It wasn’t all that long ago that 311 programs -- programs that made accessing some government services as easy as calling for emergency assistance -- used to be something only the largest cities could offer. But a shift to cloud computing has made it easier and less costly for cities to take part. And they’re using that opportunity to provide their residents with a level of service that’s more like what you’d expect from an online retailer.
The 311 programs began as a way to get non-emergency calls, like pothole reports, off more critical emergency lines. But even those non-emergency lines proved expensive. Pew Charitable Trusts found many U.S. cities were paying as much as $4 or $5 every time the 311 phone line rang.
For cities that could afford to run their own technical back-end, a switch to web services and smartphone apps helped cut those costs. Now cloud services are removing that obstacle for the rest. Council Lead Partner Microsoft profiled several such cities on its CityNext blog.
Cloud helps Westfield serve despite rapid growth
Westfield, Indiana, is relatively small, with just over 30,000 residents, but it’s one of the state’s fastest-growing cities. Ahead of this year’s summer building season, the city issued building permits for 79 new single-family homes. Only Indianapolis, which is nearly 30 times larger, issued more, and even then not many more.
To provide easy access to city services, Westfield has developed a full 311 platform that includes a special phone line, robust website and smartphone apps. In addition to being able to report issues like potholes, graffiti and burned-out street lights, citizens can also use the platform to apply for some permits and pay trash and stormwater bills online.
Grand Rapids 311 a winner
Grand Rapids, Michigan, won a customer service award from CS Week for its Grand Rapids 311 service. The city’s service includes not only a special phone line but also a web portal and smartphone apps. The online portal includes direct links for reporting potholes, graffiti and malfunctioning street lights, as well as the ability for citizens to ask other questions. Through the smartphone apps, citizens can track progress toward resolving their issues.
In Hillsborough County, Florida, the cloud allowed the local government to expand the services it offers online. The county's site allows people to request help for everything from building permits and code violations to missed trash pick-ups and mosquito problems. Citizens request help through the county's website; their requests are routed to county staff who follow-up personally to answer questions and resolve issues.