Richmond, Va., portal takes requests 24 hours a day

Citizens of Richmond, Va., can request tree trimming, pothole filling and other services around the clock, at www.richmondgov.com.

The first iteration of the Citizens' Request System dates back to 1994, when it was a CICS system for telephone transactions, said Jerry Myers, project leader of Richmond's community services team. The Cobol request system ran on an IBM mainframe and has gone through several updates.

A new Web version launched last year has a user account system called MyRichmondgov.com, modeled partly on My.Yahoo.com from Yahoo Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif. Visitors can personalize their accounts, said Jamie Fox, project leader for the city's Web team.

The site uses the IBM DB2 database management system and stores user account information in a Microsoft SQL Server database. Secure Sockets Layer encryption protects transactions with user names and passwords.

When a citizen submits a request, the system assigns it a tracking number for the appropriate department. Each department supplies an estimated completion date.

'It's like when you buy something on the Internet,' said Kirk Baumbach, acting systems and programming manager for the IT Department. 'You get an auto-confirmation e-mail back with a tracking number.'

The site also uses error-checking filters built in-house, Fox said. One application verifies user addresses against an address database for the area, Myers said. If someone types in an invalid address, the system prompts, 'Do you mean this?'

A geographic information system maps requests digitally. The GIS feature came in handy during and after Hurricane Isabel last September, Fox said. The department tracked damage by plotting green dots on a GIS map, and 'practically the whole city turned green,' he said.

The portal averages about 1,200 requests a month, Myers said. From Sept. 18, the day Isabel hit, through Oct. 20, the site received more than 3,170 requests.

The portal has a filter for profanity in four languages as well as security features to deflect denial-of-service attacks. Both applications were developed in-house by systems developer Nick de Lioncourt in Microsoft Visual Basic Script and Structured Query Language.

Fox said he reported a pothole on his street at the portal in the fall. Two days after he sent in his request, the hole was fixed. But it wasn't preferential treatment for city employees, Fox said, because 'it didn't know where I worked.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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