Graham Quinn, Executive Director of Philly311, eliminated antiquated servers, upgraded telephony, and implemented a radically different 311 system by moving to the cloud.

Cities Move 311 Systems to the Cloud and Improve Citizen Services

Updating antiquated systems results in more efficient internal processes as well as faster response times for residents.

Unlike its older sibling 911, 311 service is still a relatively new phenomenon. Baltimore was the first city to introduce 311 for nonemergency services in 1996.

Over the two decades since, more and more American cities have embraced the idea as a means for residents to contact local authorities with concerns that don’t constitute emergencies. Through 311, residents report a wide range of issues, from potholes to illegal dumping, and request services, such as traffic signal repair or the removal of dead wildlife.

As more people use 311, however, many cities struggle to handle the volume of requests and to efficiently coordinate the government agencies tasked with responding to those requests. Many cities seek a new approach to managing their 311 programs — and in many cases, they are turning to new cloud-based 311 systems to get the job done.

“The days of building out your own in-house application are probably gone,” says Cory Fleming, 311 program director for the International City/County Management Association. “Cities with homegrown systems are moving more toward off-the-shelf systems now.” 

Beyond simplicity of use and automated updates, cloud-based 311 systems allow cities to set and easily evaluate goals. “Say the department of public works guarantees that 85 percent of the time, they will get a pothole filled within 72 hours,” Fleming says. Because cloud-based 311 systems capture and process so much data, cities can offer a new degree of transparency on how well goals such as prompt road repairs are being met.

Philadelphia Upgrades 311 Significantly with Move to the Cloud 

In 2015, Philadelphia began using a customized ticketing system to handle the city’s 311 requests. 

“You would put in a number, and you could track that number, and there’s not much more that you could do with that,” says Graham Quinn, executive director of Philly311. The system had other significant limitations. Quinn says city personnel struggled to modify the configuration or make changes to the system; data collection and reporting were also difficult.

By moving to the cloud in 2015, Quinn eliminated antiquated servers, upgraded telephony, and implemented a radically different 311 system that is more scalable, resilient, transparent and responsive to the needs of constituents.

“Our residents love it — it’s much easier to use than a ticketing system. Conceptually, it makes much more sense. They’re entering cases; they can see cases that are nearby,” Quinn says.

Customer relationship management provider Salesforce won the work and partnered with Philadelphia to establish 311 in the cloud. The Salesforce solution is deployed through the company’s CRM cloud offering.

Graham Quinn, Executive Director, Philly311
Our residents love it — it’s much easier to use than a ticketing system.”

Graham Quinn Executive Director, Philly311

“Because we were going from such an antiquated system to a state-of-the-art CRM, employees had to learn a completely different system,” Quinn says. “That said, the growing pains were actually pretty small because of the lack of automation in the old system, where everything was completely manual.” Operators no longer look up addresses and input them manually, for example, as those addresses are built into the CRM tool.

“Calls now take about half as long,” Quinn says. With 800,000 interactions annually, Philly311 employees saw huge benefits from the new system almost immediately.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how public safety agencies can protect communications systems. 

Denver Gains Efficiencies with 311 Cloud Shift 

Denver implemented cloud-based 311 around the same time as Philadelphia. 

“We had an old CRM system that we were hosting locally,” says Sheila Knight-Fields, the director of contact centers and customer experience for the City and County of Denver’s Technology Services Department

“It wasn’t supported anymore, and so it was difficult to maintain. We were trying to keep it up and running ourselves,” Knight-Fields says. Twice a day, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., phone agents were stymied while the system processed data. Analytics were poor, and the IT team was constantly on call to keep things running.

3,578

Estimated number of hours annually saved by the cloud-driven modernization of Denver’s 311 service.

Source: GovTech.com, “Denver Announces 311 System Upgrade with Social Listening Capabilities,” April 4, 2017

By moving to the cloud with Salesforce’s Einstein Service Cloud, Knight-Fields and her team realized significant gains. The agency cut training time for new 311 agents in half, shaved 21 seconds off the average call time and increased first-call resolution from 46 percent to 60 percent.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover why Verizon has launched a 5G lab for first responders. 

San Jose Beefs Up Its 311 Capabilities 

San Jose, Calif., took a significant step forward by implementing Oracle Service Cloud and Oracle Integration Cloud Service as the foundation for its 311 and digital front door services in 2017. Previously, San Jose had only a rudimentary 311 system and very little real-time awareness of service requests from about 1 million residents and more than 80,000 businesses in the heart of Silicon Valley.

“Our mayor and city council had a strong vision. We went from basic call tracking to a digital-services platform — implementing a new and robust 311 system, a new mobile app, a new online portal, direct integration with work systems across the city, and a data layer for analytics in seven months,” says San Jose CIO Rob Lloyd. “In the first three months of use, we saw 17,000 users download the app and engage with us, some in very organized ways.”

After a year and a half, city call center staff now field nearly 500 requests per day.

“We made ourselves much more accessible and increased our workload,” says Desiree Jafferies, the city’s contact center manager. “There are clearly areas to improve. The joke we have is that if you’re in a dark closet and you have a flashlight, do you just leave your flashlight off knowing you have spiders in there? Or do you turn your flashlight on and say, ‘Ah, there’s a spider, let me clean it out’?”

Lloyd adds, “We are working across departments through our new product owner to re-engineer city processes to make services better, more responsive and more efficient. That’s the core digital transformation that truly marks a city that listens.”

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Put Customer Service at the Heart of 311

Make a fresh start, Philadelphia’s Quinn says, offering advice to his colleagues in other cities pondering a move to the cloud for 311.

“At its core, 311 is customer service. You want the customer to have the easiest path through,” he says.

ICMA’s Fleming expects to see more small cities around the United States adopt cloud-based 311 systems in addition to major metropolises. “Even small communities are going to have to start thinking about how to provide customer service in a way that’s good for constituents,” he says.

Photography by Colin Lenton
Jan 11 2019

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