Exclusive Online Feature: Miami Nice

A new 311 system is about to expand how citizens interact with Miami-Dade County and CIO Judy Zito has taken charge.

by / May 26, 2005
It's the end of the week and Judy Zito, Miami-Dade County's Chief Information Officer, has just returned from Austin, Texas where she was attending a users' group meeting for 311, the hot new call service that is transforming how local governments interact with citizens.

Before returning to her office in Miami, Zito stopped off in Fort Lauderdale to meet with other local government IT leaders from the area to discuss a host of issues concerning local government initiatives in the south Florida region. Zito is now finishing her second year as CIO, just the latest in a series of successful appointments she has held during a career in the public sector that stretches back 21 years. Right now, Miami-Dade's biggest priority is its new 311 service, which has been undergoing a soft launch since November of last year and is expected to go live officially later this summer.

But for now, Zito and her team of IT staff are running the 311 software, CSR from Motorola, through extensive tests. The county has plans to hire a total of 80 call takers to handle the estimated 80,000 calls county residents are expected to make every month, and has created a knowledge base of 7000 topics to handle every conceivable query or complaint.

"Our goal is to answer 80 percent of the calls on the first contact, rather than to just transfer them to the various departments," said Zito.

To make the 311 service more effective, the county's extensive GIS layers will be tied to the information collected through the CSR. This feature will map the data collected by the software every time someone calls 311, enabling the county to build accurate analytical reports that will help county executives and department heads to spot trends and patterns faster than has been possible.

According to Zito, the county expects to spend $16 million to build the entire system, which will serve a population base of 2 million. The capital expenditure covers a separate call center facility, infrastructure, telephony and the hosting environment for the application. The 311 system currently runs from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, five days a week, with plans to gradually expand service to be available from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm. "But I don't believe we need to be open 24 x 7," Zito added.

Not surprisingly, the impact of 311 on the county is expected to be rather profound. What is surprising is how Zito, in her role as CIO, is moving to adapt to that change by anticipating how it will transform government at a number of levels. Already, it has changed Zito's role as CIO. "At first my office was just in charge of the technology operations regarding 311," she said. "But now I'm charge of the entire operation, overseeing everything from staffing to the day-to-day operations."

Actually, the move to put Zito in charge of the entire hotline operation makes sense, given the fact that the county views 311 as an extension of e-government. Zito points out that adoption rates for e-government in Miami-Dade have been quite high, especially in the commercial sector where 90 percent of building firms use the city's online property and neighborhood appraisal tools extensively. Now, 311 will be tied directly into the city's Web presence, allowing residents to track the status of a complaint or request from their computer.

As the number of county residents who use 311 increases, so does the amount of data that government officials can analyze for service delivery and operational performance. However, some department heads are concerned about the data's impact on accountability. Departments are used to getting quarterly reports on how they are performing. With 311 that will no longer be the case. Results on performance will be available in near real-time, according to Zito, who is working with department heads to cushion the impact of this rising tide of information.

"Our role is to help our leaders see the information behind the data and how to draw the right conclusions from it," she explained. To soothe nervous department heads, Zito is using her communications skills to work with the officials so they understand what is in the information generated by the 311 analytical reports. "We tell them it may be bumpy at first but that the data they have today will support them when they go into next year's budget meeting and they can use the same data to show why they were able to perform some services and not some others because resources or equipment weren't available"

Zito is also highlighting the early adopters of the system so that other department heads can see how 311 has been a success, not a threat, for them. "There's a lot of relationship management involved with this launch," she explained. "We don't want to alienate someone with this new technology."