CitiSphere, a cloud-based municipal management system, has been upgraded to a new and more versatile version (version 2.0), and the feedback is promising. Nick Kelley, CitiSphere Senior Programmer, has guided his development team in the creation of software that has become an increasingly sought-after municipal application in Northeast Ohio. CitiSphere 2.0 has numerous new features and an updated intuitive user interface. The software effectively brings departments such as zoning, building, and planning under one roof, allowing users to better access their data, process payments, schedule meetings or inspections and track permits, anytime, anywhere. CitiSphere is a powerful application and, with a formidable team of programmers behind him, Nick Kelley is only getting started.  

Q: How long have you been a programmer?

A: I have been doing various programming related tasks for over 10 years. In this time period, I have been exposed to many different programming frameworks, languages, and databases such as  C#, Java, C++, .Net, MVC, Crystal Reports, SQL, and MySQL.

The opportunities to learn new skills seem to never end, which is one of the most gratifying outcomes from creating and working with CitiSphere.  As developers, we dedicate ourselves to learning our clients’ environments and their programming needs, and because no two cities are the same, this sometimes results in learning something new in the process.

Q: Building software from scratch is a commitment. What led to the creation of CitiSphere? What struggles or roadblocks happened along the way?

A: We had a long-standing relationship with the City of Euclid prior to creating CitiSphere. Because of this relationship we learned they were no longer satisfied with their current building and housing software. And, their research of available solutions revealed most applications did not have all the functionality required to meet their business needs.  After meeting with city administrators we determined that our team could provide a solution to their database infrastructure needs and create an efficient software solution to better handle their daily city management tasks. They liked what we proposed.

So, to fully define their software needs, our team worked hand-in-hand with city employees at every level and position, absorbing and documenting their methods and procedures.  By combining our observations, feedback, and programming abilities, we were able to create a fully functional and all-encompassing software solution for The City of Euclid.

Q: What languages were used to develop CitiSphere and the underlying database?

A: The back-end of CitiSphere is written primarily with C#, while the front-end of CitiSphere is written using HTML5 standards applied to cshtml files. The use of cshtml allows us to use C# functionality directly on the website pages. CitiSphere also uses JavaScript, JQuery, and other libraries to enhance functionality and user experience. The styling of the pages is controlled using stylesheets written with CSS3. Behind the scenes, a well-architected SQL Server Database executes views, functions, and stored methods that improve the overall performance of the software.

Q: What CitiSphere features are you most proud of?

A: CitiSphere has the ability for activities to be set up in such a way that anyone can successfully sit down, enter them into the system, and let the software perform all validation and math for them. This process greatly reduces the amount of time spent orientating a new employee to CitiSphere and efficiently enables cross-training. Accordingly, we have developed logic that quickly allows the addition and removal of certain fields that may or may not have fees associated with them. These changes can happen without having to pause the system or cause any interruptions to end-users.

Q: How did your team work with different departments and how did those experiences impact CitiSphere?

A: It was our intention from the beginning of the CitiSphere project to embed our development team directly into city departments to determine what we could do to make their daily tasks easier. We were no experts in the departments’ business processes, so we worked side-by-side with city employees.  The knowledge gained from that immersion, combined with our programming expertise, allowed us to develop CitiSphere. Many hours were spent in the clerk bullpen, inspector’s vehicles, and other city environments that would help us learn what was important to users of the software. This process led to a very fluid, easy to use application, ensuring a more efficient workplace.

Q: Is CitiSphere mobile and cross-platform friendly?

A: CitiSphere is a web-based application hosted in the cloud,  allowing any device with an internet connection and a modern web browser (Chrome, Explorer, FireFox) access to the program. It was written in such a way that it detects and fits the max screen size of your current device, and updates the visual appearance in order to present the information and fields in an easy-to-read and understandable fashion. There are also several strong layers of security in place to ensure that only valid users of the program can gain access.

Q: The City of Euclid was one of the first to use CitiSphere. What has been the feedback from city employees since deploying?

A: Feedback has been extremely positive. The building and housing department have seen a dramatic increase in productivity. This has led to more inspections, better time management, and cross-training to other city employees.

Q: How have city employees adapted to going digital?

A: Utilizing CitiSphere, inspectors are able to complete more inspections than ever before. They improve overall customer service by emailing results directly from the field. Since the program also integrates with Google Maps, navigation to assigned worksites is now accessible from inside the application. Going digital has allowed inspections to be completed in real-time, providing department managers with immediate access to results and improving communication.

Q: Describe the implementation process for cities using the software?

A: The implementation process starts by defining standard system requirements, determine the proper layout of screens, the number of users and departments that will use the application.  After we’ve collected information from the management team and departments, we define all the activities required to meet their needs. Using those activities, an initial implementation timeline is created. Included in the timeline is defining and creating the list of required reports and the import of existing historical data from old software and other resources (e.g., Excel spreadsheets). Once all business processes have been defined and documented, we meet with city officials to finalize the timeline, then begin customizing CitiSphere.

Q: CitiSphere is configurable. What features or modules is the City of Euclid using?

A: One thing we have learned working with different municipalities is that no two are cut from the same cloth. Even if the department names are the same, there are specific fields and fees that may or may not be applicable based on the code requirements of the municipality. This is a driving factor in how we developed CitiSphere.  Whether or not you have a full building department, only zoning, or any other departmental configuration, we can set up the system to accommodate your needs. We can configure activities to be assigned to a location, toggle applicable contractors, set up certain fields for data collection, and even assign fees according to protocol. Activities can also be built to allow partial payments to be made against them. This feature in CitiSphere allows users to account for standard permits, licenses, solicitor registrations, cemetery plot assignment, fleet management, and much more.

Q: Are there any enhancements on the road-map that you care to elaborate on?

A: One of the many enhancements on the roadmap is to add the ability for inspectors, and other users, to print a map of daily activities from apps like Google Maps. The ability to optimize routes is also included in this future enhancement, which would minimize unnecessary drive time.

“After working with municipalities of all sizes and their various departments, we have found that CitiSphere outperforms all other competing software. The ability to create unique activity types, specific to your municipality, that capture the exact information you require and enable complex fee calculations behind the scenes, makes CitiSphere a very powerful tool. Using CitiSphere we can effectively handle permitting, code enforcement, fleet management, recreation, occupancy licensing, and much more. The amount of time that is saved in removing redundant procedures, Excel files, and paper documents results in a quick return on investment (ROI) and a well-protected city management system.” Nick Kelley, Senior Developer and CitiSphere Team Lead.