woman texting (KieferPix/Shutterstock.com)

How 311 enables pivot to citizen-centric service

The Washington, D.C., Office of Unified Communications (OUC) has reduced the average time that 311 callers wait from seven minutes to just 31 seconds -- in part by using a cloud-based platform.

OUC handles non-emergency service requests for 17 agencies, including the departments of Transportation, Public Works and Motor Vehicles, and it manages emergency services for 911 callers – a total of 1.8 million calls per year. Since moving to the Salesforce Service Cloud, OUC has been able to offer residents more self-service options through its web portal and mobile app.

“We answer calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles, and anyone who’s ever had to go to a DMV or deal with a DMV [knows] how very complicated those service requests and all the asks can be,” OUC Public Information Officer Wanda Gattison said. “So, having more channels to do that has really helped us quite a bit.”

When someone makes a service request, the system automatically routes it to the department that needs to respond through interfaces with the customer relationship management system and the departmental systems -- interfaces that were largely seamless to set up, said Erick Hines, OUC’s 311 operations manager. “We have developed a network of systematic usages for our interfaces that now we’re all able to interconnect,” Hines said.

This also means that if a service request is submitted to the wrong agency, that agency can digitally pass it along to the correct team -- something the previous system didn’t enable, he added.

What’s more, requesters now get updates via email as their ticket moves through the process, improving transparency and cutting the number of repeat callers seeking status reports.

Using Salesforce Einstein Analytics, OUC can also generate reports in minutes, rather than the hours it used to take. These reports can break requests down by wards, neighborhoods and ZIP codes and show the most frequently made requests and how quickly agencies resolve them. "They are priceless because our director is able to feed information to the city administrator and to provide stats on how well agencies are performing,” Gattison said.

The nation’s capital is not alone in its effort to revolutionize 311. In June, Richmond, Va., launched the RVA 311 website, which tags the location of service requests and automatically routes them to the appropriate department. A mobile app version came out in July.

That month, the city also opened the doors to the Department of Citizen Service and Response, which is responsible for managing the RVA 311 platform, built on AvePoint Citizen Services in a Microsoft Azure public cloud.

“Historically, the requests were generated and went to the department, and that was kind of the end of it,” department Director Pete Breil said. “Nobody knew what the status of the request was. There was not proactive communication back to the citizen. It was more of almost a messaging system.”

Richmond gets about 18,000 contacts per month, with about half leading to service requests that need to be handed off. With the new technology, Breil said he expects that number to grow as residents find it easier to make the requests.

Right now, his focus is on the cultural change that the new 311 approach has brought. “The technology has been a great enabler,” he said. “Now we need to get out of our departmental mindsets and … look at this [from a] citizen-centric perspective.”

For instance, his team is working to create end-to-end reporting so that requesters can see the full life cycle of their submissions and the department can measure responsiveness.

“As you are able to get that citizen-centric viewpoint, it really enables you to think through your processes …  and your communications,” Breil said. “Now we’re able to communicate with citizens more easily. We can start thinking about what and how, which is an exciting place to be.”

In general, the biggest service changes to 311 are constituent-driven, AvePoint Product Strategy Director Paul Olenick said.

“The expectations that constituents have in terms of the level of service, the various ways that they would choose to communicate with their local government have been so heavily influenced by their experiences with consumer apps,” he said.

The biggest technological change to 311 is in the number of high-quality software-as-a-service offerings, he added. Many municipalities can’t afford the in-house expertise and infrastructure to meet 311 demands, but they can subscribe to an SaaS service and get a “consumer-grade solution” at a price they can afford.

Because those platforms are web-based and offering open application programming interfaces, they’re easy to integrate with common legacy systems, Olenick added.

Agencies looking to implement the next generation of 311 technology and capabilities should do three things, he said:

  • Take advantage of SaaS platforms to “get a big bang for your buck and avoid getting stuck with outdated technology.”
  • Use the project as a reason to revisit internal workflows.
  • Prepare to handle increased engagement with community members who may be seeing government processes for the first time.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/Shutterstock.com)

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected