Improving “on-time” Public Works services in Orange County
Orange County, California—with a population of more than 3 million—is the sixth most populous county in the United States.1 The county is not only home to some of the largest Fortune 500 companies, colleges, and universities, but is also an attractive tourist destination, thanks to its sun-kissed beaches and the ever popular Disneyland. Covering an area of nearly 800 square miles2, day-to-day governance of a county of this size comes with its own set of challenges, especially in terms of delivering infrastructure services.
The Orange County Public Works Department is responsible for a large number of services including flood channel management, sidewalk maintenance, graffiti removal, water pollution response, street maintenance including pothole repairs and tree and bee services.3 Like many other public agencies, the department faced a challenge in efficiently deploying its limited resources over this vast area of county land and tracking and reporting on how the department addresses the service requests.
Until early 2017, residents who wanted to report an issue to the department had to register a service request via a call to a help desk telephone number or an email after completing an online form.4 The service requests that were received did not include the required geographic location information. County staff would use multiple sources to conduct research then add the location information to the service request prior to sending it to the inspection and maintenance staff.
Residents would be contacted by staff throughout the lifecycle of the service request; and residents had to call in if they wanted to check the status of a service request. County staff would need to email or call multiple staff members in order to provide a status update to a resident. Duplicate service requests submitted by the residents would further exasperate the issue.
The department was aware that this process was not an optimal use of the county’s limited resources and the level of customer service could be improved. In April 2017, the department launched “myOC eServices”, which represented a major step toward enhancing the level of customer service residents receive. This new web and mobile-enabled portal not only streamlined the service request process for residents, but also modernized the way the public works department addressed these requests and managed its resources.
The myOC eServices tool provides residents with an easily accessible way to navigate city services. Residents visiting the online portal first select the service they require. The next steps involve pinpointing a location on the map, uploading photos or files to support the request, adding comments, and finally submitting the request. The service request then flows to the appropriate service area within the department with a standard priority where a central team reviews and visualizes the request on a service request map linked to the County GIS System along with other requests.
This new visualization capability has allowed the department managers to identify process bottlenecks and organize resources to address pockets of high activity within the county. For instance, it can now indicate specific areas where they are receiving a lot of graffiti complaints from the residents. This enables the department managers to make a data-based decision by assigning additional inspection or maintenance staff to high-demand areas.
In addition, field staff can now access information on new complaints through their mobile devices. Field staff can see the precise location and quickly locate the issue. Updates can be made to the service request from the field which allows residents to receive real-time updates of their service request. Also field staff are now able to mark a service request as “work completed” from the field on their mobile devices which automatically notifies the resident and informs the department managers of the reason why the request is resolved. The portal also instills a level of proactivity in the department by allowing field and on-call staff to enter new service requests during their field inspections.
Within four short months, the results were there for all to see. In April 2017, right after launch of the portal, the department took an average of 15 to 20 days to resolve a service issue, with an on-time service resolution rate of only 57 percent.5 By August 2017, the department’s average resolution time was down to four days and on-time completion rate had reached 72 percent.6
Interestingly, the department is now able to add quantitative analysis to support executive level decisions regarding key partnerships, resourcing, and organizational structure to efficiently deliver high quality customer service. Phase two of deployment, targeting a suite of services such as applying for permits, fee payment, weights and measures compliance and the Agricultural Commission, is already underway and is expected to be deployed in early 2018.7