Cerné Systems Inc

Success Stories

County of Santa Clara

The Santa Clara (CA) County Department of Planning and Development had already experienced striking success with in-house FileMaker Pro development before contacting Cerné Systems Inc., a long-time FileMaker Pro developer (http://www.filemaker.comlcustomers/stories/217.html). But the county's initial success only whetted their appetites for more work than their staff could handle, and they wanted access to a seasoned FileMaker developer who might bring some fresh ideas to their FileMaker work.

Cerné's first goal was to convert an existing Omnis® database—which ran the department's building permit process—over to a FileMaker system while concurrently addressing some longstanding dissatisfactions with the existing system. Cerné accomplished the goal, including capturing all the old Omnis data, cleaning up some problems with the old data, getting the new system up, and enhancing functionality, all without disrupting service to the public.

One of the enhancements included integrating the new FileMaker building permit system with a touch-tone phone-request system from a third party (TFLX). The touch-tone phone system enables citizens to request a building inspection visit for the following day. Using the system, the permit holder enters in a property ID number, and a request for an inspection is automatically routed to a FileMaker file. There is a two-way integration between TFLX and FileMaker: current open building permits are passed to TFLX daily and valid inspection requests are processed every evening after being passed to FileMaker.

When the building inspectors come to work each morning, they download their inspection schedules into Palm® PDAs, another new feature that was added by Cerné. During inspections, the PDAs record inspection results into a Handibase™ file. When the inspectors return to the office at the end of the day, they connect their PDAs to their desktop computers and inspection results are automatically uploaded into the main FileMaker database using a custom-written AppleScript™.

Cerné also added a query-by-email (QBEM) feature that enables citizens to send email requests for information directly to the FileMaker database. Cerné set up a mailbox for the database and uses a combination of FileMaker, AppleScript and Unix to process formatted email messages and then return an email with the requested information back to the requestor. Five types of QBEM requests are currently implemented: request inspection information; request a copy of the permit; request an inspection by item to be inspected; request plan-check status; and request permit status. Most of the replies incorporate a PDF attached to the return email. The system also incorporates a detailed workflow status that enables the staff to quickly determine where a particular project is in the plan check cycle to help prevent projects from becoming bogged down.

Like most government agencies, the Building Department has a huge collection of paper documents—such as blueprints, plans, permits, and maps—which have never been part of any computer system. These documents are now being scanned and converted into PDFs, and Cerné has implemented an in-house document retrieval capability. Document retrieval uses AppleScript to find any document stored on a network server that is relevant to a given parcel of land. Plans for the future include providing the capability for the public to access some of these documents using the QBEM system. This is an enormous improvement over the old method of sending someone into the basement to search through boxes of dusty old documents.

For the Surveyor's office, Cerné implemented a document retrieval system for maps and other documents that can be used both in-house and by the public via a public terminal in the County office building. Like MapQuest™. the user interface uses a drill-down point-and-click interface that returns a list of records relevant to a selected piece of land.

For the Fire Marshall, Cerné enhanced an existing FileMaker database to enable access to photographs of hazardous (fire-prone) vegetation growing on undeveloped property in the county. FileMaker property records are tied through AppleScript and OS X Unix to any relevant digital photos stored on a server. This system was recently used at public hearings where property owners contested the Fire Marshall's assessment of the fire hazard on their parcels. To the delight of the county staff, the photo retrieval system enabled them to clearly demonstrate the presence of hazard and they quickly won all of their cases at a recent hearing.

Cerné is currently working on further enhancements to existing systems in the Building Department, such as more public web access and replacing the various legacy systems in other county departments. Within a few months, new FileMaker files will be supporting the Land Development and Engineering (LDE) group, which is responsible for plans and permits for developing raw land within Santa Clara County. Cerné is also supporting major conversion projects in 2004 that will transition all the Building Department computers to OS X and the latest version of File Maker Pro.

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