INDUSTRY INSIGHT

City streamlines public works requests as part of 311 upgrade

For Elgin, Ill., a city of 110,000 located 35 miles northwest of Chicago, setting up a 311 contact center presented a world of opportunity. Contact centers provide centralized access to non-emergency services and help ensure that requests for city services, repairs and information are addressed on a reliable, timely basis.

But for Elgin, the benefits didn’t stop with improved 311. Rather, the contact center project acted as a catalyst for updating operating technologies across the entire municipality. One of those upgrade projects was to create a seamless workflow and order request system for 811, commonly known as “call before you dig” requests.

For the 311 contact center, Elgin evaluated various platforms and determined that Salesforce.com was its best partner for the effort.  Building the 311 operations on the Salesforce cloud set the stage for other functions and departments to operate on Force.com, the Salesforce platform.

As part of the move to Salesforce, the city also implemented AssetOptics, an enterprise asset management platform that ties together multiple public works departments. AssetOptics’ work management function enables seamless, automated workflow integration between departments. City offices and 311 agents can create a work request directly in Salesforce or via email, and web services will automatically convert it to a work order that will go out to the relevant department technicians on their iPads or iPhones. The solution formed the basis for an end-to-end 811 solution that has dramatically improved Elgin’s service levels and efficiency.

Know what’s below

On a national basis, citizens, contractors and anyone who is digging on any piece of property, for any reason, are supposed to call 811 to request a “utilities locate” service. The system enables utilities, municipalities and other entities a chance to identify and flag, if appropriate, power, sewer, telecommunications or other infrastructure lines that could be damaged by the dig.

Whenever someone calls the 811 call center for Illinois, operators map the location, collect the requestor’s name, phone number, email and project details, and generate service requests that automatically go out via email to the  proper utilities and government authorities. The city of Elgin is responsible for doing several different underground locates – water, sewer, electrical lines that feed the street lamps and some fiber optic network cabling.

With Elgin’s new technology platform in place, the system is able to receive and consume all the data in the request via an XML document. AssetOptics then maps the data to a work request, looks at priorities and lead times for the dig, and takes actions based upon whether the request is an emergency or standard priority. The system then notifies team leaders, puts each request into a queue and assigns it to a specific city employee.

The request is transferred automatically to the mobile devices of the individuals assigned to perform locator service for a particular day. Analytics built into the system let the workers view a graph of how many requests are due each day in a particular quadrant of the city. That lets them perform the location tasks as efficiently as possible and mark each job complete (flagged or no action) in real time. With every completion, the system sends an email back to the contact for the locator service request letting him or her know it is complete.

AssetOptics also has built-in time-based workflow and alerting processes. If a city employee hasn’t processed a work order within a few hours of the scheduled dig start, email notifications are automatically issued to designated team supervisors so they can escalate the effort to an emergency status.

Prior to launching the new solution, the 811 center would send an email (and before that, a fax) to a common email address at the city, where team leaders would manually prioritize them. The timeframe for initial processing of requests could be a half-day or longer, depending on when it arrived.

Geographic organization was also difficult to obtain because there was no centralized view with embedded GIS coordinates. Now, requests go straight to the mobile devices of individuals performing the location services so they can act upon them immediately, if needed, using geographic aids built into the system.

The utility locate process is also embedded within the 311 system, so if home or business owners call to inquire about flags in their yards from a nearby dig, a 311 citizen advocate will be able to explain why they are there. Before, residents were only told that  “something is going on.” Now city staff can also confirm if a requested locator service has been completed.

A benefit of this solution – one the city will soon be implementing – is to tie requests to the permitting system. Many of these projects require a permit, and having this information will make it easier for the code enforcement department to gain visibility into where work is taking place and to determine if it is properly permitted.

For the 811 solution specifically, Elgin has reduced the time to process locator requests to a fraction of what it was prior to completing the system. It has also automated location scheduling, improved citizen service and made it virtually impossible for one of these requests to be missed.

The 811 solution is just one example of the city’s efforts to transform local government. The organization’s use of Salesforce paves the way for information exchange, collaboration and solution automation at a very high level.

About the Author

Dan Ault is a senior management analyst and Salesforce administrator with the city of Elgin, Ill.

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