The Client Folder and Sharing Standard Documents
In previous posts we’ve talked about how the sharing of information needed to be improved for both the authority and the client. At the time this was particularly brought about by a increasing call for more transparency and better information being given to the purchasers of new build homes, following concerns about a notable drop in quality in the building of new homes and the subsequent high volume of complaints that were often made unfairly to councils which should in fact have been directed to other parties involved.
A subsequent set of recommendations put forward for remedying the problems included the suggestion that home owners had a right to better information about the home they are buying. This included the provision of detailed information packs for owners about their house, explanations of the standards they should expect their homes to be built to and reports on the checks and inspections carried out to ensure they meet such criteria.
Since then we’ve already released PlanShare, a facility enabling authorities to quickly and easily share application documents from DSLive with any individual or group of email addresses, whether clients, consultants, developers or work-site managers and now we’ve introduced the ‘Client’ folder purposefully developed for the quick sharing of information with the applicant or agent who submitted the application.
While the process of adding an email address will remain necessary to sharing documents with any outside contacts using PlanShare, the development of the ‘Client’ folder is based around how the applicant or agent’s Submit-a-Plan account becomes electronically linked with the authority’s own DSLive account when they submit an online application to them through the SAP Portal. With this new ‘Client’ folder added to each online application all an authority has to do is simply drag and drop a document into the folder from the list of application documents and it will automatically be shared with the applicant and agent, popping up in their Submit-a-Plan account – no insertion of an email address necessary.
With this capacity to now share documents instantly with the client, we also began to then consider how much easier we could make it for authorities to create the actual documents they’d be sending out. This is where ‘Standard Forms’ comes in. ‘Standard Forms’ is a new facility for creating the certificates, correspondence or other documents that authorities send out on a daily basis to clients, online in DSLive itself. Using a PDF Document Creator programme, authorities can now create new or adapt their existing templates of frequently used certificates and documents and upload these them to DSLive. The templates are special however in that they can contain as many editable fields as they wish. Once uploaded to DSLive authorities can use these online templates to create, say, an Approval Certificate for a client, the editable fields allowing them to type the information that would vary from client to client or project to project into the document as and when they need. The document can then be saved to the application and shared with the client by popping it into the ‘Client’ folder.
Previously the sharing of documents with a client would perhaps have involved creating them in Microsoft Word, saving them to a computer then emailing or posting them to the client. Now however all documentation can be created, saved and shared from just one place in the relevant application in DSLive, resulting in not only a quicker, easier more efficient information creation and sharing process for the authority but a better all-round service for clients too.
Sarah Cutler, Marketing Assistant
DSLive and Electronic Application Archiving
It’s that time of year when the spring cleaning starts and we try to clear out some of the old clutter to make a bit more space. Are you one of those authorities who keep tripping over boxes upon boxes of applications? Is your desk hidden under an avalanche of paper? Well Submit-a-Plan are here to help, because we’re not just about electronic application submission but about turning all applications, new and old, into electronic data. We offer a number of solutions to your paper problem!
Firstly, DSLive comes with a ‘Create Application’ button for authorities that can be used to quickly and easily create an electronic application from application documents that have been scanned in or emailed to you. This tool can be used for newly submitted applications but also for old paper applications that you may wish to store in DSLive’s electronic online archive.
If you don’t fancy doing this yourself, Submit-a-Plan has its own dedicated Scanning Bureau that has a great reputation for quality scanning of paper applications into electronic ones at a low cost. You can enlist us to carry out large-volume scanning projects of all your boxes of applications at our specialised scanning office and secure application storage warehouse. Advanced electronic archives can be setup with easy application retrieval if you ever need access to them. Our Bureau also offers a more time sensitive ‘scan-on-demand’ next-day scanning service that authorities use when they need a paper application transformed into an electronic file immediately. This is largely used for newly submitted paper applications that authorities wish to be uploaded to DSLive alongside those electronic ones newly submitted through the Submit-a-Plan portal. The service is however also used for old archive apps that suddenly need to be reviewed or assessed and the authority wish uploaded to DSLive for these purposes. Our bureau services are flexible to meet each authorities’ needs and authorities can benefit from our bureau staff’s expertise with a consultation beforehand.
So what are the benefits?
Apart from preventing a nasty trip over a box or yet again losing your sandwich under a pile of paper applications, there are other great benefits from turning your paper applications into electronic ones. Council office space is expensive and is growing harder to come by. More and more building control employees are having to desk-share or work from home because the space is no longer available to them. This means it is no longer possible for authorities to fill up the limited space they do have with boxes and piles of paper. Electronic versions also mean that those applications are no longer at risk of being lost, damaged or their quality declining over time as they are when lying around the office or in storage. Finally, having electronic files means applications can not only be retrieved quickly but also shared, reviewed and consulted on easily and efficiently, a benefit that is becoming increasingly important in today’s growing demand for better information about building provenance being made available.
Sarah Cutler, Marketing Assistant
Local Authority Building Control
Adapting to Change in 2017
It’s that time of year again when everything is getting back to normal after the festive break, when we begin to ask ourselves ‘what’s in store for this new year?’ Building Control Managers especially will be wondering what obstacles and challenges they will be expected to meet head on. Local authority building control has been changing at an alarming rate. The limited funding that local authority building control has to work with sees its departments dwindling, its office space being taken away and either extra work being taken on to bring in some sorely needed funds or jobs being contracted out simply because they don’t have the resources to undertake them. Increasingly their shrinking office environment is forcing employees to desk-share or work remotely from home while boxes of paper applications are suddenly unacceptable and need in of urgent removal. These combined pressures are seeing the merging of more building control partnerships than ever before. From as little as two departments to as many as five joining forces they share their workloads, often operate with less staff, are crammed into limited spaces or divided across different sites and homes.
Against these pressures, the name of the game is now finding a way to adapt. So with applications being dealt with by increasingly smaller teams working from different locations, everything needs to be more efficient – processing applications needs to be quicker and more systematic, access needs to be more flexible, sharing needs to be easier, consultations simpler and inspections more automated and straightforward. The answer – electronic data and one solution that offers all the above. We might be a bit biased, but DataSpace Live really does do it all!
DSLive enables the receipt, processing, administration, management, inspection, sharing, consultation, approval, storage and archiving of applications electronically. Oh and we’re working on Plan-Checking and Reporting too. Every task can be done online using just DSLive from any location with internet connection in the office, out on site, or at home, and as for inspections – well, they can be done even without internet connection.
All our tools are designed with the entire building control process in mind and to complete tasks quickly, easily and efficiently, making life easier for building control teams however many or few in number they happen to be. We speak to local authority building control departments about their problems and needs on a daily basis and because we know how building control is changing, DSLive is changing too – continually developing and transforming into the solution that you need. So if this year throws you a curve ball or two, maybe Building Control Managers will rest a little easier knowing there is someone they can turn to to face the challenges with them.
Sarah Cutler, Marketing Assistant
Sharing and Consulting in Local Authority
Building Control Today
Consulting on local authority building control applications has meant the never-ending scanning and printing of pages of documents and plans which then have to be posted to various different consultees. More recently it has meant trying to compress and attach documents to emails that were either too large and had to be sent in batches or unopenable due to incompatibility or over-zealous server protection that rejected them completely. Building control application consultations have been a hassle, have been expensive, time-consuming, inefficient and that’s without even mentioning the trees that had to be chopped down to supply the enormous quantity of paper used, which is coincidentally, one of the biggest administration costs that councils are trying to cut down on. But surely in this modern day where everything and anything that can be achieved electronically over the internet is steadily moving onto the web, these problems that local authorities have to contend with must be a thing of the ancient past right? Well no, not really. Still many local authority building control departments are struggling on with the limited and restrictive options available to them, but now we may finally have a way of being able to relegate these problems to the past where they belong.
PlanShare as its name suggests is a new solution for sharing documents and, you guessed it, plans. PlanShare aims to revolutionize local authority building control consultation by enabling it to share and consult with the ease, simplicity and efficiency that is generally expected and taken for granted by most in today’s web savvy and speedy world. Because we too feel that quick and easy sharing of documents is more a basic business necessity than a luxury, PlanShare has been developed right into our existing DataSpace Live web-system. To those authorities who use DSLive on a daily basis to process and approve their applications, the integration of PlanShare into DSLive itself should immediately make sense. Alongside their applications users would never have to switch to their email or other sources to share and consult on their documents but are able to do so from the same solution they are already working in. By simply adding a new folder in an online application and dragging and dropping documents into it, exact copies are deposited which can be shared with individual or groups of email addresses.
Not only is sharing documents as easy as sharing a folder, but the very act of sharing that folder creates a shared online environment that is attached to the application in DSLive and with the ability to easily switch viewing between the two. Here the authority and recipients can assess and comment on documents together online, from any location with internet access, so gone is the need to send multiple copies of applications by email or post and all feedback assessments and decisions which were one scattered between them are now recorded all together in one single place. With the ability to upload and download documents, make use of our advanced document viewing, measuring and calibration tools, respond to and filter comments and protect your confidential data with our different sharing options, application consultation has simply never been so easy and efficient.
There is yet another further reason that PlanShare may be the answer to some of the problems local authorities face when it comes to consulting. With tight budgets meaning more and more council employees are having to work from home or in partnerships where the team is divided between different sites, authorities are finding that their usual methods of sharing and consulting on applications together and also with outside consultees are quickly becoming unpractical, imprecise and problematic and they are having to rethink the way in which they go about it. With PlanShare local authority officers will now find they have a shared online space where they can login to shared and consult on applications together and with other consultees. Colleagues can liaise on and stay updated on applications being handled by their department, they can invite and monitor the assessments of numerous experts all in one place, they can respond to enquiries for information and requests for documents. PlanShare may even prove an invaluable tool for busy local authorities who need ever simpler and more efficient ways to share the provenance of applications and inspections with new home owners, builders and housing developers. And all this they can do from outside the office, at any time with a simple internet connection.
Upon its release we very much hope to see authorities embrace PlanShare as a solution to their mounting obstacles, a new way of working for their remote and homebased workers but also, ultimately, to consign those ancient sharing and consultation problems to the past forever.
Sarah Cutler, Marketing Assistant
‘What we really need is to be able to create reports!’, we were recently told by some of our Building Control Manager friends. ‘Ok we can do that’, we replied happily, and thus the idea of ‘DSLive Reporting’ was quickly born. The concept behind DSLive Reports? Increasingly Building Control Managers have been turning to us for help with the daily problems they are coming up against. Constant administrative and financial pressures mean building control teams are shrinking, having to join forces, desk-share or work remotely from home. Departments are having to re-evaluate the way they do things and new solutions are needed to accommodate the changes that are being made. With reduced manpower, employees working from home and the combined workloads of multiple teams to manage, Building Control Managers now need all the help they can get to monitor and take control of the business coming into their department. The recent demand for more transparency and better information given to owners about their new build homes mean authorities are also now finding themselves in sore need of a feasible way to share information about applications and inspections.
This is where 'DSLive Reporting' comes in. Currently in the hands of our development team DSLive Reporting will eventually see authorities with the ability to create reports on the hundreds of applications, inspections and invoices that building control departments handle on a weekly basis. At the click of a button they can monitor the applications coming in, the progress of inspections and the application payments being made. This will be particularly useful for partnerships who have a number of different departments working together but which still need to be reported on individually as well as a whole. As invaluable as 'DSLive Reporting' will be for those in charge of running such departments the ability to create reports is not a tool that has been designed for the sole use of managers alone however. With DSLive operating from the Cloud and accessible from any location with an internet connection, reports can be created, viewed, downloaded, printed or shared by all employees whether they working in the office or from home. This means remote workers can stay better connected and updated about the current status of applications, inspections and department workloads.
The concept of 'DSLive Reporting' emerged as we developed our new ‘Office’ account, a package which provides authorities the tools they need to carry out their administrative and management tasks online in DSLive alongside their applications. 'DSLive Reporting' is just one of those tools that will see DSLive transform from an application processing and approval system to a complete business solution. With reporting a fundamental aspect of management in any department we look forward to seeing how our 'DSLive Reports' assist our building control friends in the daily running of their department.
Sarah Cutler, Marketing Assistant
Transparency for New Build Home Owners
Recently there has been an increasing call for more transparency and better information being given to the purchasers of new build homes. But what does this actually mean? A few months ago the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment hosted an inquiry into the quality of workmanship of new housing. The inquiry followed a notable drop in quality in the building of new homes and the subsequent high volume of complaints that were often made unfairly to councils which should in fact have been directed to other parties involved.
Paul Everall of the LABC has recently spoken out on the subject, attributing this decline in quality to a number of factors, including the disruption the home-building industry experienced during the recession, the higher standards that were brought in around the same time and the increasing pressure on building companies to reduce costs and complete projects more quickly. A report following the inquiry listed a set of recommendations put forward for remedying these problems within the new build industry. It included the suggestion that home owners had a right to better information about the home they are buying. One idea was that the provision of detailed information packs for owners about their house, such as explanations of the standards they should expect their homes to be built to and the checks and inspections carried out to ensure they meet such criteria, should go a way to ensuring more transparency and a better understanding of their home, making the stressful experience of buying a home a little easier.
PlanShare, our new application and information sharing solution we hope will become an integral tool enabling authority building control departments to play their part in this new demand for transparency of new build homes. PlanShare enables authorities to share a folder of documents with individual or groups of email addresses and being situated in DSLive, our online web system which authorities use to approve building control applications and manage inspections, the sharing of such information with home owners and builders will now be quicker and simpler to do than ever before.
Furthermore PlanShare also facilitates online consultation, creating a shared, dynamic consultation environment where the authority and expert consultees can assess and comment on application plans and documents together. This means that it will now not only be easier for authorities to share application and inspection documents with new home owners, but also entire consultations that have been carried out in connection with a new home. Shining a light on outcomes of inspections and consultations will provide new home owners with a more thorough idea of the home they are buying and enable them to ask questions where before they may have been mostly in the dark. Ultimately therefore, in providing owners with better knowledge and awareness of their home we will see them empowered, handed back some control over the investment they are purchasing.
Sarah Cutler, Marketing Assistant
DataSpace Live -Technology Online
Today we live in a modern world where we have become reliant on both technology and the web for carrying out many of our services. Gradually this also seems to be becoming true for building regulation submission and approval with more authorities having their own online submission systems or subscribing to portals such as Submit-a-Plan than ever before. Here at Submit-a-Plan we are welcoming more and more unitary and partnership authorities to the portal every year while we also have over 70,000 registered applicant and agent users. This attests not only to the solutions that online building control systems can provide to the many administrative and financial pressures Local Authorities constantly find themselves under but also the increasing demand of applicants and agents to submit their applications online.
Submit-a-Plan and DataSpace Live are designed to improve the efficiency and speed of building control submission and approval for all parties involved. Electronic 24/7 online submission means that not only are applications and any additional or revised documents received instantly by the authority at any hour of the day, but that their processing and approval are also quicker due to its inbuilt tools which we have developed to both simplify and speed up tasks as well as reduce workloads. In addition our specialist electronic web solutions such as our Inspections App, Site Manager’s App and PlanShare, which are some of the most advanced building control solutions in the industry and are produced exclusively for local authorities, are likewise aimed at modernising and improving the efficiency of building control consultation and inspection.
With building control steadily moving online, the recent development of our new DSLive ‘Office’ package for authorities is dedicated now to moving the administrative and management tasks of building control departments online into DSLive too. This includes being able to create documents, correspondence or certificates, define workflows for your team and create reports on all applications, inspections and invoices coming into your department. Essentially we see this elevate DSLive from a processing and approval solution for applications and inspections to a complete business tool for managing your department. Similarly for our applicant and agents, the accounts we provide these users are also more than simply a portal for submission, acting as secure working environments where they can store, track and make payment for all their applications as well as correspond with authorities and make use of additional services.
Key to our Submit-a-Plan and DataSpace Live technology is its operation online in the Cloud. We all know that the benefit to having any data in the Cloud is that it can be accessed at any time, from anywhere with cabled, wifi, 3G or 4G internet connection. Applicants and agents can log on to submit or track their applications 24/7 on their computer, tablet or mobile as well as receiving email notification updates and electronic payment requests. Likewise authorities can access applications in DSLive in the office, on site, at home or on the move on any device, facilitating the much needed ability to work remotely. Aware of how essential “access” is to Local Authorities, we have even designed our Inspections App for mobiles and tablets to work offline at the remotest of work sites if needed.
In recent years a great deal of DataSpace Live development has been dedicated to the areas of access, connectivity and device compatibility and the flexibility and versatility of the system that has resulted shows that these projects have paid off. As we continue to combine our specialist technology with working online in the Cloud, we move ever closer towards a more modern, technological efficient and virtually connected Local Authority building control.
Sarah Cutler, Marketing Assistant
Submit-a-Plan and Efficiency