Getting permits in line? Soon you'll get them online

May 15, 2000
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Jon Fisher saw a web opportunity in the contracting field and he went after it. He expects his relatively simple solution to become a big business.

Fisher explains his idea grew out of his work on the 1998 California Secretary of State campaign. “In running the Press Office for the campaign, I interfaced with a multitude of unions and construction companies and contracting companies,” he noted. And they indicated that one of the first problems they wanted solved was forms access and submission.

“I quickly realized that this wasn’t a solution in need of political attention,” said Fisher, “but one in need of a for-profit Internet services company. I quickly incorporated with a technology analyst and we built very quickly a company that’s allowing that type of solution.”

NetClerk, Inc., of South San Francisco, CA, was incorporated in January 1999. The company’s forms management service was set up to guide contractors through the bureaucracy of permit requisition, completion, submission, and archival — all online — to save time and money.

The service is located on the web at www.netclerk.com.

Permits without pain

Obtaining a permit is a vital process for contractors that has also been time-consuming and sometimes annoying as it normally requires waiting in line.

NetClerk provides a four-part service that helps take the pain out of it.

1. Forms Requisition enables selection of the permit form on the website. Customers enter their password and download the form needed, completing it online.

2. Forms Completion is a feature that eliminates the need to enter repetitive information. The contractor fills out one profile with all the basic criteria needed for permits.

“Every time they bring up a new form, they can have all of that data automatically populate the form,” said Fisher. This feature fills out one-third to one-half of the form for contractors automatically, he remarked.

3. Forms Submission, of course, electronically routes the permit with payment to the city.

4. Forms Archive allows for electronic storage of a contractor’s filed forms and also easy retrieval of copies when needed.

NetClerk’s charges for this service range between $50 and $2,500 per month, depending on the volume of permits that the contractor does.

Fisher said that contractors can also use the service on a per-submission basis without purchasing the full package. The cost for this is $20.

Asked whether others are trying to implement this type of electronic service, Fisher said his firm is “first to market.”

“There are many companies that are in business to sell individualized solutions to cities,” he said. “They help a city put up its own one-off service to allow for processing.” But contractors “do business regionally across many, many cities. So they need one aggregated interface through which they can do business.

“We can instantly include any city in the country in our application because what we do is automatically aggregate them by converting web-based permit applications that are their exact forms, into any normally accepted format.”

Coming out of beta

NetClerk is currently completing beta testing of the service. By late January it will begin a general launch.

“Right now we are in the entire San Francisco Bay area, covering roughly 100 cities,” stated Fisher. “We will be in over 2,000 cities by this time next year.”

With its launch, NetClerk expects to hit the Los Angeles and Phoenix areas, as well as other major markets.

Down the road, the company plans to allow contractors to procure products online as well, thus offering “one-stop shopping,” said Fisher.

The beta test has now surpassed 1,000 permits processed, and the website system has been designed to handle significantly higher volumes.

“A year from now,” Fisher stated, “I anticipate we’ll be processing tens of thousands of permits per day.”

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