Philadelphia Debuts App to Connect With Citizens

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Philly311 CRM app

A new customer relationship management app, dubbed Philly311, enables the city's government and citizens to communicate in a more collaborative, productive way.

Connecting with citizens and interacting with them effectively is at the center of government. For cities and other local government agencies, it's critical. One municipality that's working hard to introduce greater transparency, accessibility and responsiveness is the City of Philadelphia.

"We are attempting to move beyond the traditional call center and make it a lot easier for people to handle tasks and solve problems," explains Chief Customer Service Officer Rosetta Carrington Lue.

Philadelphia receives about half a million phone calls each year and has upward of four million data elements that city workers and citizens may access at any given moment. "There is a greater need to leverage data and simplify processes," Lue says.

As a result, the city recently rolled out a customer relationship management (CRM) app dubbed Philly 311, which aims to redefine the way non-emergency services and business processes take place. Tapping into Salesforce.com and a Unisys IT framework, the app has introduced an array of features and capabilities that wouldn't have been possible only a few years ago.

At the heart of the Philly 311 system is a capability that enables citizens to report problems in their neighborhood, including potholes, graffiti, overgrown yards and uncollected garbage. They simply fill out a form and submit it through a Website or an app—or just call 311.

"In the past, we had people using binders and scraps of paper," Lue recalls. "In many cases, there were no tracking numbers, and responses had to be handled manually."

Today, using a mobile app, concerned citizens can snap photos and submit incidents and inquiries while they are taking a walk or driving through a neighborhood. The app is currently generating somewhere between 7,500 and 10,000 transactions a month.

When the city receives a request or report, it is routed to the appropriate city department automatically, and the system generates a traceable work order. Overall, more than 100 different types of service requests take place, and officials can communicate back to citizens faster and more efficiently.

In addition, city officials can now generate reports and data that help them better understand events and trends. Lue reports that the system has reduced both call-in and walk-in traffic, allowing city workers to use their time and energy more efficiently than in the past. Overall, the city is now able to process transactions about 20 percent faster.

The next phase, Lue says, is a Community Engagement Portal. It will allow community liaisons to initiate conversations about the community or their neighborhoods and discuss things with fellow citizens.

For example, this might facilitate a neighborhood cleanup or bring together a group that's interested in building a playground or establishing a community garden. The city is currently pilot-testing the system, and officials hope to roll it out later this year.

"The goal is to bring citizens and government together more effectively," Lue points out. "We are introducing new and better ways to communicate and collaborate so that we can solve problems and allow government to operate more efficiently."

This article was originally published on 2015-03-27

Samuel Greengard, a Baseline contributor, writes about business, technology and other topics. His forthcoming book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press), will be released this spring.

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