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9/19/2011
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Smartphones Help Fix Potholes In Baltimore

Baltimore launches new smartphone application so residents can report non-emergency issues directly from their devices.

Potholes pose a problem in nearly every community across the U.S. Though often simply annoying, potholes can lead to accidents and property damage. The City of Baltimore is arming its citizens with a way to help combat the pothole problem, via the new Baltimore Spot Reporters application.

Spot Reporters is an application developed by Connected Bits. Members of the community use the software to report to their local government on issues such as potholes, graffiti, power outages, downed trees, trash, property damage, broken equipment, and other non-emergency problems. Citizens file the reports directly from their handsets--complete with images-- that municipalities such as Baltimore hope to use to reduce certain costs.

"This initiative allows us to expand our existing 311 service by creating new and effective communication channels with our citizens," said Lisa Allen, 311 Director for Baltimore City in a statement. Allen goes on to say that in the first 14 days of use, Baltimore has received over 1,000 mobile reports. The application goes beyond simply reporting potholes. It also allows community members to monitor if the problems are resolved in real-time.

Baltimore isn't the first to use Spot Reports; Boston uses it in its Citizens Connect service, too. The company claims to have tens of thousands of resident users across a handful of cities.

"Baltimore selected Spot Reporters for its mobile 311 service because Connected Bits understands government IT and knows how to integrate with existing CRM and other core technology systems," said Rico Singleton, CIO for Baltimore City. "We saw what they had done in Boston and other cities and knew they were the right partner for us."

[Who's winning the mobile patent war's latest round? See Apple-Samsung Patent Battles Rage On. ]

Connected Bits explains that reports are added directly to the local CRM workflow, allowing the customer organization to respond to issues efficiently and independent of the receiving channel. When the issue is resolved, those who submitted the reports are notified in real time.

The main benefit of the software is that it helps to reduce the amount of time spent working the phones with respect to community complaints. By allowing citizens to report issues from their smartphone or the Web, it reduces the amount of human contact needed to monitor and manage these needs. In other words, it is meant to be a budget saver.

Connected Bits maintains that the software also helps improve the responsiveness of government agencies, which goes a long way to keeping residents happy.

Baltimore is already looking beyond its borders for its next mobile project. According to Connected Bits, Baltimore is seeking to partner with other Spot Reporters municipalities--San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C.--to build more applications and services of their own. Connected Bits recently released an API (application programming interface) so that municipalities can branch out and build interoperable 311 systems.

Spot Reporter is available from the Android Market for Android smartphones and the App Store for Apple's iPhone. It is also available from the Web.

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