City and County of Denver still not using $5.5 million online permitting system purchased in 2010

Denver spent $5.5 million on system it's not using

DENVER - Denver's plan to improve efficiency by implementing new technology is costing taxpayers millions of dollars and is nowhere near ready for use.

Documents obtained by 7NEWS show the City and County of Denver first made plans in 2010 to improve government services by implementing an online system to streamline permitting, inspections, hearings and licensing work. Now, four years later, 7NEWS has found the system, called Accela Automation, is costing taxpayers millions of dollars and is still not being used.

David Edinger is Denver's Chief Performance Officer and the executive sponsor for the Accela project.  Once up and running, he said the Accela system Denver purchased in 2010 will be used to increase efficiency throughout multiple agencies.

"What's nice about the technology is it enables a one intake shop, and you're able to do a lot of the things you used to have to come in to the city physically to do, like get a permit, you're able to do that online, that speeds it up. The idea is what takes 6 months now, should only take you 3 months once this is implemented," said Edinger.

Contracts obtained by 7NEWS show that Denver has spent more than $5.5 million on Accela technology and software. The project began in 2010 and documents show the transition was supposed to be completed in 2012.  However, the City and County of Denver is still not using the Accela system. 

We took our questions to Edinger because he is in charge of making sure Denver implements the Accela online permitting system. 

"At least $5.5 million taxpayer dollars spent of software that's not being used. Bottom line here, why is that?" asked 7NEWS investigative reporter Amanda Kost.

"The reason is it was more complex than we originally thought, which pushed our timing back," explained Edinger.

But 7NEWS found a contract between the City and County of Denver and Accela, Inc. that was signed in Sept. 2010. At that time, Denver agreed to pay $300,000 for a plan that detailed activities, costs, expected difficulties and schedules involved in implementing Accela's online permitting system. Denver then purchased Accela's online permitting system for $2,284,578.85 in December 2010. The City and County of Denver agreed to pay Accela for time and materials associated with the project, instead of agreeing to pay upon completion of the transition.

"Since this administration came into office in 2011, we've changed that to a milestone based project. In other words, we'll pay for it when it's done, when it's delivered, and as we hit those milestones along the way," said Edinger.  

The five different Denver City and County agencies that were expected to make the transition to Accela, are still waiting on implementation. Edinger said various teams have been working on the business and technology aspects of the Accela implementation. 

"The idea, what usually happens,  you make those switches in big steps called phases," said Edinger.

"What phase is Denver in right now?" asked Kost.

"The phase that we're in right now, is we're implementing the technology associated with phase one, so that we can launch phase one," said Edinger.

Edinger said he now expects the first phase to be completed in June 2014. 

"We still think we can get it done, but it's going to take more money to get it done right," said Edinger.

In January, Denver City Council members unanimously approved another $2 million for the Accela project.

"I think really what's driving the increase here is the complexity wasn't as well understood as it should have been, and it turned out to be more complex," added Edinger.

"Whose responsibility was it to understand those (elements of complexity) before the City and County entered into those contracts?" asked Kost.

"I think it's all the entire city's collective responsibility, all the agencies that worked on this did so collectively. They all understood the complexity to be something less than it turned out to be," explained Edinger.

"There has to be more than it just being complex. I mean, what are the other elements here?" asked Kost.

"I just think it's, I mean I hate to say it, but it really is that it was just more complex," answered Edinger.

7NEWS reached out to Accela to learn more about the delays in implementation.  A company spokesperson has refused to answer our questions.

"You have to spend a lot to get that system ready for use, and then you implement it, and that's when you realize the return on investment," said Edinger.

Edinger estimates the entire Accela system won't be up and running until 2015.

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