The Future of Digitizing Licensing and Permitting
Government agencies approve and issue a high volume of licenses and permits each month. When the process is manual or paper-based, it can lead to backlogs and delays, especially as the volume of these requests increases.
For example, today, one in four workers—or about 40 million individuals—require government approval via a license to perform their jobs. That means states need to process millions of professional license applications. At the same time, the public expects the level of service to be as good as or better than they receive from commercial organizations, yet only some states allow people to submit applications for professional licenses or occupational licenses online.
At the core of these processes are applications, forms and signatures. Strategic use of technology as a way to streamline licensing, permitting and inspection processes will continue to grow as the need for self-service, centralized management and reduced risk are prioritized.
Here are four ways to improve the licensing and permitting process:
- Offer an online portal or capability of signing and submitting applications for licenses and permits
- Consider mobile document/form signing
- Centralize management with one online portal for all types of licenses and permit application requests
- Invest in software that meets the public’s expectations for a modern digital experience
There is huge potential for improvement, especially as the number of infrastructure projects that require permits and the demand for jobs that require professional licenses continues to grow.
For example, most healthcare jobs require a license, and employment in healthcare occupations alone is projected to grow 14 percent between 2018 and 2028. To handle this onslaught—especially because government agencies generally can’t add staff— the processes involved need to become much more efficient.
In addition, there are a wide-range of state-level health department, public works and workforce documents that can benefit from using technology to streamline licensing, permitting and inspection processes:
- Food facility health permits and inspections
- Child care and assisted living facility inspections
- Business licenses
- Occupational licenses
- Workplace safety inspections
- Street closure permits
- Contractor license
- Water quality inspections
- Bridge inspections
As more people use mobile devices, offering mobile access to documents and the ability to sign documents using a mobile device is also a critical component of “meeting the customer where they’re at.” This can help government agencies streamline processes, lower costs and reduce reliance on paper.
Licensing and permitting agencies need to go further than just accepting online applications. If applicants still have to print, hand sign documents and then upload them, they aren’t necessarily improving the experience. But if a state can fully digitize the process, allowing applicants to fill out a form online, digitally sign it and submit it electronically, they’ve made progress. A process like renewing a license—where the state entity already has an applicant’s vital details in their database—is typically an easy place to start.
A joint study with the Center for Digital Government (CDG) found most states rely on decentralized licensing processes. Each occupation tends to have its own professional board responsible for reviewing information and issuing licenses. But because each board’s processes are similar, there’s an opportunity to leverage economies of scale and create a more efficient, centralized process.
For example, Washington state took a unique approach to licensing and developed one unified e-licensing portal for drivers, vehicles and professional licenses. The Washington Department of Licensing, as it’s known, now manages over 300,000 professional licenses for individuals and businesses each year. Ohio took a similar approach.
Besides drivers, vehicle and professional licenses, here are additional use cases for transportation departments:
- Oversize/overweight vehicle permits
- Right-of-Way permits
- Building and zoning permits
- Infrastructure inspections
It’s also worth noting that professional licensing is a key way that governments raise revenue. According to data from the U.S. Census of Governments, licensing and permitting accounts for around six percent of state budgets on average. In states that don’t have an income tax, that percentage can be as high as 40 percent. States that make their licensing and permitting processes more seamless and digital can raise more revenues faster while improving the licensee experience.
The good news is, modernizing professional licensing isn’t difficult. If you take the time to reimagine how the process works and how technology can help, you’ll see how some straightforward changes can enable your agency to spend more time delivering services and less time focused on paper processes.
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