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 eighth largest city in the United States.1 A city of this size should ideally have a dedicated communication channel for residents to report non-emergency problems such as potholes, street light repair, illegal dumping, and graffiti (among others). However, unlike most major cities in the US, San Diego did not have a centralized process or system in place for residents to report these types for issues until very recently.
It started in 2015, when an audit report highlighted several development opportunities related to the City’s ability to engage with residents needing to report non-emergency 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 making phone calls.3
In 2016, the lack of dedicated 311 system nearly created a crisis in 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 non-priority situations.4 In some cases, residents were calling to report or to get updates on non-emergency 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, so 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 a tech-driven, resident-focused solution that enables access to City non-emergency 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 they 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 8 departments.
The Get It Done app has made lives easier for both the City’s residents and its internal employees. Before to its deployment, residents often did not know who to contact for non-emergency issues. 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 it to be rerouted to the correct department by a City worker.5 As a result, information was lost in translation, and some of the requests never saw the light of the day. Now, residents can download the app or go to the website to upload photos of the problem, enter a few details about the issue, and then submit their requests. The GIS-based geo-tagging feature helps in creating a user-friendly experience, while providing the City with enough information to properly route and assign requests. 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. Finally, the system has an established feedback mechanism that allows residents to rate their experience, as well as provide specific feedback to the department responsible for resolving the issue.
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, instead of having to return to their office to pick up paperwork. Additionally, their ability to group all open requests based on the location has also helped improve daily productivity by enabling workers to see all open cases within a particular area. Finally, the integration of various city service departments is helping the city build a centralized data repository, enabling 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.
Looking forward, the City of San Diego plans to expand the breadth and depth of the services offered through Get It Done. Examples of proposed enhancements include:
- Providing residents with a user-friendly process for requesting trash and recycling containers, including the ability to pay for them online.
- Including certain service requests for the Public Utilities Department (PUD)
- Integrating data from IoT sensors around the city to enable automated case creation and case validation