COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–In an age when everything from groceries and music to movies and paying taxes is just a click away, the Ohio Division of Liquor Control’s permitting system remained entirely paper-based.
Those with permits and seeking them had to put pen to paper and mail in documents, which were then examined by hand.
“To put it in perspective, Atari came out with Pong in 1972. We’re still doing what we did in 1961,” Superintendent Jim Canepa said. “That was all good from the 1960s to 1980s.”
Not any more. In March, the division moved the permit renewal process online, creating a process in which successful applicants can immediately download a PDF of their license that can be printed and hung at their establishment. Before, the process could take weeks.
“This is maybe the only thing Covid did well – it exposed the vulnerability of our paper-based process,” Canepa said.
Temporary and event permits now also can be applied for online, and in the next 18 months to two years, the division expects to bring all liquor permitting processes online, including new applications, online.
Canepa said permit holders had been asking for an online system for years. It took the pandemic, however, to get the funding appropriated to make it happen.
“When you’re still paper-based and your stakeholder is in the digital world, you tend to hear about it,” he said. “You can do everything on your cellphone and we were still asking people to send in a pile of paper.”
The renewal process could get backed up in normal times, but the pandemic made it unmanageable, with the potential to freeze alcohol sales at businesses waiting on approval.
In the before times, permit renewal deadlines were in February, June, or October, depending on where the business was located. Though last-minute rushes were common, that was at least spread across three periods on the calendar.
In a move to save permit holders some money last year, Ohio extended the renewal date to July 1 for some 19,700 of the 25,000 permit holders in the state. The remaining permit holders had already renewed before the date was moved.
So far, 10,500 of those 19,700 permit holders have gone through the online process, leaving more than 9,000 a little more than a month to reapply.
Much of the speed and efficiency gained is because the new software immediately can detect application errors, such as an unchecked box. In the past, a mistake such as that could have cost the applicant weeks of additional time.
“They’re sitting around waiting and no one knows yet that there’s an error in their paperwork,” Canepa said. “We had a process that allowed for incomplete applications and that’s on us.”
With the new renewal system in place, the division is working to raise awareness and ensure no interruptions to business.
“That would be unacceptable,” Canepa said.
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