Helping the city of San Diego “Get It Done”
With a population of around 1.4 million, San Diego is the second largest city in the state of California and the eighth largest in the United States.1 A city of this size would ideally have a dedicated helpline to address nonemergency problems such as potholes, street light repair, illegal dumping, and graffiti (among others). However, unlike most big cities in the United States, San Diego did not have a 311 helpline or any other unified system in place until recently.
The process of putting in place a unified system began in 2015 when an audit report highlighted a series of deficiencies related to the city’s ability to engage with residents needing to report nonemergency issues. It concluded with the recommendation of establishing a centralized customer service center and mobile application to report right-of-way maintenance (ROW) issues such as potholes, illegal dumping, and damaged sidewalks.2 This recommendation was further refined after a 2015 City of San Diego Resident Survey revealed that most residents preferred digital means (website or mobile app) to report issues, rather than phone calls.3
In 2016, the lack of a dedicated 311 system overburdened the city’s 911 call center because the sheer volume of calls made it difficult for the 911 dispatchers to distinguish between life-threatening and nonpriority situations.4 In some cases, residents were calling to report or to get updates on nonemergency service requests because the city provided limited visibility into the status of these requests due to a highly manual and fragmented communication process across city departments.
The city’s administration realized that it needed a system that could effectively address non-emergency issues in the city, and in May 2016, San Diego piloted a Salesforce-based Get It Done app and case management solution with the Transportation and Storm Water (TSW) department. Their objective was to come up with an easy-to-use, one-stop solution that enables access to city nonemergency services and information anywhere, anytime, and on any device. After only a few months, the city was so encouraged by the results from the pilot that it funded and launched a full-scale version of the solution in July 2018, which included key departments like Environmental Services Department (ESD), Development Services Department (DSD), Public Utilities Department (PUD), City Clerk, and more. With this expansion, the Get It Done—Digital 311 solution has replaced five aging legacy systems and enabled a standardized and more collaborative approach to manage and process service requests from residents across eight departments.5
The Get It Done app has made life easier for both the city’s residents and the city employees. Before its deployment, residents often did not know whom to contact for nonemergency issues. Then if they were successful in reporting an issue, most communications related to their issue was handled via internal emails and phone calls. In many cases, these emails ended up going to the wrong department, which would then require them to be rerouted to the correct department by a city employee. As a result, information was often lost in translation, and some of the requests never saw the light of day.6
Now, residents can download the app or go to the website to upload photos of a problem, enter a few details about an issue, and then submit their requests. The GIS-based geo-tagging feature is designed to help create a user-friendly experience while providing the city with enough information to route and assign requests properly. The self-service web portal allows residents to view their service requests on a map which includes information on the status and notes, allowing residents to track their request from entry to resolution. The system also enables greater transparency since a resident can view her complaint, regarding an open pothole, for instance, along with other similar requests in her area.
The solution is designed to provide efficiencies through standardized case management workflows, automatic case routing, and enhanced interdepartmental communications to support collaboration. The introduction of a mobile-friendly solution also means field workers can resolve a larger number of cases each day, ranging from cleaning graffiti to picking up dumped garbage because the information they need is now available through their mobile devices; previously they often had to return to their office to pick up paperwork.
Additionally, their ability to group all open requests based on the location has reportedly also helped improve daily productivity by enabling workers to see all open cases within a particular area at the same time. Finally, the integration of various city service departments appears to be helping the city build a centralized data repository, which can enable better data-driven decision-making. The city can identify peaks and troughs related to city services through the new system, thus allowing them to allocate their resources efficiently.
In the next phase, the city plans to expand the breadth and depth of the services covered through this system. It also plans to migrate its largest call center for the public utility department and related services on to the platform and establish a mechanism to capture citizen feedback related to their experience of issue redressal, as well as feedback on the services offered by the various departments.7