Osceola hopes to fix bugs in new online permitting site this week

When it's fully operational, Osceola County's new $2.1 million Accela online permitting software should make life more simple for developers, builders, inspectors and others who use the site to track development. 

But last week's rollout has been described as "disastrous," and compared to the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

Customers are having trouble logging in and uploading applications. Inspectors can't schedule inspections. Others have reported issues with the site crashing.

To make matters worse, 20 years worth of data and documents from the county's previous system didn't transfer properly, making it impossible to view public records. 

"It's actually a really cool system when it's working," Community Development Director Dave Tomek told GrowthSpotter. "We're taking four of our old systems and combining them into one. They told us it would take two weeks once it goes live to get all the kinks out."

Tomek said he's hopeful the system will be working by Friday, but those on the front lines are less confident. Customer Care Specialist Tim Anger said the department's help desk has been receiving calls nonstop since the Feb. 12 launch, and the permitting office is finding workarounds for customers who can't upload documents through the portal.

The county offered training classes for anyone who would be using the site to apply for permits. 

Anger said the county and vendor tested the system before making the switch. "In a test environment, these things appeared to work," he said.

But once they took it live and had hundreds of people trying to use the system, more and more problems appeared. The vendor has had a team working around the clock to resolve them. It's too late to bring the old system back online. 

"We're working through the bugs as quickly as possible," he said. "We don't want to hold up any development. We're putting out a lot of fires. We're doing the best we can to get files to inspectors and contractors so they can do their business. We understand their frustration."

Jonathon Knight, chief customer officer for Accela, said the install team missed some key data points with a third-party software integration, which created a series of glitches in the system.

Since the system is cloud-based, Accela couldn't repair Osceola's website without taking all of their other clients' pages offline. Knight said everything should be fully operational by Monday. 

"It was not our greatest moment," he said. "We pride ourselves in happy customers and smooth go-lives because we know our customers are all interconnected. We've identified the root cause of the problem in Kissimmee, and we're on the path to rectifying it now." 

Several Florida jurisdictions already use the Accela software, among them the city of Tampa, Pasco County and Reedy Creek Improvement District. 

Polk County was scheduled to launch its own Accela portal next week, but Tom Deardorff, director of planning and development, said those plans have been put on hold. 

He said plans are now to reach out to Osceola officials to get more details on the problems with their rollout, in hopes of avoiding a repeat in Polk. 

"Some of our staff has had contact with contractors who do business in both counties, and they have complained about it," Deardorff said.

Polk's go-live date will be confirmed within a few days. Deardorff said the county would go through a lengthy test phase and offer Accela training for customers before the launch.

"We also plan to hire temporary people to help our customers during the transition to the new system," Deardorff said. "It's everyone's goal to have it go as smoothly as possible."  

 Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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