Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Westford Kudos

I found this story in The Beacon, a publication of the Massachusetts Municipal Association…well, actually I didn’t find it, my wife (who works for the town of Westford) did and stuck it under my nose. "Here" she said "read this"..."yeah yeah yeah" I responded, "I'll do it later". Well, I did read it later and I was fascinated.

Westford Technology Director Chris McClure along with the town’s database administrator Tom Laflamme developed a software system that may revolutionize the way town/city records are accessed in Massachusetts and maybe even New England. And these two town employees developed the program in-house.

Here is how the McClure/Laflamme system works: Simply enter a street address or parcel ID and all the information on that property available at the Westford Assessor's Office, Board of Health, and Building Department are linked and can be displayed by the user. The Assessor's database lists the value of the property, the square footage of the structure and land, number of baths, bedrooms and even provides a picture. The system links this information with the town's Building Department information including building permits, electrical permits etc related to the same property. The public can even fill out an application for a building permit using the new software.

In McClure’s own words “In a traditional model, if I wanted to find out about an address on Main Street, I’d have to go into the Assessors Website, and I’d have to know about all those things, Here we have the ability to do virtual binding of all these tools so it’s a single point of search. I can go in and search and the system is going to find everything it knows about that property” (The Beacon).

“A single point of search”…I love it, that’s the future! That's how searching public records should be done.

The Westford system is available for use by both town employees and the public. I took a test spin myself before writing this blog entry and was very impressed.

This is great for Westford, but what does it have to do with the rest of Massachusetts or New England? Last month Westford contracted with Hawkeye Government Solutions “to sell and license” the new software to other communities. And since July Hawkeye already has a community in Rhode Island nearly on board.

Whether McClure and Laflamme’s system takes off state-wide remains to be seem, but regardless they certainly deserve kudos for their forward and creative thinking.


Peter Lothian, PLS said...

"...revolutionize the way town/city records are accessed in Massachusetts..."

They've got a nice Geographic Information System set up in Westford. I'm not denigrading their work, but other towns have had equally good, if not better, systems for years. Groton, Concord, and Bedford to name just a few. I don't see that the Westford system merits the prediction of "revolutionize", as the GIS revolution has been underway since the 1980's.

Kudos to them for trying to recover some of the development costs by selling the system to other towns.

Dick said...

We know that community-base GIS sites have been around for a while. What seemed particularly noteworthy about the Westford system was the way that it linked documents held by every office in the town together in one place. We have tried several times to create technological links between our records and land-related records help by other state and local offices but have been unsuccessful, not because of technology (which is pretty basic) but because of bureaucratic obstacles we've yet to evercome.

Tom said...

It is a great concept, but looks like it still needs a little work. There are multiple points of entry into the system and not all have the same features available.

It is a lot better than the systems most towns have. Eventually it will get there.

Thanks again to Middlesex North for finding the new technology and pointing us towards it.

Tony said...

The fact that this system was developed in-house impressed me very much. I should have emphasized that more when I wrote the post.

Christopher McClure said...

It is exciting to see this topic generating discussion.

The Westford project is not about GIS per se-- although GIS is part of it.

The real story is Westford developed an excellent web-based permitting and licensing program %100 in-house, successfully implemented it within Westford and formed a public-private partnership to market, sell and support the software to other communities. Interest is high and North Kingstown, RI has already signed on.

This was all done as part of a systems integration model-- pulling in GIS, Assessors, Document Management, Permitting and hopefully more (Registry of Deeds perhaps, Digital Commonwealth?)

This was also done with an eye toward scalability, standardization, regionalization and broadening the discussion to bring in good ideas and practices from other communities.

Oftentimes, the challenge in local government is not the idea or the technology-- but getting things done. Westford is actually using these systems on a day-to-day basis.

We look forward to continued discussion and the continued evolution of this project and always welcome input from other communities with good ideas.