Night and day, Richmond citizens tap services via Web

The Richmond, Va., Web portal lets citizens make requests for city services around the clock.

Users can send in their requests to the Citizens' Requests System, at www.richmondgov.com, for tree trimming, pothole filling and other city services.

The first iteration of the system dates back to 1994, when it was a CICS transaction system that allowed transactions via telephone, said Jerry Myers, project leader of Richmond's community services team. Since then, the system has gone through several updates, with the most recent version launched this summer.

The current portal features a user account system called MyRichmondgov.com, which was modeled partly on My.Yahoo.com from Yahoo Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif. This is a place where Web visitors can personalize their accounts, said Jamie Fox, project leader for the city's Web team.

The site uses DB2 on a mainframe back end, Fox said. User account information is stored in a Microsoft SQL Server database. The portal uses Secure Sockets Layer encryption for transactions that contain personal identifying information, such as user names and passwords.

When a citizen submits a request, the system assigns it to the appropriate department with a tracking number. Each department assigns the item 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 a little auto-confirmation e-mail back with a tracking number.'

The site also uses some error-checking filters that the IT Department built in-house, Fox said.

One application verifies user addresses against an address database for the area, Myers said. If somebody types in an incorrect address, the system will prompt the user with the right address, asking 'Do you mean this one?'

The site also has a geographic information system that maps requests digitally. The GIS feature came in handy during and after Hurricane Isabel, Fox said.

The department tracked damage after Isabel by plotting green dots on a GIS map, Fox said. 'Practically the whole city turned green,' he said.

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

The portal also has a dirty word filter, which filters out profanity in four languages, Fox said. The site also includes security features to deflect denial-of-service attacks. Both of these applications were developed in-house by Nick de Lioncourt, a systems developer who wrote the applications in Microsoft VBScript and Structured Query Language.

Fox said he reported a pothole on his street through the portal a few weeks ago. Two days after he sent in his request, the hole was fixed. This wasn't preferential treatment for city employees, Fox said. 'It didn't know where I worked,' he said.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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