San Antonio Hires Accela to Make Development Processes Smarter

More than 5,500 residential and commercial permits were issued last week. Nearly 2,700 building inspections were conducted last month.

Those are some examples of big data on a civic scale for San Antonio, the nation’s seventh largest city. And this week, city officials announced a $15 million contract with technology company Accela to better digitize the way the city manages land and licensing in order to more efficiently serve its residents and business customers. Hugh Miller, the city’s director of information technology services, says the new software should help contractors, building inspectors, and code enforcement officers via new mobile apps that should speed up processes and response time.

San Antonio joins a growing number of cities that have turned to companies like Accela to use software and mobile apps to make government work better. As my colleague Wade Roush put it in an article about Accela last year: “Accela envisions a future where there’s a responsive, transparent ‘civic cloud’ right alongside the business and social-media clouds we all use every day.”

San Ramon, CA-based Accela was founded in 1999 and has more than 500 customers across the country, including some of the nation’s largest communities.

Houston, on the other hand, has taken a different tack in an effort to embrace technology: that of supporting civic hacking. Last fall, the city endorsed a new “open data policy,” that would make civic data open to techies eager to create software or apps that could help the city work better.

In the year since the policy was endorsed, the group and city officials are working to secure the rights to some of the data available and to get city departments to work with each other, among other challenges, says Jeff Reichman, co-founder of Open Houston.

Also, there are basic cultural differences between the tech community and a government bureaucracy. “It’s a very fast moving environment in civic technology where things get better on a daily basis, and IT timelines in government last five years,” Reichman says.

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