311 line gets a new lease on life

In Indianapolis, Siebel CRM becomes the central hub for citizen response

Cities have used 311 information lines and dedicated call centers for more than a decade to let citizens phone in complaints about everything from trash pickup to stray animals.

But the aging systems, de- signed to give people a single number for nonemergency city services, no longer are meeting the expectations of city leaders and citizens. In Indianapolis, for example, the call center had no connection to legacy systems running in various city departments, said Patrick Holdsworth, administrator for the call center, called the Mayor's Action Center, or MAC.

The call center is the central point of contact for all departments that take care of city services such as public works, code compliance, and animal care and control. About two years ago, city officials decided the system, installed in 1992, needed an update.

'The city put in some software way back when, at the time, it was state of the art, but it had drawbacks,' Holdsworth said. 'It was good at taking information, but it wasn't good at giving information back so citizens would know what's going on.'

Under Indianapolis' old system, calls would come into MAC, and customer service representatives would fax work orders to the appropriate departments. Orders were easily lost, and there was no way to know if action had been taken on a request.

Indianapolis chose customer relationship software from Siebel Systems Inc. of San Mateo, Calif. In March, Siebel launched a series of public sector software solutions, including its Citizen Response 311. New York City also uses Siebel for its 311 service.

Public works to animal control

With Siebel's customer relationship management system in place, Indianapolis 'got our departments' systems talking to each other now, so when a citizen has a question for us at MAC, we know what's going on over at public works or animal control,' Holdsworth said. 'We can relay that information back to the citizen. With the old system, we weren't able to give them an update.'

To achieve that, Siebel's CRM system had to be integrated with four legacy systems the city uses, said Scott French, vice president of public sector for Tier1 Innovation LLC of Denver, which implemented the system.

It was important that Tier1 set up a bidirectional integration of the city's legacy infrastructure with the Siebel system. French said the 311 CRM system needed to be the central repository for all city issues, but in reality, not everyone calls 311 with their problems. If, for instance, animal care and control got a call directly, the request should be entered in the department's legacy Chameleon system while also feeding the 311 program.

'Entering information in a department system automatically triggers a transaction that goes into Siebel,' French said. 'If a day later, the citizen calls MAC, the customer service rep can see that the citizen already called animal control and can see the real-time status of the citizen's request.'

One of the most useful features of the Siebel system is its ability to analyze data, said Dan Israel, group manager for Siebel's public sector business.

'The analytical tools can provide a very clear picture of the key metrics that are going on in the city,' Israel said. 'It points to what are the most critical things that the folks who work for MAC need to pay attention to, or what the other departments need to be alerted about.'

For example, the system might detect that animal collections in a certain part of the city are on the rise. Armed with that knowledge, city officials can determine why the problem is occurring and how to fix it.

'Siebel analytics lets them see a chart or graphs that are updated in real time, based on information that is being put in the system by call center reps,' he said. Under the old system, MAC officials would have to tabulate statistics by hand or put data in spreadsheets.

Location, location, location

In addition, integrating the Siebel system with the city's geographic information system is proving to be very useful. That's because for most service calls, location is the most important piece of information: Where is the streetlight burned out? Where is the pothole? Where is the stray dog?

The first information that a customer service rep asks for is location, French said. 'Once they get that entered, the system immediately pulls in information from the city's GIS system. It tells the customer service rep, for example, which trash district is associated with that address, who the city council member is and even who the U.S. congressman is.'

Integrating with the GIS address database also ensures that inspectors' time is not wasted, Holdsworth said.

Cutting wasted time

'By using the master address database, we've eliminated a lot of time inspectors spend going to the wrong place or trying to find a place that doesn't exist,' Holdsworth said. 'Validating addresses saves us time and money.'

The ability to better track citizens' concerns has been the biggest payoff, Holdsworth said.

'It makes us more accountable as a city,' Holdsworth said. 'This system lets us see exactly where a process breakdown has occurred [so we can] make sure it doesn't happen again.'

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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