Idox launched iApply at the beginning of December 2015. The launch follows months of intense development and design work, along with extensive field testing. The new service, aimed at helping to ease the process for submitting planning and building control applications, is already receiving acclaim from its early adopters. We spoke with Chris Kendall, Digital Strategy Lead at Idox, about iApply, its introduction and the benefits it can bring to the planning sector.
How did the idea for iApply come about?
Over the last year Idox has been developing a Local Government Digital Platform to provide a suite of interchangeable tools and services that when combined together extend and advance Idox’s range outside of its existing products and services.
The idea of the Digital Platform is to make easily accessible the components needed to offer a single source for all local government online applications with the aim of helping people interact with local government.
The first product developed for the new platform is iApply. Although offering the planning sector a decisive step-change, it is also the first stop on a journey to achieve a much larger vision, across all government interactions.
Why was iApply the first product to be developed?
It was a matter of timing as much as anything. The government decided to commercialise the planning process. It put the previously government-run platform for planning applications, the Planning Portal, out to tender and opened the market to competition. With our knowledge of the sector, combined with our technical expertise, this seemed an ideal product for us to focus on. In addition to planning applications, iApply also enables building control submissions from the same platform, being the first online facility to offer this combined service.
What are the benefits of iApply?
One of the biggest early advantages of iApply is the ability to submit all planning applications and building control submissions from a single source. This is particularly helpful for larger submissions, which require numerous planning applications to different local authorities. The system mitigates the need for planning applicants to create multiple applications for a single project, or send numerous emails with attachments. It can now all be done online from a single place and at the same time. This offers potentially huge resource savings for the large submitters, but with everyone, from one-off to regular submitters, also benefitting from an improved, streamlined process.
Other benefits of the service include the ability to work collaboratively with clients and suppliers, sharing application details and progress. iApply enables authorisation, progress tracking and even payments to be made. It also keeps you informed of the status of an application, sending notifications of any changes. This ensures that time isn’t wasted on telephone calls to the planning department when seeking updates. Not only is the service designed to take you through the whole process – from pre-application enquiries to building control approval – but it also provides a complete national register of planning applications. This information is available to the public already, but iApply is the only place where this information is gathered in one place and is easily searchable by area, postcode or free text.
What input have you had in the development of iApply?
We have been working closely with many of the local authorities and private businesses, testing iApply to make sure that everything works. By running a pilot to test the system, we’ve been able to gather feedback and input from both sides, to ensure that we introduced a product that has tangible benefits for the user. Extensive stakeholder engagement has been very important, to find out exactly what the end-users want from the system. I have also been heavily involved in pulling the website together and ensuring the design and implementation was fit for purpose. iApply works across all platforms including desktop, tablet and mobile, so the website needed to reflect this too.
How easy is it to adopt iApply?
Idox already has a technical relationship with almost every local authority, which makes the implementation of iApply straightforward and quick. For the submitters it is incredibly easy. It’s simply a case of visiting the website and using the tools, which will guide you through the process.
Why has iApply been positioned as providing the industry with a step-change?
Local authorities should welcome the launch of iApply, as it comes at a time when planning departments are increasingly under pressure to reduce spending. iApply benefits the applicant, but the planning department also benefits from the improved efficiencies generated by the service. In the long run, it’s to everyone’s advantage to take up this new technology, as we all have the devices and tools required to use iApply at our disposal in our everyday lives.