The Evolution and Challenges of LPI Today

By James Mahoney, Executive Vice President of Professional Services – Spruce Technology

“By effectively implementing a highly structured corrective actions management process as an integrated part of a modern LPI system, agencies can not only conquer this challenge but also stand to benefit across the board.”

Government agencies responsible for licensing, permitting, and inspections (LPI) need to manage complex permit applications, perform numerous inspections and audits, enforce applicable policies and laws, and perform so many challenging activities. Sometimes these challenging day-to-day tasks obscure the true purpose of these LPI activities:

Ultimately, the mission of any enforcement agency is to safeguard the wellbeing of the citizens under its care.

Pipeline safety compliance and underground damage prevention measures help ensure excavators are protected from potentially deadly conditions, and neighborhoods are not threatened by fiery disasters. Stormwater regulations protect drinking water quality. Restaurant health standards enforcement protects patrons. Construction inspections ensure the safety of workers, residents, and the community.

Modern LPI Systems

Modern LPI systems remove manual workflows and siloed information, offering opportunities for improved efficiency in this critical mission. Agencies can use centralized data to better manage and allocate limited resources; enforcement activities can be more granularly and accurately tracked for reporting to oversight authorities. With these advancements, agency activities can be more easily made available to the public for increased transparency.

Handling corrective actions is a process made much easier by utilizing a modern LPI systems approach. Corrective action enforcement is a critical aspect of an agency’s mission, since simply identifying a violation or assessing a penalty does not in itself assure safety or future conformance.

In many enforcement action scenarios, the payment of a penalty is only step one for a non-compliant entity, whether it be a business, an individual licensed professional, or any other regulated body. To assure future conformance, agencies may require implementation of specific corrective measures. Traditionally though, there are a variety of challenges for an agency to close the loop on corrective action plans.

In some cases, such as serious health code violations in a restaurant, corrective actions map easily to specific areas of deficiency, and temporary restaurant closures provide the impetus for proper remediation and initiation of re-inspection.

Other corrective actions are not quite as straightforward: Shutting down a manufacturing plant whose drainage system is non-compliant will not stop it from raining. Required replacement of natural gas pipeline that is no longer up to code may take many months, during which time residents cannot be left without the ability to cook or heat their homes. In these and other complex remediation scenarios, violators are often required to submit comprehensive plans for conformance activities.

A corrective action plan may:

· Include an interim containment plan

· Codify conditions for continuing operations during remediation

· Distinguish between abatement and full remediation

· Define preventative actions to avoid future non-conformance

· Include specific deadlines for completion

Meeting the Challenge

The challenge for an enforcement agency is the management of these and other corrective action plan conditions over a period of months or years.

By effectively implementing a highly structured corrective actions management process as an integrated part of a modern LPI system, agencies can not only conquer this challenge but also stand to benefit across the board. The trick is to design the process to maximize opportunities for automation, enabling the system to do what it is best suited for and leaving agency personnel free to fill in the gaps.

There are many LPI solutions in the market today that provide robust interfaces for external users to do things like submit permit applications, apply for a professional license, pay for a renewal, provide documentation for an amendment, and more.

These same solutions also tend to enable workflows for agency processing of such submissions, intake and assignment of applications for agency review, notification of license expiry and calculation of renewal fees, etc. However, Spruce has found that in the case of corrective action plans, paper documents and manual processes still tend to be the norm.

Success Factors for Automating Corrective Action Enforcement

By leveraging the same approaches used to automate electronic permit applications and similar external submissions, agencies can more effectively and efficiently handle complex corrective action enforcement scenarios. Spruce has identified several factors critical to success in automating corrective action enforcement:

Unlike a typical permit application or license renewal submission, a digital corrective action plan template needs to provide a degree of flexibility. While many attributes of an acceptable plan are dictated by the applicable law/code, the approach to reaching a state of full compliance may require situational discretion.

A properly designed digital submission form will allow users to “propose” steps toward remediation, while also being guided to provide the minimum required actions for plan acceptance.

Each proposed step in a digital corrective action plan should include associated dates and conditions. By properly structuring the collection of this information, the LPI system can automatically generate agency activities, reminders, notifications, and reports, based on the finalized plan details. The automation potential of the system to track dates, events, and actions over any time period leaves agency personnel free to address more qualitative aspects of enforcement.

Again, unlike a typical permit application, the agency workflow for reviewing and finalizing a corrective action plan should empower agency personnel to collaborate with the external submitter and provide for easy escalation to a supervisor at any point in the process. Remembering that immediacy of action is often necessary to ensure public safety, the workflow process for corrective action plan approval should enable streamlined actions for rapid turnaround.

While it is important that the LPI solution enable quick turnaround of corrective action plan approval, it is also important that the system provide clear support for any potential future legal action.

Legal attestations must be collected from the submitter for the finalized plan, associated document uploads must be secured along with the submission record, auditability of the review process must be assured, and clear alignment of that process with applicable laws should be shown. The LPI system should also be able to generate a court package, including all relevant support for any necessary hearings, mediation, or similar proceedings.

Spruce is helping federal, state and municipal agencies take the complexity out of LPI while reducing manual errors and increasing efficiency and speed. Learn more about how LPI is evolving and how Spruce is driving LPI change by contacting me today for a discussion. I look forward to speaking with you.

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