Disrupting without breaking - how Vienna is piloting a seamless digital building permission
“Move fast and break things” is the credo of market-disrupting companies who take digital innovation to the next level. In the corporate realm high risk is often rewarded with a significant share of a new market or with successful services and happy customers. Yet, it comes with a burden of failed investments, unsuccessful products and services and many early customers who never got what they originally signed-up for. In the corporate world this risk is factored in from the very beginning. But what do you do, when you’re a public entity who wants to introduce a market-transforming digital innovation? How can you “move fast and break things” when your investment comes from taxpayers’ pockets and your clients are your citizens and local companies?
Under conditions of public ownership, innovations must follow a different approach to disrupting markets: a less destructive and more inclusive approach. Yet, just like in the corporate world, eventually any innovation has to stand the test of functioning under realistic conditions, if it is to truly make a difference. So, how do you bring a disrupting innovation to a market without breaking things? Please look towards Vienna to finding a good answer to this question.
For the last two years, the City of Vienna and its partners have been working intensively to develop a radically new approach to issuing building permits much faster than before, by seamlessly integrating a range of digital tools and technologies with each other.
Now, the main building blocks of BRISE Vienna are ready and the service is about to hit the market. However, before launching a new product in such a crucial area of the public sector, several points must be considered:
- Investors, planners and architects are in the middle of planning and building houses - like they have always been doing. Their current needs and abilities to shift to a new and untested digital technology, needs to be taken into account.
- Municipal staff has been working in an old, analogue building verification process for the last dozens of years. Their ability to master the new digital process needs to be trained – ideally with customers who are less critical and open to trial and error.
- A building permit is a legally binding document issued by a highly specialized authority. As a neighbour, inhabitant, or owner, you want to be sure that all corresponding laws and regulations have been checked before issuing the permit so that the building will be secure, environmentally friendly etc. and the investment is protected over the long term.
Vienna has chosen a collaborative approach to piloting its new digital building permission process and the preliminary results are promising. Let's look at some principles Vienna has build its strategy on to help its innovation undergo a reality-check without breaking things:
- Make it voluntary: companies, planners, architects or investors who are planning to submit a building plan for permission in summer 2022 have been invited to become pilot partners in the new digital online verification process. Interested parties have been given all necessary information about the new BRISE tool and were able to sign-up as pilot partners if they liked to. 17 planners and architects chose the new, seamless and digital process over the traditional approach, submitting 17 buildings with up to a few hundred apartments for an accelerated, digital verification and approval process. Following the law of the diffusion of innovation, many more will follow once the process has proven to be working fine.
- Make it attractive: the whole purpose of BRISE Vienna is to speed-up the building verification and permission process. The goal is to double the speed! From 6 – 12 months today, to 3 – 6 months with the digital tool. Planners and architects don’t like to wait for the permission. Thus, participating in the BRISE pilot will most likely have a real benefit for them. Although they know that it is a test and the new process will still have a few flaws, there is a real chance that it will still provide them with their building permission earlier than the old analogue process would. It is thus attractive to take the risk and become a pilot partner.
- Make it seamless: virtually all architects and planners have shifted to digital planning tools many years ago. You will no longer find the good old architect who only works with paper, ruler, compass, and his own ingenuity. Sophisticated computer programs have taken-over construction and planning since many years. Most of these programs use BIM (building information modelling) and create models of buildings using the IFC file format. The City of Vienna provides a plugin to the IFC format (the standard file format for BIM) which can be integrated into virtually all common BIM construction and design tools. By this no switch to a new software is needed. The architect can create his building model in the same way he is used to doing and then upload it to the servers of Vienna.
- Make it happen: the BRISE pilot is attracting a lot of attention. Needless to say – many stakeholders have high expectations regarding the results of BRISE Vienna. Thus, the responsible authority (MA 37 = "building police") has made the BRISE pilot a high-priority project in summer 2022, making sure that pilot submissions are dealt with instantly and no lags occur within the process. With this “all hands on deck” mentality Vienna is proving its point – that digital innovations can make a tremendous impact when it comes to improving public services.
- Close the feedback loops: nothing is as important as learning from early mistakes. Thus, it will be crucial to the success of BRISE Vienna that all stakeholders involved in the pilot closely monitor the process and reflect upon the smaller and bigger mistakes and errors that occur underway. No digital tool or service has been working 100% from the start. The same is true for BRISE Vienna. The ability of the management of BRISE Vienna to nurture a culture of open reflections will be crucial for keeping-up the high learning curve also after the pilot has been delivered successfully.
The BRISE pilot is running from June – December 2022. It will contain 17 buildings by 17 partners and is laying the foundation for a new, radical, digital solution that is about to disrupt an important area of public services.