Point of View: Electronic Plan Review

Snohomish County standardizes electronic plan review with Bluebeam Revu.
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“We wanted to make the process more efficient, more transparent,” states Michael Niemer, senior plans examiner for Snohomish County in Washington state, USA. The process he is referencing to is plan review, a common and necessary step in city and county expansion. For every building, structure or dwelling, the necessary permits, applications and design schematics must be approved by the relevant government entity prior to project execution. Government has often been stigmatized as the last place efficiency abounds—until now. “We wanted to get away from the phone tree and create a better system that was more interactive for our clients,” explains Niemer. “So how do we get more efficient, and follow the directive from our director of planning and development services, Barb Mock, to move away from handling all this paper, and needing all this storage?” Snohomish County decided to go all digital for plan reviews, basing a new system off digital PDFs, and they did so by implementing Bluebeam Revu eXtreme into an existing online portal system. By using Revu eXtreme, an innovative, cloud-based project efficiency and collaboration solution, Snohomish County unlocked the potential of a paperless system.

In conjunction with the system that Niemer helped to put in place, Training Coordinator Mona El Soussey developed an internal training program based on user experience. “We noticed that we had different levels of experience, so we created Bluebeam 101, 201 and 301 courses to maximize the training experience. After the first basic training course, 70% of our employees said they felt comfortable using Bluebeam.”

External clients were also allowed to meet with Niemer on a one-on-one basis, as he made himself available to explain or assist in plan submission. “We were hoping we were giving the customer back a better product,” says Niemer. “And internally, we had to address the culture shift that would arise from going from paper to electronic.”

Thanks to Mock’s leadership, Niemer’s digital savvy in helping a team of dedicated colleagues create the system, and El Soussey’s training guidance, Snohomish has gone completely paperless and made life better for external clients.

“Our use of Bluebeam and paperless review has attracted quite a bit of attention in the region,” says Niemer with a grin. “We often host impromptu tours with other agencies, IT departments, planning directors and plans examiners who want to come see what we’re doing. Even other departments within the county want to see what we’re doing and how we’re using it, because they want to apply it to their work. It’s really having an impact, showing the power of this efficiency, and how it can really help both how we review, and really in the end, how it can affect all our customers.”

Challenges

  • Snohomish County was given a directive to go 100% paperless for reviews and submissions; getting rid of paper was a culture shift.
  • Plan applications and review document formats were not standardized or trackable.
  • Submittals, reviews and approvals took too long, with no standard process in place for internal or external review.

Solutions

  • Bluebeam Revu eXtreme was chosen as the review software for electronic plan review as it worked in conjunction with mybuildingpermit.com, a multi-jurisdictional web portal for submissions. Training was also implemented based on previous user experience with Bluebeam.
  • After consulting with potential clients to best meet their needs, PDF was chosen as the only acceptable file format for submissions and reviews.
  • Using Revu allowed reviewers and clients a chance to use markup tools and the markups list, keeping them in sync and working on the most current documents. From submittal to approval.

Results

  • Every single application is now done via PDF with Revu—paper-based submittals are no longer processed—making Snohomish County’s electronic plan review process 100% paperless. 70% of staff felt comfortable with Revu after having taken first basic Revu training module.
  • PDFs are yielding cleaner reviews, more concise reviews, and the Markups List in Revu helps to make all documents trackable with hyperlinks to the most current review notes and edits.
  • A standardized process has now been implemented, with average review times cut by a third, and the county can now approve more projects in a shorter timeframe.

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