Becoming Paperless Overnight

In Somerville, physical, paper permit applications and inspection tracking via index cards was business as usual. Then citywide development quickly created more than 600 inspections per month, thus rendering its classic, paper filing system obsolete. Citizenserve was then called in to help Somerville automate its bureaucratic processes, and improve service to its citizens, contractors and business owners by going paperless.


In 2013, newly hired Inspectional Services Superintendent Goran Smiljic was tasked with modernizing Somerville’s Building and Health Divisions. Located in Middlesex County Massachusetts, just two miles north of Boston, Somerville boasts a robust population of 75,754 people occupying slightly over 4 square miles. This makes Somerville the most densely populated residential community in New England.


The more than 30 inspectors, reviewers and administrative staff using the (then) current paper system were processing and issuing around 4000 permits and 1500 licenses annually. Transitioning this diverse workforce from a manual, paper system to an automated one would require staff education—including learning how to use computers, tablets, and what was really an entirely new way of conducting business.


We went to work helping digitize the entire process, meaning that permit and license applications were setup to be submitted electronically through the citizenseve portal. Specifically, kiosks were installed throughout the Inspection Services offices, which allow electronic submissions of online applications. All paper applications were removed from the front counter, and the city’s website also began accepting electronic applications only.


In the two years since going live with Somerville’s digital revolution, all applications are now submitted electronically, inspection reports are generated electronically, and plan and renewal notices, as well as everything else, is digitized. In 2015 alone, the department issued over 6,800 permits and completed more than 18,000 inspections. These numbers are testament to the power of the portal and a new paperless system!