May 01 2008

Camden Streamlines Services

New Jersey city helps pioneer service-request tracking in Microsoft's new Citizen Service Platform.

The city of Camden, N.J., had a problem with duplicate service requests. Residents who wanted something fixed — a pothole, for example — would call again and again, filing complaints with multiple departments, city councilmen and the mayor’s office.

“Residents would call various departments within the city to get a job done quicker,” says Tasha McCoy, administrative analyst for the Office of the Mayor for Camden, a city of 79,000 people “Several service orders were being created, and people were sent out on jobs that were already done.’’

That’s why city officials developed what they call the Camden Success Project, a constituent-service tracking and reporting system built from off-the-shelf Microsoft software. The Camden Success Project has two components: Contact Camden and the Mayor’s Digital Dashboard.

Contact Camden is a database used by all city departments to enter and track service requests. The Mayor’s Digital Dashboard is a reporting system used by the Mayor and the city’s chief operating officer to measure how well city departments are addressing citizen requests and meeting other key performance indicators.

Since it launched in November 2006, the Camden Success Project has handled 15,000 service requests from citizens. Between 200 and 300 new tickets are added to the system every week. The Camden Success Project has “helped bridge the gap between the residents and the city,’’ McCoy says. “It makes the residents a little more comfortable and at ease with their relationship with the city and what the city is doing for them to service their needs.’’

The Camden Success Project has been so successful that Microsoft is offering its functionality as one of the free templates bundled in its new Citizen Service Platform for local and regional government agencies. Microsoft’s Citizen Service Platform became available in late April 2008.

Microsoft’s Citizen Service Platform is a grouping of technologies, templates, guidance and solutions for e-government. Templates allow government agencies to set up citizen alert systems, eliminate the use of paper for council meetings and provide video streaming.

The manufacturer is launching 22 templates, which are free, but agencies must have the underlying Microsoft software. “We will continue to add to these templates as the years go on,” says Matt Miszewski, industry manager for e-government and public services with Microsoft’s Public Sector Worldwide Government team and former CIO of Wisconsin. “We’re going to try to facilitate that so the local and regional government community has the opportunity to upgrade and add functionality and share applications.’’ Camden’s system was built using off-the-shelf software, including Microsoft SQL Server, BizTalk Server, Business Activity Monitor and SharePoint services.

Residents can submit service requests to Contact Camden by phone or online. Employees enter a complaint by the constituent’s name, and it is assigned a ticket number. The ticket is automatically transferred to the appropriate department. All of the city’s 1,300 employees have access to Contact Camden and can check the status of a ticket.

The Mayor’s Digital Dashboard allows the mayor and city COO to measure the productivity of city departments. The system allows city leaders to discover how many service tickets are open, in progress or closed for each department. The dashboard also generates labor, financial and budget reports that were previously created by department heads.

“This is the most accurate and the best way for the mayor and COO to gauge what’s going on,’’ McCoy says. “There’s no way these numbers can be altered. It’s a true representation of what’s being accomplished within the departments, and they have the information right at their fingertips.’’

McCoy says the city’s services have improved since the dashboard was put in place because city managers “are definitely being monitored by the computer and the city chief operating officer.’’

Camden wants to take advantage of other templates available in Microsoft’s Citizen Service Platform. The city hopes to add alerts to Contact Camden so that managers are notified if a ticket hasn’t been resolved in a predetermined amount of time. The city also would like to integrate Contact Camden with Microsoft Outlook so that the system automatically sends out e-mails to residents when their complaints are resolved. Another template of interest provides a real-time system for emergency planning and response.

The Camden Success Project “improves the process of running a government agency or municipality,’’ McCoy says. “As far as the mayoral and COO point of view, it helps them monitor the departments. It’s an excellent management tool.’’