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8/14/2014
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Philadelphia Boosts Digital Connections With Citizens

Philadelphia taps Salesforce and Unisys to ensure its "Philly 311" cloud and mobile program stays on top of all nonemergency requests from potholes to noise complaints.

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The city of Philadelphia is showing its citizens brotherly love with improved digital services and data insights.

"Philly 311," a program used by residents to get information about municipal services and make non-emergency requests -- about potholes, graffiti, noise -- will get a facelift with the help of Unisys and Salesforce.com.

Based on Salesforce.com's Service Cloud CRM platform, the new system is designed to streamline data culled from Philly 311 call center technologies, the website, mobile app, and social media under one platform to simplify how citizens interact with city hall.

[CalCloud aims to streamline services for 400 California government agencies. Read IBM & California Partner On Private Cloud.]

"We think of it as 'one customer, one city'," says Rosetta Lue, the city's chief customer service officer and director of Philly 311. "Philly 311 was created five years ago to stop the transferring of calls and blame games that hurt city government credibility. And we're using technology to take that process to another level."

Having one short number,  311, to call for all city government services has improved phone communications, but as Philadelphia residents moved to using social media, mobile apps, and more feature-rich websites, the city has had to expand the service to meet increased demand.

The Philly 311 mobile app, in particular, has become a handy item for residents, says Lue. The app, developed and managed by popular mobile startup Public Stuff, allows citizens to quickly make requests -- such as to remove graffiti or replace a burned-out street light -- and attach photos with the request. The request is routed to the correct administrator in the appropriate department. City agencies can post updates about fixes and answer questions via the app. Other users can "like" and comment on requests. The Philly 311 app will be integrated with the enhanced Salesforce.com CRM platform so staff can better manage requests and track and analyze data.

For its part in augmenting the Salesforce.com CRM platform, Unisys is building new interfaces to connect current work order systems with Philly 311. It will also provide post-production support, improve the search functionality on the phila.gov site, and train call center agents and city neighborhood liaisons. 

The overarching goal of the new Salesforce.com CRM app and environment, says Lue, is to keep all the data coming in from different sources in sync. "We'll be better able to aggregate data to get the most accurate picture of what the pain points and needs are in specific neighborhoods," says Lue.

In addition to better data analytics, Lue points out that the updated system will include more detailed city maps on the website and the mobile app as well as integrate the work order systems of city departments with Philly 311.

"So a reported pothole will be put into the 311 database, but it will also be included as part of the streets department's work order system. The streets department doesn't currently have access to submitted photos and cannot update citizens about fixes, but they'll be able to do those things."

A pilot project for the enhanced Philly 311 service was completed in June using groups of city employees and citizens. A citywide rollout will be completed by the end of the year.

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Shane O'Neill is Managing Editor for InformationWeek. Prior to joining InformationWeek, he served in various roles at CIO.com, most notably as assistant managing editor and senior writer covering Microsoft. He has also been an editor and writer at eWeek and TechTarget. ... View Full Bio

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MDMConsult14
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MDMConsult14,
User Rank: Moderator
8/18/2014 | 3:42:51 AM
Re: City Apps
There are other cities that are testing and integrating new pilots, portals or platforms to further adopt digital tools and technologies. These are great for the cities and educating the residents should invite more collaboration. It definitely is a sustainable model.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
8/17/2014 | 6:01:13 PM
Re: Yay Philly!
Good point, the source of the funding is an important factor. At the end of the day, it's the consumer that is paying for the funding, but consumers have greater control over private spending rather than, public spending. And then there is the free-rider problem, destruction of public property and red tape, etc., that makes the system comparatively inefficient.
stotheco
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stotheco,
User Rank: Ninja
8/17/2014 | 2:39:28 PM
Re: Yay Philly!
The way I see it, the major difference between private and public is the funding--or rather, the source of it. The benefactors for public endeavors are even more. Wouldn't it be interesting if the latter were treated like a business entity? Things can only get better with better efficiency,
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Strategist
8/16/2014 | 2:36:16 PM
Re: Yay Philly!
Brian, you make an excellent point. The hope is that the system becomes so efficient that it becomes less and less a drain in the budget to sustain. For all my sarcasm in my last post, I truly hope this is the case in Philly. I work in the city every day, and am born and raised there, so I hope for the best.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
8/15/2014 | 1:43:59 PM
City Apps
Boston has taken similar strides, among them an Android app to let citizens request pothole fixes, traffic light repairs, etc. See our related article
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
8/15/2014 | 6:47:28 AM
Re: Yay Philly!
This is a great example of public services embracing technology to allow for information to reach its destination. If things continue on this route then, I don't see why public services would not be able to gain the same level of efficiency that private businesses enjoy. And, with greater efficiency, comes a lower cost of operations, which is nice to make a project sustainable in the long term with limited budgets.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Strategist
8/14/2014 | 11:00:15 PM
Yay Philly!
Wow, some positive press for Philly. I wish it were about the magical wireless network that was supposed to blanket to entire city (which died in lobbyist limbo a few years ago), but I guess it's good that the 311 system works so well ... until its budget runs out.
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