City of Philadelphia Department of Planning and Development Improves…

“We’re able to manage big projects with limited resources.”

Nick Wade, Software Engineer, City of Philadelphia Department of Planning & Development

Philadelphia

City of Philadelphia Department of Planning and Development Improves Public Service Delivery with Quickbase

The City of Philadelphia’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is tasked with creating strong, livable, and safe neighborhoods in the city. Achieving this goal requires the department to work with different partners, including residents, advocates, developers, businesses, sister agencies, and funders.

This collaboration requires systems that connect the department to all its partners. As such, the department relies on its IT division to provide practical solutions to their specific needs. As a software engineer at City of Philadelphia DPD, Nick Wade is part of the team that delivers custom development and solution guidance for software to all divisions.

When Nick joined the department, many of DPD’s non-technical staff was utilizing Quickbase, but he wasn’t aware of its capabilities during his first year on the job, and at the time, Nick preferred developing custom .Net applications for different scenarios.

However, after interacting with Quickbase, he started seeing value in incorporating low-code into their technology practice. So, the team began implementing it in programs with partners who were not on the city’s network. Quickbase became particularly useful for cases that didn’t require intensive custom functionality, such as data collection.

Challenge

  • Potential complications for external parties accessing the city’s network
  • A wide variety of disparate tech stacks and solutions requiring connection
  • Office visits became a challenge when the COVID-19 pandemic hit
  • Difficulties in collecting information from the public and applicants

Solution

  • Rent Assist app for processing assistance applications during COVID
  • Restore/Repair/Renew (PHDC Program) app for managing applications for loans
  • Application for tracking Philly First Home Program applications for facilitating grants for first-time homebuyers
  • Eviction Diversion Program for facilitating agreements between landlords and tenants

Benefits

  • Enhanced communication with the public and applicants
  • Streamlined processes for collecting information during COVID
  • Efficient project management even with limited resources and funding
  • Much-need agility in making required changes

The Department of Planning and Development is responsible for housing, zoning, and community investment efforts for Philadelphia. It collaborates with different partners and communities to plan and develop livable neighborhoods. DPD has six agencies and partners with the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC) to successfully deliver its mandate.

Collaboration between the department, different agencies, and partners is essential to ensure the public has access to the services they need. In this case, it relies on its IT division to provide an enabling environment for all collaborations and programs. This includes developing applications and providing software guidance for all divisions.

Nick Wade, the DPD’s software engineer, is responsible for delivering the solutions. The IT team uses different tech stacks, programming languages, and service providers to create custom solutions whenever they’re needed. For the most part, this has always worked effectively for the team, but it had its unique challenges.

PHDC was the first to use Quickbase, and the DPD adopted it after the two departments were merged. Nick joined the department when it was already using Quickbase, but they were not taking advantage of its full potential. Nick was building custom .Net applications for internal use, which they still do, but he later gained interest in Quickbase after understanding its capabilities.

“I saw the value in Quickbase’s capabilities, and we started implementing it in programs with partners who were not on the city’s network,” noted Nick.

Quickbase proved effective when complex custom functionality wasn’t required, such as building data collection systems. It also became ideal for tasks that could be completed using automation. Additionally, Quickbase made it easier to provide external parties with secure access to program data and applications without being connected to the City’s network.

The team further witnessed the value of Quickbase when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With the public safety restrictions, people couldn’t visit the DPD’s offices to apply for loans or get other services. But, the team was committed to get money into the hands of people affected by COVID-19. As such, Quickbase’s REST APIs made it simple to build their first public-facing app, PHL Rent Assist.

They wanted an online system where residents could submit rental assistance requests to the department. Nick says they had about a week to come up with the solution, and Quickbase made it possible for the team. So, they built the Rent Assist app, which enabled them to process assistance applications quickly, particularly when the eviction moratorium had not been renewed.

They also built an app for managing the Restore/Repair/Renew PHDC Program, which connected homeowners to low-interest loans for making home improvements. The department partners with three external agencies to collect the applications, which are then forwarded to banks via the app for fulfillment.

“We now have ten Quickbase apps that support our programs,” said Nick.

In Nick’s view, Quickbase has delivered different benefits to the team, specifically with the Rent Assist app, their first public-facing application. It allowed the department to collect information from the public with ease. It also reduced the need for residents to visit their offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team’s newfound agility leveraging Quickbase has allowed the team to accomplish more, even with their limited funding and small team. They feel that it couldn’t be possible to manage their projects and process requests without Quickbase. “We’re able to manage big projects with limited resources,” noted Nick. It has improved communication with the public and allowed them to punch above their weight amidst the pandemic’s chaos. Quickbase has also improved their agility, allowing them to adapt to changes effortlessly.

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