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Remote Virtual Inspections (RVI) Tips & Implementation Guide for Local Governments

remote virtual inspections tips and implementation for local government

What Are Remote Virtual Inspections?

A Remote Virtual Inspection, also known as an RVI, is a means of performing inspections remotely, but which offers the same thoroughness and attention to detail as traditional, in-person inspections.

RVIs became more widely used as a result of the social distancing mandates during COVID-19, which forced local governments and other entities to take additional safety precautions.

While not all inspections are well-suitable to be conducted remotely, there are many types of inspections, such as violations, building, and licensing, which are. In fact, some remote inspections work so well that even as COVID restrictions are slowly lifted, many local governments will continue to use RVIs as a best practice going forward.

Here is a general overview of a typical RVI:

To effectively utilize Remote Virtual Inspections, you will need to have the right technology for your team’s size and workflow complexity. In this post, we will walk through two levels of RVI technology maturity and demonstrate how you can offer simple RVIs on your own—with no programming!

We accomplished this using a number of different Microsoft platforms, including Teams, Bookings, Dynamics 365, and TechAir’s Local Government Accelerator.

Remote Virtual Inspections Maturity Levels and Technology Requirements

RVI Maturity: Basic

Technology Stack:

Key Features

RVI Maturity: Basic – Add-on

Technology Stack:

Key Features

RVI Maturity: Advanced

Technology Stack:

Key Features

RVI Maturity: Advanced – Add-on

Technology Stack:

Key Features

Remote Virtual Inspections: Technology Options Summary

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a chat-based collaboration platform complete with document sharing, meeting hosting, and other useful features for business communications. Having an excellent team space is key to communication and creative decision making, and Microsoft Teams delivers.

MS Teams can be specifically useful for local government RVIs. For example, as a result of the platform’s pervasiveness and convenience, citizens can easily download the Teams application and connect to the Microsoft Bookings invite link to join a meeting with an inspector.

Microsoft Bookings

Microsoft Bookings makes scheduling and managing appointments a breeze. Bookings include a web-based calendar that seamlessly integrates with Outlook, providing your staff and customers flexibility in scheduling. Automated notification emails help reduce no-shows and enhance customer satisfaction, and organizations can save time by reducing repetitive scheduling tasks.

MS Bookings meetings are facilitated via Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business. Each appointment booked creates a unique meeting link that is sent to attendees so they can join via a web browser, phone dial-in, or the Skype or Teams app. Bookings is also available as an app within Teams, allowing users to create calendars, assign staff, schedule new meetings, and manage existing appointments—all without ever leaving Teams.

Microsoft Bookings has three primary components:

  1. A booking page, where customers and clients can schedule appointments with specific staff members. This scheduling page can be shared via direct link, your Facebook page, and even through website link embedding.
  2. A web app where calendar owners and admins can define appointment types and details, manage staff schedules and availability, set business hours, and customize how appointments are scheduled. These pages allow for versatility to fit the diverse needs of your organization.
  3. A business-facing mobile app where calendar owners and admins can see all of their appointments, access customer lists and contact information, and make manual bookings on-the-go.

Remote Assist

Empower users to collaborate more efficiently by working together from different locations with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist on HoloLens, HoloLens 2, Android, or iOS devices. For RVI, we take advantage of the Android and iOS features to help confirm location of RVI as well as recording and annotating RVI sessions.

Core Dynamics 365 Local Government Functionality

Dynamics 365 is an enterprise platform that can support any local government department, such as police, fire, public works, building and zoning, parks and recreation, etcetera.

Key functionalities include:

The Microsoft Cloud Advantage for Remote Virtual Inspections

Intelligent use of data empowers staff and provides better citizen engagement. For local government agencies, Microsoft’s cloud provides the tools to digitally transform the status quo.

Where numerous disparate spreadsheets, old access databases, and legacy systems cause inefficiencies, Microsoft Dynamics 365 integrates seamlessly with the Microsoft 365 platform (including Outlook, mobile, SharePoint, OneDrive, and Teams) to centralize all of your data in one place.

For organizations already using the Microsoft 365 platform, Microsoft Dynamics 365 is the next level up in improving internal processes and adding value to your existing investment.

TechAir Group Local Government Accelerator

TechAir Group has taken the Dynamics 365 Customer Service app, Field Service, and utilized the development framework to build our own Local Government Accelerator. The accelerator has prebuilt modules to:

Simplify the permitting process

Streamline licensing

Enhance code enforcement

Revamp citizen request management

Digitize and track work orders

Integrate with ArcGIS

Planning Your Remote Virtual Inspections

From a workflow perspective, there are a few key questions you will want to ask:

Inspection teams

Next, consider inspection teams that will be using the software.

City/County Service Sample Bookings (# of Inspectors)
Building/Property Inspection and Code Enforcement
  • Electrical North Territory (1)
  • Electrical South Territory (1)
  • Plumbing East Territory (1)
  • Plumbing West Territory (2)
  • Code Enforcement (4)

 

Configuring An RVI With Basic Functionality

Microsoft Bookings Configuration for Remote Virtual Inspections

First, let us look at the Office 365 Bookings application. To get there, go to the Office 365 home screen, click on the lower left all apps icon, then the “Bookings” icon.

With the Bookings home screen launched, select the option for multiple Bookings screens, located on the left side of the window next to the name of your Bookings configuration.

In TechAir Group’s example you’ll see three pre-configured Bookings and we will be adding a fourth Bookings screen in our Microsoft 365 tenant.

Click Add a booking calendar to start the setup process.

From here, we have the option of putting in a Business name and Business type. Only the Business name text field is required, which will serve as our scheduling group name.

Type in “Code Enforcement” as our example.

Manage Business Information in Microsoft Bookings

Next up is the Business Information settings. We can upload a custom logo. The business hours are flexible and allow you to block for lunch, setup split shifts, and accommodate your different needs.

Manage Services in Microsoft Bookings

One of the goals of using Bookings for Code Enforcement is to reduce the number of times inspectors have to leave the office to, for example, follow up on environmental violations. With Bookings, you can schedule a Remote Virtual Inspection to ensure that an environmental violation (i.e., Grass, litter, vegetation, etc.) that was previously observed on a citizen’s property, has been taken care of and resolved.

To set up a service like this, click on Services on the left, then hover over the Initial consult line to access the edit pencil icon.

The Services details page is for individual services, which can be published or linked. (There is also an overall bookings page with access to all services.)

Fill in the “Service name” and “Description,” enable “Add online meeting,” and setup your “Default location” and “Default duration” for the service you are setting up. Then, select the staff that will fulfill this service. (Note: You can set up one calendar per staff member if you do not want the citizen to be able to select between staff.)

Next, we will continue scrolling down the page for additional settings.

Here, we can modify the buffer time (time in between inspections). Each team and situation have their own requirements, but for a typical 30-minute virtual inspection, we would recommend buffering 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after. We do not recommend booking RVI’s back-to-back, as you will need time between each to update your systems with the appropriate information.
We also recommend allowing citizens to manage their own appointments online After you’ve configured this area, we’re going to add some custom fields by clicking on Modify under Custom Fields.

Here, we can modify the buffer time (time in between inspections). Each team and situation have their own requirements, but for a typical 30-minute virtual inspection, we would recommend buffering 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after. We do not recommend booking RVI’s back-to-back, as you will need time between each to update your systems with the appropriate information.

We also recommend allowing citizens to manage their own appointments online After you’ve configured this area, we’re going to add some custom fields by clicking on Modify under Custom Fields.

From the Custom Fields section, we can add our own text and dropdown questions. Based on what your exact needs are you can add questions and make them required fields. Change the order of the fields by clearing your selected fields and then reselecting them in the desired order.

Here are some examples of custom fields we’ve created:

Now, let’s add two custom fields, which are questions that we want the citizen to answer. Add a dropdown and a custom text field. We’ve also made phone number and address fields required in order to double check the information against the violation. After you add the questions, click on them and mark them as required. After we have setup the questions for this service, click Okay to continue.

Returning from the Custom Fields screen is a save prompt. You can finish any edits to the configuration and save at the end; there is no need to click back into the service to continue setup.

Under “Reminders and Confirmations,” You can edit email reminders and confirmations by clicking on the pencil icon.

Below you can see the options for email reminders. You can also select to enable text message notifications for your citizens. To make a service only available to be booked via a call or by your employees, uncheck this box. When you’re finished, continue to the next section.

Here are the rest of the options for the service setup. The Bookings page has a “Scheduling Policy” setup that applies to all services. If all your services have the same scheduling options, you can leave this section alone. If not, you can uncheck and edit the settings for your workflow. That concludes the service setup. Save your record and click on staff next.

From the Manage staff screen you can manage everyone assigned to every service for this booking. Remember you can have as many Bookings pages as you need to support your configuration. Next, we will edit the CRM Admin user and staff.

Under Staff details we can see the status of the user on the Bookings and you can edit individual user availability. As you can see, the user in this example is ready to be booked. You can also change the contact’s color and other contact details. This user will have the default booking page availability. When finished, click “Save” and then click on “Customers” on the left.

From the Customer screen we can add, edit, delete, and import customers.

On the Add Contact screen we can put in the information to create a new customer. Click “Save” and then we will click on the “Import customers” link.

When you import your customer Microsoft’s AI will autodetect your columns and match things up (if needed). Below is a sample of a random list being imported. After importing we will head over to the Booking Page on the left.

We can publish our Booking page so it is live and available. You can also “Embed” the Bookings form into either HTML code or an iframe, share the link to your page on social media, and edit your color theme and other central settings. Here is where you set the central Scheduling policy for users and services. When you have set up your Booking page we will move onto the Calendar on the left.

In the Availability section, we see the small text + Set different availability for a date range. This is where you’ll input annual holidays and any other days that can’t be booked. This should be considered as part of the design and ensure that this solution is scalable for your implementation.

Here we see the options for the Calendar. We can create a new Remote Virtual Inspection booking, an onsite booking, or any other service that you’ve setup. For our purposes, pick “Remote Virtual booking.”

Next, you’ll be presented with the Customer information window You can either create a new customer by filling in the pertinent information or look up a customer already in the system. For the latter, simply start typing a name. You can choose your service details and pick which staff member will get the booking.

The Calendar screen now shows the new booking. By clicking on the booking, you’ll see the summary details as well as the ability to edit or cancel the booking.

Next, go to the booking page and launch the booking link. This is what the citizen would see.

The following screenshots show the different user interface options citizens can interact with. You’ll see two service options implemented. After those images, you’ll see the two individual service Bookings pages. They are the same as the central page, except the Citizen can’t pick between services—they can only pick the one service on the page. From there, we will see a sample of the default email notification.

In this email template, we can click on the Change your appointment to see the same screen as you did after your initial ‘thank you’. There is also a mobile app for employees, but not for Citizens; the latter would use the website exclusively, which is optimized for mobile.

This brings us to the end of the Bookings configuration.

Microsoft Teams Configuration

Rather than walking through an initial Teams setup, we’ll compare your existing Teams environment with the needs of the citizen in this section.

If you have access to Booking, chances are you have MS Teams configured for video and chat. The setup needs to support basic functionality between the employee and the citizen.

It’s that easy to utilize Microsoft Team’s to support RVI’s.

Configuring Dynamics 365 Remote Assistant Functionality

Dynamics 365 Remote Assistant setup and configuration

One option to increase your RVI maturity is to add Dynamics 365 Remote Assist to your process, rather than having the user connect with Teams. Using Teams with your Citizen is often imperfect because the citizen is responsible to take the screen shots on their own and upload the pictures to your staff. Using MS Bookings to schedule Remote Assist sessions is a much better experience.

From here, we can generate a link now or in the future.

There are three types of free trials for Dynamics 365 Remote Assist:

Conclusion

Microsoft has some great low-code, out-of-box solutions to help smaller teams manage Remote Virtual Inspections (RVI). Hopefully, we have highlighted some of the capabilities and shortcomings of Bookings and offered solutions to scale to bigger needs. For any questions about Dynamics 365 and the TechAir Local Government Accelerator or to request a free demo, contact our support team here.

Stay tuned for part two where we walk through Dynamics 365 Field Service setup to support RVI’s.

Remote Virtual Inspections are here to stay, and Microsoft offers saleable solutions for teams of all sizes.

 

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