New Mexico's electronic permitting system has sped up the construction process for thousands of contractors across the state, a success the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies recently recognized by awarding the state's Construction Industries Division its first Innovation in Regulation Award.

The online system, known as KIVA, went live in October 2003 after nine years of planning and design. It enables licensed contractors to apply for and track permits from anywhere, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That results in a huge time savings for contractors, who previously had to drive hours to reach one of three permitting offices to apply in person for permits.

New Mexico invested roughly $250,000 in developing the system, which has essentially already paid for itself, says Lisa Martinez, director of the Construction Industries Division. Permitting offices used to allow contractors to buy bundles of plumbing, electrical, and mechanical permits, which they were supposed to fill out and submit—with payment—as needed. It saved time for contractors, but often meant the division was owed as much as $250,000 at any given time for permits that weren't submitted correctly. Now, contractors can set up prepaid accounts in KIVA, eliminating the collections process.

KIVA has improved the inspections process, too. The system generates inspection schedules for the state's 72 inspectors, who enter their inspection reports daily. (Prior to KIVA, the inspectors submitted handwritten reports monthly.) Inspection staff overtime has fallen by more than 25 percent, according to the division. Martinez is looking ahead to system improvements, including giving inspectors hand-held computers, which would further enhance KIVA's timeliness.