e-Building Permit (eBP)
Muscat Municipality

The Problem

Established in the 1920s, Muscat Municipality (MM) is a government body responsible for providing quality services to almost a million citizens and expatriates living in the Muscat Governorate. It is a large organization with multiple departments, directorates and divisions. MM provides various municipal services to the community which includes approving of building permits for building and construction works in the Governorate.
Before the introduction of the eBuilding permit, the consultancy company had to make at least 4 physical trips to MM offices for the any services related to obtaining a Building Permit. In a normal no complication example, consultancy company had to travel to MM office to submit all required documentations. Another trip is required to follow-up on the status. When the application was approved; a third trip was done for payment and another trip for collection of the hardcopy building permit. All the above was based on a best case scenario, in between the process there would be additional trips if there were: missing documents, Structural Engineers and Architects of MM made comments and recommendations to the submitted drawings. This process was tedious, time-consuming and frustrating at times for the consultants and building owners.
From the Municipality perspective, the administrative process associated with processing the submitted documents for approval could take at least 3 – 4 months to be completed. The manual manner in which the approval was done involved a total of 41 steps in a myriad of processes in which the documents had to be physically transferred through registration, document archives, architectural analysis, structural analysis and finance department before final approval was obtained. If there were any issues with the application, it could be further delayed to enable the Municipality Architect to conduct ground visits to the sites or building in which construction would take place. If changes were required on the documents, it would be returned to the customers who would then had to re-submit and the whole tedious process would commence from step1 once again. In the worst case scenario, it could take up to 10 months before approval is obtained.
The conventionally way in which the building permits were processed was tedious, laborious and time-consuming for both the Municipality officials and the customers. Clearly, a more efficient and effective way must be innovated to eradicate errors associated with manual processes, frustrations both from the staff and the customers and the laborious way the application was processed. It also directly impacted the development of the Sultanate of Oman in the macro economies level as delays in approving of building permits meant delay in construction of much needed infrastructure.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
The eBuilding Permit is a full cycle eService offers by MM that enables customers to carry out end-to-end transaction online without having to make any physical trip to the MM office. This is the first of its kind eServices in the Sultanate. The system embodied the revised business processes which were done to streamline the application of building and construction permit in Muscat Governorate. Furthermore, all staff involved was relocated in a common hall to promote tighter collaboration and teamwork. This reduced the initial 41-step process to 22-step process. The process is further reduced from 22-step to 7- step, thus reducing application time from 3-4 months or 90-120 days to 3-4 days, about 97% reduction in application time.
As the required documentations for the building permit services are part of the workflow within the eBuilding Permit, there is no need for MM staff to do physical checks. This eradicates human errors as prevalent in the old system which are very much based on the experience, knowledge and memory of the staff making the checks. No more documents were lost in transit as the system will escalate the softcopy of the documentation automatically as per the business process. MM Structural Engineers and Architects can concurrently review the drawings. This improves productivity as before implementation of eBuilding Permit, the total number of building permit approved in a year was about 919 in 2007 and after its implementation in 2008, the number raised to 4859. This is a phenomenal increased of 429% in new permit approved in 2008. MM is also able to introduce more Building Permit related eServices via the system, currently there are 8 services, from new application to request of technical services.
In addition, formalised document checklists and standards were developed and disseminated to all staff and customers. Most importantly, fee structure and format are made available to the customers which make the whole application process more streamlined and transparent. Through an IT-based system, the submission of site photographs in digital format assisted the Architects in processing the application and eliminates 80% chances for site visits. To further aid the customers, the consultants can now ultilise the archives in Muscat Municipality to check if there are any existing files before designing the structure of the new building and apply for the permit. As part of the document management system, the Krooki is now printed on the site plan drawings and not given in a separate manual booklet. The Director of Building Permits is now empowered to approve all building plans unlike previously approval for building plans were delegated based building type and locations to the Chairman and various Directors.
The country also benefited from this initiative. As the Sultanate progresses, more infrastructures and buildings are demanded and the eBuilding Permit System helps to cut some of the red tape of the whole construction process. In the OIFC annual publication, Doing Business, it surveyed 183 economies around the world on ease of doing business. One of the indicators used was the ease of dealing with construction permits. In the 2010 report which was based on 2009 data, the Sultanate of Oman was ranked 130. In their 2011 report, based on 2010 data, when the eBuilding Permit initiative was launched, the Sultanate’s ranking shot up to 70. In their latest 2012 report, the Sultanate of Oman is ranked 64. While there are other factors involved in the evaluation that are not directly linked to MM, the eBuilding Permit initiative definitely created a positive and important impact to the country.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The initiative was proposed by the Muscat Municipality through its effort in adopting Information Technology to streamline its operations and processes especially in its provision of services to the companies, other ministries organizations and the citizens. For the eBuilding Permit, His Excellency (HE), the Chairman of MM took a personal interest in it. Before the implementation of the eBuilding Permit, HE reviewed the entire process of Building Permit related service request. With the Executive Management, Directorate of Building Permit and IT team, they started to streamline the processes which formed the basis of the system and initiative. Private Consultancy Companies who were the end users (customers) were also roped into the process during the design stage. Careful selection of IT vendors was done to ensure relevant experience and experience in MM core system that will be the backbone of the initiative. The MM IT team was hugely involved in the development, project management and implementation of the initiative. A pilot phase with selected internal and external end users was carried out before the actual launch of the initiative. Currently, the live system is operated by a dedicated team with the support from the IT technical team.

Therefore all the stakeholders, Executive Management, internal and external end-users and vendors are all involved in the design and implementation of the initiative.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The vision of the quality Muscat Municipality is to provide effective and efficient services to the customers. To achieve this objective, Executive Management took the lead in preparing the overall strategy and provides the guideline based on the vision of transforming Oman into a knowledge-based society.

Electronic Services and Online application are the direction to go as it is in-line with the Sultanate’s e.Oman objective of transforming into a digital society. Hence, the main strategy for this initiative is to automate the processes and provide meaningful electronic interaction which enables the customers to access, transact and interact with the Municipality anytime, anywhere.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
2008 – Business Process Re-engineering was conducted and implemented.
Understanding that technology is only an enabler, the business process and workflow were the first area that MM looked into. There was a lot of inefficiency in the old process and workflow. Streamlining them and removal of unnecessary steps will lead to increase productivity. Bearing in mind that the initiative will be put in an online environment, these new sets of Business Process and Workflow will develop to cater for that. They were also tested in an off-line environment to ensure that it was practical in the actual environment and not just on paper.

2009 – IT-based eBuilding Permit and paperless system was developed and implemented.
In the system design stage, a dialogue was called with the Private End User Consultant Companies. The rational and objectives were explained to them and their feedback were sorted. These comments, request and feedback were incorporated into the design of the system. A pilot was done to a focus group of both internal and external end users of the system. Frequent feedback and communication were established between MM and the focus group so as to fine tune the system and processes.

When the system went live, MM is still running the manual submission channel concurrently. This is to cater to external end users who might not be ready or equipped to embrace the new initiative. However, a cut over date was set so that moving forward Building Permit related services will only be carried out online.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Phase 1 – In the business re-engineering stage, the main problem faced was that when regrouping all the staff into a large hall, there were more noise and much distractions in large office which irritated some of the staff. However this problem was eradicated with strict structure the office imposed on noise pollution and restricted access to office for unauthorized personnel

Phase 2 – In Phase 2, the main challenge was to get the consultants to submit the application electronically during the test period. This was overcome through an instruction which restricted the manual submission to 1 a day for each consultant. On the other hand, if they submit electronically, they could submit any number of submissions per day without any restriction. Priority for approval of the permit is given for digital submission. This benefits the private business consultancy companies as it means faster turnaround for their projects and he can recoup his investment faster if the permit is approved earlier. It also provides transparency to the building owners as they can also access the status of their applications online or via SMS and not just based on the feedback from the Consultancy Companies.

In addition, the shift from paper-based to paperless submission meant that the staff processing the application had to rely on the computer. Most were resistant to the change as they were used to vet through architectural and engineering drawings on AO or A1 size paper but to check the same drawings on a 17 inch monitors took quite an effort. To address this issue, the screens were replaced by a 25 inch monitors.

Another challenge was having to face up to some consultants who did not complete the corrections based on MM comments all at once. Hence, a decision was made to cancel the submission if the consultants failed to make the necessary changes. In addition a fine will be imposed if there were any mistakes on the revised submissions. The imposing of fines totally reduced the mistakes made for subsequent submissions.

A key feature in the IT-based eBuilding Permit promotes transparency between the consultant, building owner and MM. Today notifications on the status of the application are made known electronically to both the consultants and the building owners. So building owners are aware of the status of their applications.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
1) Financial cost of the system

MM invested initially about US$509,600 with an annual maintenance of US$169,000 and annual Oracle license renewal of US$49,400.

2) Technical Architecture
Based on the business need, a technology solution of proven capability and the experience and competency to deliver on a tight timeline of demonstrable results was sought. Muscat Municipality decided to develop the knowledge-based solution using Oracle Business Suite in a full cycle engagement which included pre-project consulting, on project business process reengineering, implementation and customizations, training and knowledge transfer, data migration and integration of applications, support and maintenance services.

The eBuilding Permit system deployed within the knowledge-based CRM system which utilized 6 Blade Servers, 2 for application and 2 for database, 1 for testing and development and the other I-Support server for online applications. Another server for mobile application server. Database is integrated to the SMS gateway server and IVR system. In addition, the knowledge-based CRM system is integrated with the national ePayment gateway for online payment and the system is linked to Bank Muscat for card transaction.

The project team could demonstrate the skills and the resources available to implement this unique solution. They had the ability to understand and propose a solution encompassing the Municipality’s existing application and data fragmentation problems. They could demonstrate a proven change management and knowledge transfer strategy that would be able to bring to Muscat Municipality the business benefits sought and owned the application and its future manifestations.

3) Human Resource cost

Internal Team – 2 Database Administrators, 3 Developers, 2 resources for eServices and a team for the Helpdesk services which provide technical support for all MM IT services

Outsources team – Functional Consultant, Technical consultant, Java Developer and Database Administrator

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Corporate Sustainability

The eBuilding Permit system incorporates corporate sustainability which enables MM to develop the skills, approaches and tools needed to better integrate with the key business objectives, and the manner in which the change management can be done to achieve the organization’s vision. This is achieved through customization and adoption of international best practice to suit the future needs. Moreover, it is easy to change any business process through the workflow engine. At the same time, the project built the capacity and capability of the MM technical development team. This strategy achieved corporate sustainability by developing the skills and competencies essential to ensure project sustainability.

Political Sustainability

Political sustainability cannot be achieved without participation from various stakeholders. Therefore, in the initial stage of project, many meetings were held with various stakeholders to achieve political sustainability and secured their buy-in. The Chairman personally reviewed the process worklflow to ensure its effectiveness and sustainability. From top management to the key users and customers, they were involved in the process re-engineering of the building permit. Feedback and suggestions were sought from customers to improve the processes. The participation of all stakeholders enable MM to build a unify solution with a clear business process and workflow for all services in an integrated manner which enables the project to be politically sustainable for the future.

Economic Sustainability

A clear economic benefit is derived from this project as it unifies all the fees structure across all customer service centers in Muscat by automating the service processes and fees calculations. The system resulted in more building permit related services being process which leads to increase in revenue for the MM. With the increased in revenue, this initiative is financially viable and self-sustain.

Usability and revision Sustainability

The eBuilding Permit system is sustainable and transferable to other municipalities and councils who shared the same process for building approval. The other regional Municipalities like Sohar and Dhofar have already carried out study on the initiative. It is definitely transferable to these Municipalities as there are minimal differences to their business process and workflow.

This is definitely a sustainable system as witness by the jump in the usage rate. It has grown from 919 new permits approved in 2007 to 4859 new permits approved in 2008 and the number of new permits approved increased to 5080 in 2009. From MM prospective, the aim is to have all the Building Permit related services online therefore the end user only need to file their request online.

Ecological Sustainability

The successful usage and deployment of the eBuilding Permit system empowers the MM staff to provide quality services to the customers. The system enables the customers to communicate, interact and transact with the MM without having to be physically present in the MM offices. In this manner, the MM eServices reach out to all eBuilding Permit customers anywhere, anytime and through various applications including mobile devices. It removed the bureaucratic red-tape and tones of paper work associated with application of building and construction permit as this initiative saved trees by not generating 3 tons of paperwork since its implementation.

In addition, the eBuilding System lead to the reduction in carbon emission as applicant does not have to make 4 trips to MM office, which would have meant travelling about 160 km per applicant, thus MM prevented 2,640 tons of CO2 emission per year. Finally, the system is user-friendly, accessible to all, affordable, adapted to local needs, sustainable for future progress and has a positive impact on the environment leading to ecological sustainability.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
1. Streamlining of Business process
The eBuilding Permit implementation will assist the Information Society to better streamline the needs of the customers. Also, the fact that it helps to unify fragmented processes, a lot of redundancies within the application process can be eliminated, which will make the job of the individuals in the Information Society a lot simpler. Information Society involves not only the Government organisation but the whole country. Making things easy for the Government organisation is only half a battle won. In most cases, the efficiency in the public sectors was achieved by passing the inefficiency to the users. This results in users not willing to use the system. An effective system is one that benefits all parties. It helps to promote Oman as a country that is efficient. The impression is always that things are slow and tedious. There are no standardise procedures. With the implementation of the eBuilding Permit and other eServices by MM, it can help to change the perceptions.

2. Time savings
Traditionally, it took between 3-4 months to obtain the building permit. Now, it takes only between 3-4 days for approval of a new building permit. The reduction in business processes from the initial 41-step process to 22-step process and then from 22-step to 7-step, thus cutting down application time from 3-4 months or 90-120 days to 3-4 days, a dramatic reduction of 97% in application time.

3. Increased in productivity

The streamlined processes coupled with IT-based application succeeded in increasing the number of permits approved from 919 in 2007 to 4859 in 2008 and 5080 in 2009. An impressive increased by more than 400% in productivity which inevitably contributed to the improved ranking of the Sultanate in the OIFC annual publication of Doing Business. The international body surveyed 183 economies around the world on ease of doing business; one of the indicators used was the ease of dealing with construction permits. In the 2010 report which was based on 2009 data, the Sultanate of Oman was ranked 130. In their 2011 report, based on 2010 data, when the eBuilding Permit initiative was launched, the Sultanate’s ranking shot up to 70. In their latest 2012 report, the Sultanate of Oman is ranked 64. While there are other factors involved in the evaluation that are not directly linked to MM, the eBuilding Permit initiative definitely created a positive and important impact to the country’s attractiveness to foreign investors.

Important lesson learnt from this initiatives;
1. Support from the stakeholders is essential for the success of such an ambitious initiative as it involved change management and changing how staff carried out their tasks and their mindset from task-focus to customer-focus. MM is grateful for the strong support and guidance from the Chairman and the Executive management.
2. Strong technical leadership from the IT Department is critical for the success of this initiative. Since process owners may not be thoroughly aware of the various IT-based solution and challenges, the leadership of the IT team enabled the process owners to weave IT enabled solutions within the workflow seamlessly and economically.
3. The commitment and vision of the process owners for this initiative, the Department of Building Permit, is the most critical aspect for the success of this initiative. MM is fortunate to have dedicated men and women who are willing to go the distance and supported the project to ensure its successful delivery and implementation.
4. Engaging the customers’ right from the start is essential to ensure that their feedback, experiences and suggestions are factored into the revised process and embedded in the IT-based system.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Muscat Municipality
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Salim Said Al-Kalbani
Title:   Senior Projects Specialist  
Telephone/ Fax:   0096895308030
Institution's / Project's Website:   http://www.mm.gov.om/ebuilding/e/index.html
E-mail:   s.kalbani@gmail.com  
Address:   B.O. Pox 79
Postal Code:   100
City:   Muscat
State/Province:   Muscat
Country:   Oman

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