Boston hackathon app helps upgrade city permitting system

Boston is piloting a new Web and mobile application, developed from a hackathon, that will let citizens track the progress of their permit applications online.

Boston is piloting a new Web and mobile application that will let citizens track the progress of their permit applications online. The app, called Permit Finder, was developed with the help of Qlarion, a Virginia-based technology firm and represents Boston’s latest move to make its city operations more available through multiple technology channels.

To use the app, individuals in the process of securing building, business and other permits enter their permits application numbers into the app, and it immediately lets them know the status of their request. It also gives the contact number of the city employee handling it.

Boston processes close to 100,000 permits each year and generates about $40 million in revenue from them. City officials not only hope to streamline the process, but also give consumers more information about the process to cut down on inquiries to city employees, freeing up more of their time for work.

The app evolved out of a two-day hackathon in August, hosted by Boston, where developers were challenged to develop a more transparent permit and licensing tracking system and a better search interface for the city’s website, among other objectives.


Employees from Qlarion, which already had an analytics contract with Boston, attended the event and designed a prototype for Permit Finder in about 24 hours. Their work won the “Best Design and Interface” award.

The city was able to deploy the app three months later, at a cost of $5,000 to complete, because Boston’s permitting database is electronic and already relatively automated.

The app also reflects the technology commitment of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh who made streamlining the city’s permit system one of his priorities. Earlier this month, the city announced a partnership with Accela and OpenCounter to find other ways to upgrade the city’s permitting and licensing system.

The companies will work with the city’s technology department to build and deploy a modern, software-as-a-service-based permitting experience, using the Accela Civic Platform, known for its reliability, and the user-friendly design principles of OpenCounter.

The new solution will work across departments to assist in coordinating workflow, integrating a variety of back-end systems, and providing an improved public experience that still maintains the rules created to protect public health and safety, according to city officials.


“We’ve already made deep improvements to the way the public does business with the City by taking steps to streamline and improve licensing and permitting operations, but there’s always more to be done,” Walsh said in a release. “This partnership with Accela and OpenCounter will take us further, creating a coordinated and seamless experience across departments for residents and business owners seeking permitting and licensing through the City.”

Accela and OpenCounter will deliver the first phase of the new system within six months, with enhancements to occur over a two-year period. Both companies have proven track records as effective solution providers in Boston and Massachusetts.

Accela software and services are in use by the Boston Public Health Commission and Massachusetts’ Division of Professional Licensure, Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, and Alcohol Beverage Control Commission.

Latest Podcasts