Faced with aging technologies, NJDCA needed systems it could create quickly with capabilities that could meet the needs of its customers and business units.
Using an Agile development methodology, NJDCA and IBM responded to legislation in just 19 days and built an infrastructure based on Microsoft Dynamics 365 that will support NJDCA for decades.
Launchesmobile capabilities, with services available on laptops, tablets and phones
EnablesNJDCA to adapt the solution to meet legislative, business and technology needs
80% cutin turnaround times for building inspections thanks to Microsoft Dynamics 365
A race against time
When disaster strikes, citizens rely on state agencies to help them in their hour of need. When Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012, it damaged or destroyed 346,000 homes in New Jersey. Five years later, ambitious mortgage forbearance legislation was passed to assist up to 30,000 homeowners that still had not fully recovered from the disaster. NJDCA was charged with handling the eligibility determination for those citizens.
Within just 19 days, NJDCA and IBM Services developed and deployed a solution based on Microsoft Dynamics 365. Even as IBM built the solution, the rules and regulations to execute the legislation were being written; by adopting an agile approach, the team was able to respond on-the-fly, and deliver a fully working product that met every requirement. The solution was capable of processing the more than 30,000 possible applications, using the case management capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics 365 to store, manage and analyze the applications in a fully digital process – a new way of working for NJDCA.
John Harrison, Director of IT for NJDCA, explains: “Early on it became clear that the IBM team would be a good fit. The IBM consultants understood our requirements, and were asking all the right questions. They were willing to prove their skill and dedication to us in the mortgage forbearance program, in the hope of building a longer-term relationship with us.
“NJDCA’s mortgage forbearance project was a great success and proved that the IBM team could adapt to trying circumstances to deliver a robust solution for the department. Building on this success, the department enlisted IBM’s help for a longer, even larger-scale project.”
NJDCA is responsible for inspecting buildings such as multi-occupancy houses, apartment blocks, businesses and hotels, ensuring that they satisfy regulations and that residents are safe. Each type of inspection – such as elevators, construction code, and fire safety – is handled by a separate team with relevant domain expertise. In the past, each of these teams operated independently, using its own systems and processes to schedule, record and collect payment for inspections, including the citations to remedy defects and issue penalty fines. Many systems were outdated, and NJDCA was paying consulting and hosting fees to multiple vendors to support those systems.
In some cases, inspection teams relied on paper-based workflows. Laborious and time-consuming processes made it difficult to trace project actions, and files were literally stacked up to the ceiling. Searching through paper records for reference or to resolve disputes took too much time, and it was difficult to verify whether inspection fees and penalty fines had been paid. The result was that NJDCA found it hard to manage its inspection processes, while building owners found themselves working with multiple teams that seemed unable to co-ordinate inspections.
John Harrison comments: “Following our work with IBM on mortgage forbearance after Superstorm Sandy, we understood the benefits of switching to digital processes. We could create inspections services that would serve citizens better, reduce our costs and increase our efficiency!”
NJDCA decided to begin the inspections transformation project by focusing on the Elevator Safety unit, which registers, inspects and certifies everything from elevators to moving sidewalks and wheelchair lifts. Because the process for these inspections was paper-based, the solution would not be replacing legacy infrastructures or creating data migration challenges. By replacing a paper-based system that had remained largely unchanged for fifty years, the plan was to leap ahead by half a century in one step.
Working with IBM, NJDCA is building a comprehensive inspections management solution based on Microsoft Dynamics 365. Each inspection is managed as a case within Microsoft Dynamics 365, and IBM has tailored this highly flexible software to build in workflows, approvals, document management, financial tracking and more. Microsoft Dynamics 365 runs as a cloud-enabled service.
The IBM team also developed a mobile application for tablets, so inspectors in the field can enter inspections data on the spot and produce reports on the go. Using the tablets, inspectors can take pictures of unsafe equipment – valuable evidence to add to the case file. When reports are completed, the workflow notifies supervisors that the report is ready for their review and approval. Through the new case-management system, inspectors log the outcome of each inspection, and set reminders to follow up with building owners to check that improvements have been made.
John Harrison remarks: “We were concerned that the new technology might not be received well by the senior inspection engineers, who had been using paper files for many years. In fact, the Microsoft Dynamics 365 solution was met with enormous enthusiasm. Inspectors eagerly worked with us to ensure the interface included all of the correct regulations and categories, and IBM Services worked closely with staff to help them fully tailor the solution.”
Rising to the challenge
Introducing digital workflows using Microsoft Dynamics 365 has reduced the turnaround time for elevator inspections from around 3 weeks to 3 days – an 80% reduction. Building owners receive inspection results more quickly, with clear timelines for remedial actions if required and deadlines for possible penalties.
The solution offers supervisors and managers a clear view of inspection process for each case, with access to data, such as the number of inspections of each type per inspector, violation counts per inspector, the most cited violations, registrations of each type per day, and payments.
John Harrison comments: “In the Microsoft Dynamics 365 solution delivered by IBM Services, key performance indicators are presented in dashboard format with drill-down capability and are already proving to be an immensely powerful management tool. This is not just a system upgrade but a paradigm shift in the way the Department manages the services it provides, helping to improve public safety.”
NJDCA plans to roll out the solution to its other inspection teams, beginning with the Bureau of Housing Inspection, followed by the Bureau of Fire Code Enforcement. By rolling out Microsoft Dynamics 365 in these areas, the Department hopes to achieve similar improvements to operational efficiency and citizen safety. By moving all inspection teams to a single platform and standardizing workflows, the Department aims to improve the quality of service delivered to building owners.
By standardizing on Microsoft Dynamics 365, the Department aims to eliminate many of its legacy solutions and their associated costs.
John Harrison adds: “By extending the solution to other inspection teams, we expect to achieve a full return on our investment in Microsoft Dynamics 365 within a year, by replacing the consulting and maintenance costs of legacy solutions.
“We started with inspections, because this area had the highest return-on-investment. But once this is complete, with assistance from IBM Services we plan to the Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform to modernize many other systems that support our services.”
John Harrison concludes, “With help from IBM Services, NJDCA is transforming citizen services, saving costs and enhancing public safety. The work from IBM Services to tailor Microsoft Dynamics 365 has created a truly excellent foundation for the Department’s move into the digital age.”
About State of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (NJDCA) is the state agency created to provide administrative guidance, financial support and technical assistance to local governments, community development organizations, businesses and individuals to improve the quality of life in New Jersey. NJDCA offers programs and services that respond to issues of public concern, including fire and building safety, housing production, community planning and development, and local government management and finance.