Licensing process automation: Bringing regulators into the digital world
In a world where the private sector has automated most sign-up processes for consumers, regulators too must explore the applications of automation in their day-to-day work. How can occupational licensing bodies use automation to cut costs, save time, and make life easier for citizens and professionals alike?

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The development of digital and network technologies has created a world in which many sign-up processes in the private sector are now fully automated. Whether you’re subscribing to an online magazine, signing up for a social media service, or setting up a monthly gym membership, every step of the process can be completed from your smartphone. You don’t have to leave your seat. To keep up with this development, some agencies have chosen to pursue automated licensing as a regulatory goal.

The automation of any licensing process raises several issues, both technical and occupation-related. With each professional license requiring its own unique set of criteria, there is no single all-purpose software solution that will suit every regulator. Instead, regulators must partner with technology companies to adapt their automated licensing solutions to fit the requirements of a given profession. Software companies must often work piecemeal, automating licensure for the most popular professions first in the interest of freeing up more resources more quickly.

Case study: Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS)

In the fall of 2021, the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) announced a partnership with Google Cloud and MTX intended to bring its occupational licensing process into the 21st century. With DSPS issuing over 244 different types of occupational licenses, and issuing nearly a million licenses every two years, automation presented the opportunity for officials to streamline the lengthy and tedious paper-based licensure process. Specifically, it would remove from the office the burden of manual data entry from mailed-in forms, freeing staff up to focus on reviewing and processing applications.

Automating the licensing process also allows staff to avoid the time-consuming troubleshooting process that so often follows the submission of an incomplete form. With the department’s call center fielding an average of 4,500 calls a week between six staff members, this troubleshooting process proved to be a huge drain on time and resources. Automated forms can catch errors at the point of submission, barring an applicant from proceeding until their form meets a certain standard of completion.

Automating the solar permitting process

Licensing process automation isn’t just limited to professional fields, either. In fact, there are many simpler licensing processes that can be automated relatively easily. For example, in April 2021, government software developer Accela announced the integration of SolarAPP+, an automated licensing platform for solar power projects, as a free app allowing customers to enter all the necessary information to receive a solar power permit. The app also can issue these permits instantly.

Automating the residential solar power permitting process allowed the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the organization that developed the app, to cut down on the “soft cost” of manual permit issuing. The laboratory found in 2019 that permitting, inspections, and interconnection made up about 8 percent of the cost of residential solar projects. Thanks to SolarAPP+, jurisdictions like Pima County in Arizona saved a substantial amount of resources that normally would have gone toward processing about 250 permits every month.

The benefits of automation: it’s not only time and money

In Lansing, Michigan, city officials upgraded the jurisdiction’s marijuana business licensing system in 2021, moving the entire process online and cutting the approval timeline from three months to three weeks. Automating the licensing process didn’t only help the city save time and money—it also provided access to clear documentation through the online system, which allowed the city to fight over 16 lawsuits with more ease and efficiency.

An automated licensing process allows regulators to free up valuable time and redirect staff to work on projects that require human judgment and input. It also can provide an easily accessible online database where regulators and applicants alike can find and download any piece of information put forth during the licensing process. As the rest of the world automates simple human labor tasks, so too must regulators push for automation in their work, as this will save agencies time, money, and the undue stress that can arise from manual, paper-based processes.

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Jordan Milian
Written byJordan Milian
Jordan Milian is a writer covering government regulation and occupational licensing for Ascend, with a professional background in journalism and marketing.

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