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GCN : October 2012
GCN OCTOBER 2012 • GCN.COM 21 The Open311 initiative is an e ort begun by a handful of cities several years ago to develop standard pro- tocols for bringing location-based information to existing municipal non-emergency service systems. The result is an open model that has enabled development of third- party applications as an alternative to calling a city s traditional 311 call center. Call centers with human opera- tors can be expensive to sta and often do not operate round the clock. "E-mail is expensive to respond to, and it s not integrated" into exist- ing systems, said David Moody, vice president of product marketing for KANA Software, and formerly CTO of Lagan Technologies before its acquisition by KANA. Citizens expect to be able to use personal devices to access govern- ment services such as 311, and the devices, which can provide photos and accurate geographical coordi- nates, o er a potential to streamline service delivery for the city if the information can be integrated into existing systems. "Primarily, Open311 refers to a standardized protocol for location- based collaborative issue-tracking," according to open311.org. "By o ering free Web API access to an existing 311 service, Open311 is an evolution of the phone-based 311 systems that many cities in North America o er." Open311.org was established by the non-profit OpenPlans organiza- tion and is managed by Civic Com- mons, an organization supporting open technology for government. By making the Open311 API available to developers, interoperable tools can be developed by third parties and easily integrated into existing systems. As described by open311.org, the applications can allow anyone using a mobile device or a computer to enter information about a problem at a given location. By incorporat- ing functionality of mobile devices, this information can include GPS coordinates and photos. Depend- ing on the location and app being used, the report can be routed to the proper city and department to address the problem. Unlike a traditional 311 report usu- ally made by phone, the information is available for anyone to see online and it allows anyone to contribute more information. This collaboration through an open model makes it easier to gather and organize more information about problems and provides transparency and account- ability in municipalities. With an open source API as the foundation for the system, options are opened up both for cities and for citizens. "When a developer creates a new application to work with San Francisco s 311 system, it should also work for Washington, D.C., s system, but people shouldn t be forced to use any one application," the organization says. -- William Jackson into the existing 311 service back end, by- passing the people at the front end. By us- ing a cloud-based Open311 service from the vendor that already is providing the city's 311 technology, Minneapolis was able to do that without large capital ex- penditures for hardware or software. ROI: BUDGET NEUTRAL Overall, 311 is not an expensive service for Minneapolis, and might even be a money- saver. Startup costs for the initial system in 2004 were $6.3 million, which came from a combination of city and federal funds. Operation is intended to be "bud- get neutral," with each city department funding its share of the costs through its existing budget. Because the system can help identify problems and address them early, some cities have reported that they have seen cost savings through 311. "Minneapolis is a very sophisticated customer," said David Moody, KANA's vice president of product marketing. The city opted to work with SeeClickFix to develop a city-specific Open311 appli- cation, although non-specific apps also are available that will direct reports to the appropriate city office based on location of the problem being reported. The ad- vantage of Open311 is that cities, citizens and vendors are not tied to proprietary tools to access these services. "It's not about one mobile app for one city," Moody said. "It supports multiple apps for multiple platforms." Although 311 calls do not have the urgency of 911 calls, they present their own challenges. "For anybody offering 311, they are taking responsibility for handling calls for every department in the city," he said. There can be dozens of departments handling complaints about potholes, graffiti, parking violations and water leaks, and each complaint has to be assessed and routed to the right people in the right department. This requires knowledge management that has been difficult to automate using regular customer relationship manage- ment tools, Moody said. "The devil is in the details." WITH 311, LOCATION RULES Not only are there more types of prob- lems to resolve than in the typical CRM system, there are more departments han- dling them than in most corporate envi- ronments. And with 311 services, "it's all about location," Moody said. People, the main focus for CRM applications, are sec- ondary in 311 service. One of the players in the 311 niche market was Lagan Technologies, which was acquired by KANA in 2010. Lagan had been providing 311 services facilities for Minneapolis since 2006. The Lagan application resides on hardware in two data centers---a primary and a backup--- run by Unisys Corp. Human beings have to answer the phones, ask questions and evaluate information submitted through the Web site to route requests. For 18 months, KANA has been offering Open311 as an option for its customers, providing a cloud service with an appli- cation programming interface that third- party apps can use to access capabilities. The app accepts photos taken by a mo- The Open311 project provides a standard protocol for linking location-based information to existing municipal 311 services