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Sensors lead to burst of tech creativity in government

Patrick Thibodeau | March 6, 2013
At the IBM Pulse conference here this week City of Boston CIO Bill Oates showed off a new city-made app that piqued the interest of attendees like Gary Gilot, an engineer who heads the public works board in South Bend, Ind.

Oates said the app encourages participation. To find out why people used the app, the city asked app users why they didn't call the city about maintenance issues in the pre-app days.

The response, said Oates, was this: "When we call the city we feel like we're complaining, but when we use this (the app), we feel like we're helping."

In discussing Street Bump, he says it's entirely possible that analysis of the data may lead to new sources of information. Similarly, Gilot said the sewer data collection was making it possible to determine what "normal" was.

"You really don't know what's normal until have you have this kind of modeling," said Gilot.

The changes in Citizens Connect 4.0 will help personalize the connections that city residents make with government.

For instance, today a citizen sends in a pothole repair request and the city fills the pothole. With the update, the worker will be able to take a picture of the completed work and send it back to constituent who sent the request.

The person who drew attention to the maintenance problem will be informed that "the case is closed, and here's a picture and this is who did it for me," said Oates.

The citizen will be able to respond with a "great job" acknowledgement, although Oats realizes negative feedback is also possible. "We think it puts pressure on the quality of the service delivery," he said.

Boston gets about 20% of its maintenance "quality of life" requests via the app.

Boston's effort is the forerunner of a Massachusetts state-wide initiative called Commonwealth Connect that was announced in December.

This state-wide app is being built by SeeClickFix, a startup whose app is already used in many cities and towns. The app is free. The firm offers a "premium dashboard" used by municipalities. It also has a free Web-based tool that is used by smaller towns, said Zack Beatty, head of media and content partnerships for the New Haven, Conn.-based firm.

Beatty said the app will be deployed in more than 50 Massachusetts communities, its first state-led deployment.

SeeClickFix uses cloud-based services to host its app, something South Bend is doing as well for a sewer sensor system as well to manage its IBM system.

Authorizing an in-house deployment would have required an authorization for hardware, said Gilot. From a budgeting perspective, it was easier to move money from other accounts for cloud-based services. In any event, running IT equipment is not the city's core competence.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Read more about government it in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.

 

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