National Conference of States on Building Codes & Standards, Inc.
505 Huntmar Park Drive, Suite 210, Herndon, VA 20170








MAY 2004



Submitted to

The American Institute of Architects


National Conference of States on Building Codes & Standards, Inc.

June 8, 2004




Enabling communities to provide effective and efficient oversight of the design and construction of buildings is of major importance to both the health and life safety of the public and to the economic competitiveness of the nation in the global economy.

The Alliance for Building Regulatory Affairs in the Digital Age, a 44 member private/public partnership, was formed in the summer of 2001 to identify actions that can be taken to streamline the nationís building regulatory process by making greater use of information technology. The Alliance adopted as its mission statement: "enhancing public safety and the nationís economic competitiveness by enabling the nationís construction industry to build faster, better, safer, and at less cost."

In support of that mission, over the past three years the Alliance has developed model streamlining processes, procurement requirements, and information systems that state and local governments can use to increase their effective use of information technology in their regulation of the construction process. This includes materials to support online permit processing, plans submittal and tracking, field inspection and enforcement.

In the winter of 2003-2004, Alliance partner, the American Institute of Architects, identified the need to assess the current status of state and local government use of hardware and software for the submittal online of construction plans and the electronic review, tracking and storage of those plans. To that end, AIA commissioned the Alliance, through its secretariat, National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards (NCSBCS), to survey state and local governments as to their acceptance and use of plans submitted over the Internet or on CD-ROM.

Making use of the services of an outside e-survey firm, NCSBCS drafted and posted on a website in early May 2004, a survey tool and compiled input from state and local governments on this issue. One hundred and twenty state and local building regulatory agencies in 33 states completed the survey. The surveyed jurisdictions included the regulatory agencies of 17 different state governments and 26 major cities.

The following report summarizes the survey results and identifies possible next steps for the Alliance based upon the input received from the responding states and localities. Attached to the end of the summary is a copy of the survey with the response totals for each question that was asked.


Overall Findings

  1. Electronic plans submittal, tracking and plan reviews are in their infancy. (Only 16 jurisdictions out of 120 responding to the survey are using such systems.)
  2. A significant number of jurisdictions are exploring e-plans submittal and considering putting such programs in place over the next 1 to 2 years (49).
  3. A diverse array of software and hardware programs are being used, including a large number of in-house programs developed and deployed by state and local governments.
  4. There are a significant number of barriers to wider use of online plans submittal, tracking and review hardware and software including a lack of:
  1. laws allowing electronic seals of plans;
  2. uniformity in the nationís construction codes; and
  3. lack of interoperability among the hardware and software currently available in the marketplace.
   5.   Jurisdictions making use of such hardware and software have identified the need for these
         information technology tools to be interoperable and for there to be adequately-sized
         monitors on which to review the plans.

   6.   There are significant benefits in savings of time and reduction in errors and unnecessary
         duplication of effort from online plans submittal, tracking and review programs.

Summary of Responses to Questions

Part 1: Accepting Plans Electronically

1.  Does your jurisdiction currently accept plans electronically over the Internet?

Out of 120 jurisdictions responding to the survey, only 16 currently accept plans electronically over the Internet. The 16 jurisdictions are: Tucson & Phoenix, AZ; Sunnyvale, CA; Los Angeles, CA; State of California Division of the State Architect; State of Florida; Indianapolis, IN; State of Indiana; Lenexa, KS; Village of Boys Town, NE; New York City, NY; Charlotte, NC; State of Ohio; Kettering, OH; Medford, OR; Knox County, TN; Suffolk, VA.

1a. Hardware used?
The majority of the 16 jurisdictions are using AutoCAD/Autodesk hardware.

1b. Software used?
A wide array of software from Accela to Voloview and homegrown packages.

1c. For which types of construction are electronic plans accepted?
Most of the 16 jurisdictions accept plans for all types of construction.

1d. When do you expect to start accepting electronic plans?
Looking ahead:

2. Jurisdictions currently accepting plans on CD-ROM?

Thirteen (13) jurisdictions (includes most of the above 16) accept plans electronically via CD-ROM.

2a. Format requirements?
The most common CD-ROM format accepted is Pdf files.

3. Storage of plans on CD-ROM?

Eight (8) jurisdictions store plans on CD-ROM.

Part 2: Jurisdiction Use of Electronic Plans

1.  Do you use electronic processing and tracking?

Seventy-three (73) jurisdictions out of 120 indicated they use software packages to electronically process building permits, plans, and plans tracking.

1a. Software used was identified as follows:

2.  Standard operating procedures for plans that are electronically submitted to
     building departments were:
3.  Are plans reviewed online and red marked and exchanged directly with A/E firms?

Ten (10) of the above 73 jurisdictions said that they did online plan reviews with red markup with reviewed plans being exchanged back to the architectural/engineering firms.

4. Code and software packages used?

Out of the 10 jurisdictions that do online mark-up plan reviews and exchanges with the A/E firms, the codes and software packages used for those reviews are as follows:

3b. What are major barriers?

The jurisdictions not doing online plan reviews cited the following as the major barriers to doing such reviews:

Part 3: Barriers to Establishing Electronic Plans Submittal Programs

1. Problems encountered in receiving plans electronically?

Among all of the jurisdictions answering the survey, the following items were identified as the problems encountered in either receiving or trying to receive plans electronically:

2. Resolution of these problems?

Most noted that they did not resolve the problems and, therefore, did not accept plans electronically. Of those that did resolve the problems, they noted the following actions were taken:

3. Is there a need for interoperability?

Thirty-two (32) jurisdictions said that there was a need for electronic plan submittals and review packages to be interoperable.

Of these 32 jurisdictions, the most common benefits of interoperability cited were:

Fourteen (14) jurisdictions indicated there was no need for interoperability.

Fifty-three (53) jurisdictions indicated they did not know if there was such a need.

4.  Recommendations for needed improvements?

When asked for recommendations for needed improvements in the hardware/software being used for electronic plans submittals that would expedite greater use of this technology:

Part 4: Commercially-Available Off-the-Shelf Solutions (GAP Analysis for 9 Different Regulatory Functions)

1.  Has a GAP analysis been conducted?

Twenty-two (22) jurisdictions out of 120 have done a GAP analysis of existing off-the-shelf computer hardware/software technology to serve their departmentís information technology needs.

Out of those 22 jurisdictions:

Share Experiences with Online Plan Submittals with Others

Thirty-eight (38) of the 120 jurisdictions surveyed said that they were prepared to share their experiences with other jurisdictions by being listed on the Allianceís website.

Possible Next Steps for Alliance Partners Ė Needs Identified by Survey

Based upon the above results, the Alliance may consider taking the following steps:

  1. Consider forming a work group comprised of Alliance partners and representatives from the hardware and software community, construction industry, and federal, state and local government to address the barriers identified by the survey as limiting state and local governmentsí use of online plans submittal, tracking and review.
  2. Follow-up with jurisdictions completing the survey on successful strategies for adopting and using hardware and software for online plans submittal, tracking and plans approval.
  3. Gain permission of jurisdictions using such hardware and software to be included in the Allianceís listing of jurisdictions willing to share their expertise with others who are considering the use of information technology in their building regulatory processes.
  4. Share survey results with hardware/software industry and encourage them to work with the Information Technology Industry Advisory Subcommittee as they develop tools to enable hardware and software to be interoperable.
  5. Share survey results with AIA members to make them aware of benefits of and how to promote the acceptance and use of online plans submittal, tracking and plan review programs by state and local governments.
  6. Provide a report on the results of this survey at the Allianceís proposed second Summit on Streamlining the Nationís Building Regulatory Process Through Interoperability and at the Fourth National Forum on Building Smarter in the Digital Age (September 30, 2004, in Salt Lake City, UT, in conjunction with the annual meetings of NCSBCS/AMCBO and the International Code Council).