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Pittsburgh plans to replace online services software with $5.6M alternative

Bob Bauder
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Pittsburgh plans to dump a $1.7 million software system that was supposed to process credit card payments and provide customers with online permitting, licensing and plan review services in favor of a new $5.6 million system that a city official claims can actually do the job.

City Council introduced legislation Tuesday that would authorize a five-year contract with Denver-based Computronix for a permitting and licensing software package to be phased in over 22 months.

The system would replace Accela software purchased in 2009 that didn’t live up to expectations.

Lee Haller, who heads Pittsburgh’s Innovation and Performance Department, said Accela works well “behind the scenes” for city employees, but for various reasons never performed up to par in providing online public access. He added that the city’s contract with the California company expires in June.

Accela spokeswoman Rachel Fukaya declined comment.

“I think we had severe challenges with Accela in recent years,” Haller said. “We thought (Computronix) was the best fit for the city.”

Residents, developers and business owners for years have been forced to wait in hour-long lines at times for permits and licenses and up to months for the city to review building plans. Backlogs caused delays in building projects and home renovations.

Upon taking office in 2014, Mayor Bill Peduto promised online permitting and billing, but problems with the software delayed implementation.

Controller Michael Lamb expressed skepticism over the proposed purchase, saying city leadership was never fully committed to implementing the Accela system for credit card billing.

“Now the answer is, ‘Oh, let’s go buy a new system,’ ” Lamb said. “The problem we had with Accela was a problem with implementation.”

Maura Kennedy, who heads the Permits Licenses and Inspections Department, said Computronix was chosen after receiving the highest score through a three-tiered process in which her department, and the Departments of Public Works, Innovation and Performance, Management and Budget and Planning and Zoning participated.

The new system will serve those departments.

Haller admitted the city did a poor job of implementing Accela, but said the software presented problems.

Accela would not permit the Departments of Public Works, Planning and Zoning and Permits Licenses and Inspections to review building plans simultaneously, which caused long approval delays, he said.

The software wouldn’t integrate with the city’s credit card processing company, he said. That required employees to enter the same billing information with Accela and a credit card processor.

“There was no integration between these two systems that we could get to work,” Haller said.

Kennedy said Pittsburgh has since contracted with another processing company and hopes to soon offer credit card transactions.

The city will seek to extend its contract with Accela while the Computronix software is installed, Haller said. Council is expected to schedule its first vote on the purchase for next week.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].

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