"What happens now is people come to our front counter, or over the Web they just download the copy of the paper form," the authority's manager, information services, Ben Searle told ZDNet Australia in a telephone interview last week.
The new system, based on Adobe's LiveCycle software and implemented with the help of business process management specialist Avoka Technologies, will see not only the development application form but all associated documentation such as site plans submitted online.
"We're still going through some internal testing ... hopefully we'll be going public with it in the next few weeks," said Searle.
The project stemmed from funding allocated by the Federal government's Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources in July last year to improve the authority's interaction with small businesses.
Searle said the existing system was costly, time-consuming and error-prone. People didn't know whether to answer questions on the paper form that didn't apply to their type of development, or what additional documentation to submit, he said.
"Even our internal people struggle a bit with trying to work out what's required," he said. The new electronic form will only present questions and request documentation specific to each users' needs.
Also, under the new system, development plans will be submitted electronically, cutting printing and travel costs for the customer and scanning time for the authority, which only maintains electronic records.
Users can also complete the new form over a period, with their details maintained intact over time.
"We're really trying to save our clients, particularly small business, the time it takes to submit a development application," said Searle.
Behind the scenes
Once the user has submitted their electronic development application, Searle said, the authority receives both an XML stream of the data in addition to a PDF version of the form and attached documentation.
"Which then goes into our various databases and systems," he said. The XML stream is designed to prevent errors in data entry at the authority's end, as well as speed up the whole process.
While Searle noted a range of alternatives to LiveCycle existed, he said his organisation preferred the off-the-shelf approach taken by Adobe.
"We would have paid a similar amount to have something developed from scratch, and our view is getting a package that will be continually upgraded over the years, and more and more capabilities added to it, is much the best way to go."
"We don't have to maintain that software. We have to maintain the form ... but you can change the form without IT support."
Searle also praised the wider capabilities Adobe was building into its PDF document format such as geographical and video data and policy management to restrict who can view which document.
Some of the authority's work may also see wider use. Searle said the authority's new electronic form would be provided free of charge to the federal government's business entry point, which is also using LiveCycle.
"Basically what that means is that in theory any council in Australia can go to the business entrypoint and say can we use this form," he said.
"Basically all they need to do is change the logo on the front and change where the data gets sent to."