Winnipeg, Manitoba's 311 call center receives about two million telephone calls and 65,000 emails each year. The city also has a 311 website and on August 13, the city launched a 311 mobile app for iPhone and Android. Ten days after launch, the Winnipeg 311 app has been downloaded about 5,000 times and users have submitted 300 service requests.

So with a mature 311 call center, why did the city decide to go mobile? According to 311 Manager Melanie Swenarchuk, technology is evolving quickly and the city wanted to engage citizens on the go. The app, which cost $15,000 Canadian, was done in conjunction with the city's CRM provider Kana Lagan, and integrates into the city's back-office systems. "Having an issue reported does not require additional staffing," said Swenarchuk. "It may mean additional issues are coming to the surface which should have been reported anyway."

Each type of service request or report has its own template, and Winnipeg is considering adding others. For things that do not fit one of the current reports, a resident can click on the feedback link which sends an email directly into 311. And while Swenarchuk said that 311 telephone conversations have some advantages for complex issues, the ability to submit photographs and GPS coordinates on the mobile app provides additional details that were not possible before.

"We're getting more photos and it's certainly advantageous to our work crews," said Swenarchuk, "as they can immediately see at a glance the nature of the service request and adequately prepare. On the phone, we're relying on the citizen providing really detailed information as to the location, the curb lane, which direction, whereas the app has the actual GPS coordinates ... so the citizen is actually selecting the location on a map."

Swenarchuk is monitoring the rollout closely. Comments have been mostly positive as to ease of use. The app also runs on iPads, with BlackBerry devices and iPODs under development. "The reports will help us keep the neighborhoods clean and safe and engaged with the citizens of Winnipeg," said Swenarchuk. "It will increase the pride of living in the neighborhoods and help us to be accountable and more responsive."

Five or more years ago, when the city first rolled out 311, one caller wanted instructions on how to cook a Christmas turkey. These days, however, the residents of Winnipeg are sophisticated users of one of the more advanced mobile 311 systems in North America.

Wayne Hanson  |  Staff Writer and Editor of Digital Communities

Wayne E. Hanson has been a writer and editor with e.Republic since 1989, and has worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and is currently editor and writer for Digital Communities specializing in local government. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education. He self-published three books of fiction and lives in Sacramento with his wife, Jeannie.