Service request reporting tools in the form of mobile apps are nothing new in the government space. But these types of apps continue to become more sophisticated.

Plano, Texas, is among a growing number of governments now using 311 service apps that are trying to stamp out redundant 311 requests.

Like many products on the market, once a user inputs the reporting information into Plano’s app, the person’s request gets a tracking number that follows any updates on the reported incident and tells the user when the incident has been closed out by the city. Because there’s a mapping function embedded in the app, Stephens said, users can see if an incident already has been reported by a different user — and check on the status of the already-reported incident.

The city’s online and mobile app, Fix It Plano, was launched in July 2011. Since then, the platform has closed out nearly 1,500 service requests for incidents such as water leaks, overgrown weeds and potholes. The app is available online and can be downloaded for free onto iOS, BlackBerry and Android devices.

David Stephens, the city’s director of technology services, said that once users have the application, they can log on anonymously or with a user account to have information sent back to them about an issue’s status. Like services of its kind, users can provide an address and take a picture of the incident if they choose.

“It allows citizens to also be advised of what’s going on with the situation,” Stephens said. “So it’s not a, ‘They called down to City Hall, and they never heard anything back.’ Now they can track the progress of the issue online.”

At the time of the app’s launch, issues related to water restrictions couldn’t be reported through the app. Plano had outdoor watering restrictions implemented citywide as a result of last summer’s drought. In October 2011, the city changed its watering restrictions from allowing residents to water their lawns once a week to once every other week. The change had the effect of increasing the number of calls residents made to the city to report wasteful water practices.

To divert those calls to the online, the city quickly announced in October that such reports could be made through Fix It Plano. Nineteen days after the city’s announcement, 71 water violations were reported through the app.

“Our residents are very technologically savvy and Fix It Plano was a tool that empowered them to be involved in the solution of saving as much water as possible,” said Nancy Nevil, Plano’s director of sustainability and environmental services, in a statement. “More important than violations, they reported water leaks, broken sprinklers and other water-related issues that required repair.”

The app, which was developed by customer relationship management software company PublicStuff, costs the city roughly $9,600 annually. Stephens said that because the app enables the city to respond to requests more quickly and outside of typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work hours, the city should expect to see cost savings.

“We close issues out in a timelier manner,” Stephens said.  “Hopefully before conditions get worse and require a more extensive correction.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.