When Sacramento, Calif., implemented its 311 customer call center in 2008, it was a huge success. In fact, it was so popular that staff couldn’t handle the daily call volume, losing 100,000 calls a year to customer hang ups.

Four years later, the city launched a mobile 311 app that is not only alleviating customer frustration with long wait times, but is also creating an entirely new mindset of how city-citizen interactions should work.

“We continue to expand access to various tools, so citizens can self-serve,” said city IT Manager Maria MacGunigal. On the to-do list for expanded access are ad-ons like bicycle and neighborhood watch registration, checking the status of a ticket and text reminders for recycle days.

And for city CIO Gary Cook, the more of these types of apps, or ability to communicate with the city, "I think the better chance we have of being the best managed city,” he said, adding that the impetus for change goes back to City Manager John Shirey, who was appointed by the mayor in 2011, and made it a personal goal to make Sacramento the most well-managed city in California.

Sacramento would become the most well-managed city, Cook said, by making technology a priority in transforming city government into a completely accessible place for citizens and the business community.

Shirey created a technology reserve fund with $250,000 in last year’s budget, which is part of what paid for the 311 app’s $100,000 cost, said Cook. This year, he put another $250,000 in the budget, with the potential for more depending on the success of various technology projects in the first half of this year.

The challenge is to come up with innovative projects that have a one-time cost but have a strong return on investment.

“The 311 app is a perfect example,” said Cook.

The city’s call center handles approximately 1,300 calls and 75 emails each day. Since launching the 311 mobile app in August 2012, about five percent of the total call volume is coming through the smart devices, MacGunigal said .

Software development firm Graviton Consulting Services created 40 customized screens for the app. The goal was to collect all the information the call center needs in the first contact, rather than increasing the workload by having a staff member call the citizen back for more information.

Making the process even more efficient, Graviton linked the app directory into the work management systems of some of the city’s departments. So if a constituent enters a complaint or a photo, it goes directly to the relevant department.

“The number of customer complaint calls have dramatically decreased,” said Cook.

For any technology project to get the green light in the city of Sacramento, it must show return savings within three years equal to or greater than the amounts granted. The city’s IT steering committee, which consists of various city department heads and Cook as its chair, administers and sets priorities for funds to ensure the financial viability of the initiative.

One of the major projects over the past year was surpassing 65 percent in total data center virtualization. By eliminating the one-server-for-one-application model, the IT infrastructure now consists of about 200 virtual servers, lowering data center costs and increasing availability and flexibility of hardware and applications.

An ongoing project for the city is looking at the redundancy between different business systems. Currently, Cook and his team are doing an assessment of existing work order management systems that may be able to be consolidated into one.

“The No. 1 key to successful IT projects is including the end users or customers from day one,” Cook said. “You have to work with the users to define the problem, resolution and requirements prior to starting any development.”

Another project over the past three years was implementing an enterprise-wide content management and document imaging system (CCM) to improve the city’s internal business processes and save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Now, more than 5 million documents currently are stored in the CCM system, including documents from the Community Development Department, Human Resources, City Clerk, Department of Utilities and Finance.

For example, importing and scanning the financial revenue documents — checks and payment stubs — into the CCM system, instead of using the vendor Bank UP, is saving the city approximately $75,000 per year.

Photo of Sacramento, Calif., courtesy of Shutterstock

Lauren Katims Nadeau  |  Contributing Writer