Department of Finance – City of Chicago
Editor’s note: A year ago or so, Toggle did a story on the Windy City, which also turned out to be one of the most connected cities; so sophisticated it can check the temperature between neighborhoods and use that data to tell which areas should be snowplowed first. Below is an update from Chicago on one of its latest advancements, which has been in use for a few years. Another success, we gather.
The city of Chicago has always strived to be forward-thinking and, as part of this, it is constantly utilizing technology to enhance resident services and experiences.
Recently, in line with the city of Chicago’s commitment to innovation, the Chicago Department of Finance (DoF) is using technology to upgrade the taxpayer experience. Developed in collaboration with IT consulting firm Catalyst Consulting Group, the city’s Online Full Payment Certificate (OFPC) application is used by over 400 organizations and facilitates an average of 67,000 Full Payment Certificates (FPC) a year.
Understanding the FPC Process
Before properties transfer to a new owner in Chicago, the current owner must first receive a Full Payment Certificate (FPC) from DoF. This ensures that all utility charges and penalties that may have accrued to an account are paid or otherwise not transferable to the subsequent owner. Without an FPC, a deed cannot be transferred to a new owner.
In 2012, the process of applying for and receiving an FPC was largely carried out in person at a DoF facility. The process was only getting more cumbersome with a change to the Municipal Code requiring all real property transfers to submit an FPC, which doubled the number of applications DoF processed each year, and further pushed the need for a modern digital solution.
With a high demand for FPCs, and a commitment to streamline the FPC process, the city was ready to leverage new technology to create an efficient and easy-to-use online application.
Better for business
Catalyst Consulting Group has worked in Chicago’s IT landscape for 25 years, and has brought its consulting services to companies across many different industries. The city of Chicago harnessed that experience, and together, Catalyst and DoF analyzed the existing OFPC application and began developing a vision for its future.
The previous OFPC application was not accessible via mobile devices, but only through Internet Explorer and was not scalable. Most importantly, the legacy application allowed companies to start the FPC process online, but walk-ins were still necessary to complete the process. As a result, completing the FPC process on average took 10 days and frequently caused delays in real estate transactions.
To increase user adoption, decrease the number of FPC walk-ins, and streamline the overall FPC process, the city needed a scalable, user-friendly application that would facilitate the entire FPC process digitally from application to completion.
Before application development, the city and Catalyst gathered information on how to improve the overall FPC process. Catalyst learned the ins and outs of the real estate transaction and utility billing process, partnering with city leaders to understand the requirements of an application that not only fit DoF’s needs, but had the scalability to ensure longevity.
After two years of requirements gathering and development, the city and Catalyst launched the new OFPC application in June of 2015.
“Moving the entire FPC process onto one system allowed us to facilitate the process from application to completion digitally, reducing the number of real estate transaction delays due to the FPC. In fact, with the enhancements to the online FPC, we are now able to process an application in a single afternoon. This digital process also makes it possible to collect data that helps us improve our services,” said city of Chicago Comptroller, Erin Keane.
We’ve kept it simple
Determined to increase overall user adoption, Catalyst engineers focused on building an application with a user-friendly interface accessible through multiple platforms. With an improved interface, the application drove more users to self-service and required less manual intervention by DoF. Since redevelopment of the application, online FPC applications increased by 81 percent. The entire FPC process can now be completed online and no longer requires any walk-ins.
Not only did the re-development accomplish the city’s goals to increase access and usability for residents and decrease the burden on city staff; it also decreased the average number of FPC processing days from 10 to one.
Today, residents no longer have to go to the Chicago Department of Finance Utility Billing and Customer Service to apply for and receive their FPCs. In addition, city employees are freed up to focus on other residents, like those experiencing financial hardship or those who need help setting up payment plans. It also allows city employees to ensure customers are receiving all exemptions for which they are eligible.
“Through this upgrade, the Department of Finance has been able to successfully allocate our essential services where they are needed most. Our commitment to providing the most effective and cost-efficient solutions for our residents, is supported through these and other technological advancements to our systems,” says Keane.
In the end, the new OFPC application benefits Chicago in more ways than one. With the application running, residents and businesses have everything they need to perform a real estate transaction right at their fingertips.
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