May 30 2024

San Antonio Upgrades 311 for Improved Citizen Service

A new city call system tracks resident requests and reports on their status.

When Craig Hopkins took the job as CIO in San Antonio, Texas, seven years ago, he saw that improvements were needed in 311.

When he arrived, residents looking to report issues — from stray animals to potholes and missed trash pickups — dialed into a call center, where humans took down information and initiated responses. But manual processes can be prone to error, and the system lacked a feedback mechanism.

“When somebody puts in a request, there’s an expectation that something’s going to be done about that, and they want to be able to see when it’s complete,” Hopkins says. 

Through an initiative to simplify, modernize and automate engagements, the city has transformed service delivery in its 311 program.

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311 Tracks History and Routes Requests

As a first step, the city created a web-based interface, “which was a natural progression,” Hopkins says. With the upgrade, “you could go on the website and put in information about a request, and we could redirect you to digital information, or you could make a request for something to be fixed.”

The system created a request history and allowed users to follow up on status. But the IT team didn’t stop there. The next step was to create a smartphone interface. “We worked with our current vendor, a local company, to create a version of the webpage in a mobile environment,” he says.

The mobile app is supported by Verint Systems, which manages the core infrastructure of the 311 call center. Verint integrated that mobile capability into its core system and continues to push out software upgrades in support of the city’s ongoing efforts to improve 311.

Each time a constituent records a request, “Verint pushes the work order out to a department that actually does the work, and now it may connect to other work order systems as well,” Hopkins says. “For example, our animal control operation has a separate system that they use, and Verint integrates with that, so they can pass the work order to them.”

READ MORE: Santa Monica’s 311 application improves citizen services.

311 Workflow Fulfills Three Requirements for Citizen Service Calls

To bring the new system to life, the IT team conducted a usability study with multiple departments and worked to ensure that their workflows aligned with the overall 311 objectives.

“We want to be able to take a customer request, drop it into a work order system, send it to a department and then say, ‘I need to then report back to the requester the status of this work order along the way, and when it is completed and closed, and also get some follow-up feedback from the customer,’” Hopkins says.

“Those three requirements — passing it, getting status and getting closed, and then getting the feedback — were a big business change for us in the city,” he says. To automate those stages, “we had to change our business processes at the work order level.”

It took some fine-tuning to get it right. If a user reports a little pothole, it gets fixed and the user is notified. But if it’s a big pothole, requiring a bigger budget and longer timelines, the user might be told it is “completed” when in fact the request has simply been passed up the line for further action.

The IT team needed to work with department leaders, Hopkins says, to ensure that the updates aligned with the facts on the ground.

WATCH: Buffalo's director of citizen services discusses reimagining its 311 call center.

An Improved 311 System Fosters Trust in Government

Verint was able to support these new workflows and communications needs, and Hopkins advises others looking to raise the bar on 311 to make full use of the technology capabilities already in hand.

“If you can do business process re-engineering with the departments and align that to the way the tool comes out of the box, then you get synergy,” he says. While some customization will likely be needed, using of the software’s built-in capabilities as much as possible “means you are maximizing your technology investment.”

This approach has helped San Antonio deliver a much-improved level of 311 service.

“If you put in a request, and two days later you get a message that we fulfilled your request, and you drive by the pothole and it’s filled, then everybody trusts government,” he says. “Now you can just walk around, as a resident, and see how easy is to get things done.”

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