By Myles Ma/NJ.com NJ.com Email the author | April 25, 2014 7:00 AM
A group of veterans is helping put Englewood city government in the cloud. Bright Star, a Newark company, helps governments and businesses go digital. They came to Englewood to alleviate congestion in the city’s construction office, among the busiest in Bergen County, according to Tim Dacey, city manager.
Frank Huttle III, Mayor of the City of Englewood commented, “When I first became Mayor I promised to bring the best practices of business and the private sector to City government. Bright Star has today helped to fulfill that promise. The integration of the Bright Star system into one of the most important functions of City government will streamline service delivery and bring the City’s systems rapidly into the 21st century greatly reducing costs and enhancing responsiveness.” The Mayor continued, “I would like to thank Bright Star for all of their efforts in making this system operational in the City, it is a momentous achievement and I am pleased the City is at the forefront of better, more efficient delivery of municipal services.”
Tim Dacey, City Manager is a veteran himself and said Bright Star’s use of veterans was one of the things that attracted him to the company. Englewood is piloting the digital permitting process with a few frequent users. “The guys that are doing it really like it,” Dacey said. “It makes it easier to submit your stuff and follow your progress with permits.” All of the building inspectors have been equipped with iPads. They use the devices to log inspection results, which are automatically uploaded to the cloud. Contractors can see how their permits are faring over the Internet instead of coming to City Hall. “It compresses the amount of time it’s going to take to process inspections and permits,” Dacey said. Englewood paid Bright Star $50,000 for the work, as well as the cost of the iPads.
“The humanity of helping soldiers needs to be a priority.”
Since 2010, the city, like every municipality in New Jersey, has had to deal with a 2 percent cap on tax increases. In response, Englewood has turned to technology to simplify the city’s work. The construction office was an obvious target. The permitting process requires a four-page document to explain, and it relies heavily on paper forms, which can get lost. In addition, the office is only open during business hours, when many people can’t come in. “It’s a very time-consuming, paper-oriented process,” Dacey said.
Dacey decided there had to be a better way. After looking around, he found Dorothy Nicholson, CEO of Bright Star. The company’s work will allow residents to submit permits and track their progress electronically. “The goal is to have happier customers and to make sure we don’t lose anything and that the permit process goes smoother and quicker,” Dacey said.
Nicholson founded Bright Star in 2008 with $30,000 of her own savings. What sets Bright Star apart is that its employees are U.S. veterans. Many of Nicholson’s family members are veterans, and she made them her focus after seeing friends return from Iraq and Afghanistan have difficulty holding down jobs. “There really was no leeway to enable them to slowly get back to the practice of working with other people,” she said.
Employing veterans requires flexibility. Many need to be out of the office twice a week for therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. Bright Star uses a job sharing program to allow other workers to fill in. The company also practices job sampling, which lets new workers try various positions. On the upside, Nicholson said, veterans are motivated and willing to learn.
Bright Star’s other clients include the State of New Jersey, which had to approve the new digital coding process in Englewood, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Borough of Roselle. Digital permitting will go live for all Englewood residents May 13. Nicholson hopes Bright Star can be a model for other organizations.
“Yeah, there’s a bottom line that you’ve got to be aware of,” she said, “but at the same time the humanity of helping soldiers needs to be a priority.”