Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions - InformationWeek

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2/20/2015
09:30 AM
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Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions

System integrator Unisys used the Salesforce Community Cloud to allow new options for citizens to contact and interact with the City of Philadelphia.

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Making government more responsive in a city that's notoriously complicated to govern was the challenge. Philly311 was the response. A new version of the system means that Philadelphia's citizens can be more social in their interactions with city hall -- and government can more easily "like" them back.

Philadelphia started its Philly311 system as a call center in 2008. Since it opened, the system has logged more than 7 million calls on concerns ranging from unrepaired potholes to drug paraphernalia littering city parks. As part of Mayor Michael Nutter's $120 million program of capital investment projects to upgrade technology infrastructure, the city moved the platform for Philly311 to the Salesforce cloud, including both the Service Cloud and the Community Cloud.

System integrator Unisys used the Salesforce Community Cloud to allow new options for citizens to contact and interact with the city. In a telephone interview with InformationWeek, Lisa Hammitt, VP of marketing for the Salesforce Community Cloud, said, "Most of the residents in the area didn't have Internet in their home, so they were dependent on their hand-held devices. Friction with the system was reduced by rolling it out in a mobile app."

The Philly311 system provides a mobile-ready portal for citizens who want to report issues or get information from the city government.
(Source: InformationWeek.com image)

The Philly311 system provides a mobile-ready portal for citizens who want to report issues or get information from the city government.

(Source: InformationWeek.com image)

In a written statement, Rosetta Lue, Philadelphia's chief customer service officer, said, "The customer may always be right, but that only goes so far if they can't be heard. Philadelphia's citizens are our customers, and we are driven to use the best tools possible to make sure every citizen is connected and we hear their voices, loud and clear." Part of hearing those voices is understanding what they say in aggregate. According to Hammitt, PhillyStat assembles and presents neighborhood-level metrics within the many communities that make up the city. These metrics should allow the city to be more proactive in addressing quality of life issues in those communities and more responsive in dealing with citizen-reported problems.

[ Want to check out more cool innovative ideas? Read 8 Google Projects To Watch In 2015. ]

Among the novel aspects of the program, one recognizes the importance of unofficial community leaders -- the citizens sitting on the stoops of houses -- in observing their neighborhoods and interacting with city government. Hammitt says that, in a pilot neighborhood for the Social Cloud rollout, the community saw a 70% reduction in car burglaries and a 17% reduction in violent crime that was attributed to these social leaders. Hammitt said, "By weaving the social infrastructure into the business process and making it mobile, Philadelphia has made the reach into the community 24/7. The fact that people can take action in the community to improve the quality of the city is really a step function in functionality."

Philadelphia mayor Michael A. Nutter
(Image: courtesy of Michael Nutter)

Philadelphia mayor Michael A. Nutter

(Image: courtesy of Michael Nutter)

Mayor Nutter announced the rollout of the new Philly311 system at the inaugural Innovation Summit for the city. The mayor said that, in addition to improving the lives of Philadelphia citizens, the city plans to offer a template for other cities that want to adopt a connected model of interacting with their residents. A copy of the blueprint will be available through the Managing Director's Office. People who are interested should contact Amanda Wagner at (267) 402-0885 or [email protected]

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio
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asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
2/27/2015 | 5:40:01 PM
All tech is not bad, apparently
Funny how this particular technology did not result in the laying off en masse of city employees.  I would have thought automation on this level would nix the need for hundreds of low level clerks answering the phones.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
2/24/2015 | 11:06:45 PM
Re: Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions
vnewman, truth be told, Philly and most any old major city in America needs more than customer service apps. In Philly's case, they need to replace a manufacturing industry that really hasn't existed in a strong way since the 60s. They haven't replaced it in going on six decades, but there's always hope that tech and innovation will finally save the day!
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
2/24/2015 | 12:30:48 PM
Re: Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions
@Broadway - I want to believe that is true but I just feel like Philly got stuck in "up and coming" and somehow never makes it "out and going." :) But I don't see how 311 service will hurt, it can only help in my eyes - unless it is not acted upon properly, which, well, we'll see...
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
2/23/2015 | 11:45:39 PM
Re: Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions
Vnewman, that's pretty funny. The art museum area is one of my favorite parts of the city! The city is making strides since 2003 despite the recession. It's a up and coming startup ecosystem and culturally a great place. I vote for hope and the idea that analytics and technology will ultimately bring the city closer to the people.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
2/23/2015 | 1:11:46 PM
Re: Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions
@Broadway - Couldn't agree with you more - I lived and worked in Center City for 10 years until 2003 and have since moved across the country. I was happy to get out when I did. City life deteriorated significantly since I had first moved there from the Pocono Mountains in the 90s. I have relatives still living in the art museum area (remember when it was supposed to be the next "up and coming" neighborhood?) and I hate going to visit there. It's hard to pinpoint just what went wrong but there isn't going to be an easy fix for it. Having this service available is at least one thing with potential to empower the citizens and give them a voice. Sure, there's the potential for abuse but that's true of anything.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/23/2015 | 10:47:35 AM
Re: Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions
@Angelfuego, New York is often mentioned when people are talking about the 311 systems, but I know that Boston is among the cities that has something similar. I believe that there are a number of systems now up and running, but many more municipalities are still in "wait and see" mode regarding results.

That's why the Philly311 project is so potentially important: They're doing some serious analytics around the system, and they're releasing a "blueprint" with lessons for others to follow. As other commenters have mentioned, Philadelphia has historically been a hard place for government to work well. If they can make real progress, it promises good things for other cities.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
2/23/2015 | 8:02:40 AM
Re: Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions
Angel, 

Something happened with the "system" and my comment didn't get through. :( It was too long for writing it all again, but ... 

According to the article, she called less an average of 2 times a month during 15 months. She reported crime and drug dealer activity in her building and neighborhood.

As a reward, she was handcuffed for her neighbors to see, fingerprinted, got a criminal record, was put into jail, threatened to be sent to the phychiatric unit of a hospital if she called again.

Since then, she never called back. Meanwhile, drug dealers and criminals were doing their business in peace without being bothered by police, or anyone. Scary. So that's what 311 is good for? 

-Susan
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
2/22/2015 | 9:45:50 PM
Re: Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions
@Curt, I appreciate your optimism. Philly is a skeptical place --- people would even say cynical (hence the rep for being the toughest, some would say worst, sports fans). It's a place where political patronage was how people got their voices heard, and really still is how it works in parts of the city. So giving him, without strings attached, still may seem too good to be true.
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/22/2015 | 4:51:03 PM
Re: Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions
@Broadway0474, you're right: It's not a silver bullet. But I have to believe that more input from the citizens (and, for the citizens, the feeling that they're being heard by government) are solid steps in the right direction. Now, if we can just see the same sort of innovation in the other areas you mention, we'll be heading in a very positive direction.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
2/22/2015 | 4:24:54 PM
Re: Philly311 Helpline Focuses On Social Interactions
Curt, as a former citizen of Philly who moved out into the burbs but still works in the city, I can tell you that the city needs all the help it can get to become a better place. Better interactivity with its citizens is one positive sign, but there's still plenty of work that needs to be done in terms of policing and safety, infrastructure, and especially schools. Philly311 while great is no silver bullet. Same for every city for sure, right?
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