thru May 9th. They’ll be ready to answer your questions and walk you through the idtPlans platform. Get hands on experience with the system and understand how easy and efficient cutting out the paperwork can be. If you’ve been thinking about improving your existing process, come talk to us. And if you haven’t, come talk to us anyway! We like people.
That’s okay, we’ve got you covered. Follow us on LinkedIn for regular updates from the conference floor in New York City. See new features, new products and new people.
You know how there are some things in life that you are just naturally good at? Algebra, cooking, successfully completing a cartwheel as an adult without pulling eighteen muscles you didn’t know you had…it’s different for everyone. And I’d argue that only a very small percentage of people would say that their “thing” is being great at keeping track of paperwork.
And that is a huge problem when it comes to plan review.
In an age of digital everything, there are still a lot of strongholds for the all paper environment; especially in plan review, where the large format documents have traditionally made it hard to switch over to digital. And while new technologies are coming into the market to help ease the transition, adoption is still a slow process.
But here’s the thing, by switching to an electronic plan review platform and cutting out the paper copies, you are actually getting superior documentation.
Check out the infographic below to learn how paper cuts can be a good thing:
Have you thought about cutting the paper with Electronic Plan Review? Going digital can certainly benefit your organization and your record keeping in a big way. And I know – change is scary. But so is lost paperwork.
There are always limits – how fast you can drive, how many donuts you can safely eat, and how loud your amp can get. The same is true of plan review. There are limits to what can be done with paper copies and scales.
You know what works for your organization and what doesn’t, and you have an existing process that meets the deadlines under which you operate. In short, you’ve already got your efficiency dial cranked up to 10.
But, what if it could go higher?
By utilizing an electronic review platform, you can streamline the processes you already use, or review them for efficiency and make changes. Either way you go, transitioning benefits users across the board – from applicants all the way to administrators.
When you implement an electronic plan review platform, you should see several benefits immediately. You’ll be able to:
- Allow plan reviewers and applicants to engage across multiple teams and locations
- Provide at-a-glance project updates to applicants, reviewers, and administrators in one centralized location
- Digitally compare documents and overlay features without having to print or store large documents
- Create customized document, email, and comment templates so you can spend less time writing the same things over and over
- Calculate and collect fees online
- Run built-in or ad-hoc reporting
- Track time and resources
- Provide access to 3rd party reviewers (such as consultants) for specific projects
- Automatically archive all project documents for future access with government compliant disaster recovery.
With all these features available, your organization will definitely turn that amp up from 10 to 11; working smarter – not harder – in what should be a fully transparent environment designed from your existing plan review process.
So, are you ready to cast off those old limits and crank your efficiency up to 11?
Start checking out some of the options out there. Focus on what your current needs are and look at your existing processes. Do you need a plan review system that can integrate with a document management system for archiving? Maybe it needs to work with your GIS system, or another software solution you already have in place. Ask the companies you talk to about integrations.
No matter what, don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn about the full scope of what the company can offer you. When you are ready, come find us. If any of the above sounds interesting to you, we’re here.
Turn your efficiency up.
Beginning on Wednesday 11/29/16 at 12:00 am est we will be applying a minor release along with routine scheduled maintenance.
Improved Document Commenting
We’ve been hard at work improving the way that document markups associated with Bluebeam are returned to the applicant. Previously the documents were auto-flattened when a review cycle was completed. This allowed the applicant to view the document and it’s markups in any pdf viewer but also removed the list of markups that were associated with the document. We have recently developed an alternative methodology which will auto-embed the markups instead. This has a similar effect as the flatten option but preserves the list of annotations within the viewer. This allows the applicant to easily find or search through the list of markups and when one is clicked, the viewer takes the user directly to the appropriate page.
In addition we’ve also added the following features:
- New Custom Variables
We’ve added two new custom variables in an effort to help direct applicants to the proper section of the project page when responding to comments.
- <ProjectDocumentsLink> – This will output a link to the project that auto-scrolls down to the project documents section.
- <OpenIssuesLink> – This will output a link to the project that auto-scrolls down to the open issues and expands that section.
- Improved Email Addressing
The addressing of emails has been significantly improved with the implementation of an auto-suggest feature. You can now begin typing a user’s name or email and the system will suggest matches and allow you to add or remove recipients quickly and easily.
- Improved Performance for Issue Attachments
We have been seeing more and more open issues that include images which in some cases were causing the pages to load slower than normal. We’ve improved the way that images are attached to issues which should allow the page to fully load while the images continue streaming.
- New Options for Displaying Plan Reviewer Contact Info
We have added options for including the reviewer’s phone number and/or email with the open issues. Including this information will allow the applicant to contact the reviewer directly if any questions should present themselves during the resubmittal process.
- Performance and Display Formatting Improvements for Inspections
We’ve been working hard to optimize the online and offline experiences for mobile devices. There was some inconsistant behavior on some devices mostly concerning the text editor causing the keyboard to pop up at unexpected times on iOS devices. This and several other minor display issues have been resolved in this release.
- Time Localization
- API Framework
- CityWorks Integration
- LaserFiche Integration
- Fee Report Improvements
Beginning on Wednesday 11/2/16 at 12:00 am est we will be applying a minor release along with routine scheduled maintenance. This release brings many improvements and new features including some exciting additions to the Inspections Application.
We’ve been getting great reviews of our new mobile inspections system and there have been a lot of excellent feature requests. With this update we have integrated the dynamic form builder into the inspection request and inspection complete events. This allows you to customize the information that you request and or require the applicant to enter when requesting an inspection. This also positions us for another enhancement in the coming months to allow inspectors to enter customized information regarding inspection results. For example you might require a soil inspection lab results to be submitted when a soil inspection is approved. This custom form data is configured to also display on the inspection dashboard and associated reports.
In addition we’ve also added the following features:
- Time Localization (Edit: 11/1/16 pushed to the next minor release)
We’ve gone to great lengths to modify the date/time stamps in the system to better match local time-zones. We will automatically detect your most likely time-zone preference for you, but you’ll also have the ability to modify your preferred time zone from within your account preferences as well.
- New Fee Reports
There are two new fee reports that have been added to the system. When searching fees now you will see two new options to sort by Fee Type Detail and Fee Type Summary. These two new options will allow you to customize reports based on fee types. The summary will show one record per fee type along with the total paid, unpaid, and grand total. The detail will output one record per fee sorted by fee type.
- New Fee Variables
We have 3 new variables that will allow you to better customize the project fees on your custom documents. You can now use <totalFees>, <totalFeesPaid>, and <totalFeesUnpaid>. These will output a decimal value out to two decimal places. You can apply your own dollar formatting, or use these variables in calculations.
- Plan Review Summary
This new custom document element will output the results of the most recent review cycle into your comment and approval letters. This gives the applicant a quick overview of the review results along with each discipline and the results of their review cycle.
- Reviewer License Numbers
You now have the option of entering a license number for a reviewer when adding them to a discipline. This allows us to record a different license number per reviewer per discipline. When a comment or approval letter is generated, we can include these license numbers into the new plan review summary.
- Improved Issue Formatting
In order to improve performance when generating comment letters with hundreds of comments, we’ve made some slight changes to the way that the project issues are output. With this change we were able to improve both performance and the appearance of the comments.
- Issue Document Link Improvements
We’ve changed the way that the comment letter issues link to documents in order to always point to the flattened or embedded version of the document (even when the markups are flattened/embedded after the comment letter was created). This should reduce confusion on the part of the applicant and streamline the way that comments are responded to.
- Miscellaneous Performance Improvements
We have also applied several performance enhancements in this update to better handle any temporary connection problems with the document server. We have also applied several patches to the offline functionality of the inspections module regarding different browsers.
This development cycle was a short one but packed full of valuable improvements that should help to increase productivity for Plan Reviewers as well as Applicants.
We’ve made some dramatic improvements to the automatic comment synchronization when saving markups within Bluebeam. You now have the ability to configure how the issues are categorized and grouped within the comment letter. Available options are to group by: Author Name, Assigned Discipline, Discipline Color Code, or Static Text. The discipline color coding is especially helpful and allows review teams to customize their bluebeam tool set to color match their discipline. For example, any markups made in red might always fall under the Fire discipline and be grouped that way within the comment letter. Additionally you can configure and prioritize multiple fallback options just in case a category cannot be automatically determined. For example, you might decide to group comments by color code, but if a markup is created that does not match any discipline’s color code, you can fall back to the reviewers assigned discipline as a category. Color coding also makes it easy for the applicant to spot which discipline’s comments are on a given page.
In addition we’ve also added the following features:
- Improved Comment Synchronization
Bluebeam markups are now filtered so that only the following markup types will be added into the comment letter:
- Text Box
- Improved Markup Page Identification
We’re now recording exactly which page a markup resides on. The page number and sheet title are now displayed next to that issue within the comment letter. When an applicant clicks on the document title, they’re automatically forwarded to the page that the comment resides on as long as they’re viewing the markup in a pdf viewer that supports document page linking (Adobe, Chrome, Firefox).
- Bulk Parcel/Address entry feature
allows applicants to copy and paste hundreds of parcels and or addresses at once instead of entering them one by one.
- Mandatory / Recommended Issues
You now have the availability to mark an issue as mandatory or recommended. Existing clients will see no change here unless you turn the feature on. Once turned on, you’ll see that all issues are mandatory by default but you can change them to recommended (optional).
- Configure Default Inspection Emails
You can now customize the default emails that are sent when an inspection is approved, declined, or conditionally approved. Each inspection result type can have it’s own default email.
- Asynchronously Modify Planholders
The planholders feature has been modified to sort confirmed and unconfirmed bidders into one table. Confirmed bidders are now highlighted in green. You can now modify the state of the planholders (confirmed/unconfirmed) or their email preferences without the page needing to refresh the between each change.
We’re currently working on:
- Time Zone Localization
- Improvements to Reports
- Additional E-Commerce Integrations
- Infrastructure Improvements