Anyone who has ever watched a home improvement show, built a new house, installed a pool in their backyard or started any kind of home renovation project knows they have to get approval from the city first. Issuing building permits is a major function of city government, and Pittsburgh has just overhauled its permitting process to make it more efficient, customer- and business-friendly, transparent and, ultimately, paperless. The new $1.3 million Web-based system is a virtual one-stop shop for permits: When a permit request is submitted, the system loops in all the necessary departments, sets up a vetting process and determines whether any other city permits are required. About 100 city employees in the Department of Planning, Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI), Public Works Department and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority were trained on the system, which incorporates geographic information data that alerts officials if a project is planned for a historic district or an area prone to landslides. BBI officials can then be notified in the field if permit approval requires an inspection for quicker turnaround. The city issues about 200,000 permits annually for about 100 kinds of projects. In the coming months, the city will start letting the public apply for most permits online with a credit card. In addition, they'll be able to track their permit as it makes its way through the approval process.