Philly Launches 311 Platform


Philadelphia has officially launched an integrated 311 platform that has been in the works since 2008. The platform includes not only traditional 311 services but a cloud-based community portal designed at helping neighborhoods self-organize around critical issues.  In addition to the platform the city has released a blueprint detailing how it got there, with the goal of helping other cities as they build systems of their own. The Mayor rolled out the platform and an accompanying blueprint at an innovation summit held in the city yesterday.

“With the new Philly 311 customer service platform, our goal is not only to create a more connected, citizen-responsive city, but also to inspire other cities to follow our model and engage their citizens,” said Mayor Nutter.

The new service system empowers citizens to submit service requests, access city information, engage with local organizations, find educational opportunities and improve public safety city-wide by phone, the web, the app, social media or in person. The implementation of this project was contracted with Unisys, after an RFP selection process, and built on Salesforce’s cloud computing platform.

“Philadelphia was one of the first cities in the country to appoint a Chief Customer Service Officer,” explains Rosetta Lue, who took on the role for the city in 2008 in an interview with CivSource. “So I am working with residents, citizens, tourists – a variety of people. We call them our customers, because we are taking that view in how we respond.”

Lue explains that Mayor Nutter was elected in part on his promise to put a 311 system in place and started to do that in 2008.  “When I came on we had 8 months to deploy, we were supposed to be online by December 31, 2008.” The first version of the service allowed for requests to be submitted but lacked a certain scalability and CRM management owing to budget constraints brought on by the Great Recession. Then in 2011, when the mayor announced a new $120 million funding allocation for technology projects in the city. As part of that allocation, the 311 system was given the money necessary to add on that functionality and scale.

“During the interim period, we weren’t sitting on our hands,” Lue says. “We were learning our customers and we launched the neighborhood liaison program which tapped local heroes in the community and told them how to submit service requests. That program started with 10 liaisons and now we have 1500.”

Since the Philly 311 Call Center opened in 2008, it has received more than seven million calls from citizens and businesses with service requests, ranging from pothole repairs and cleaning graffiti, to removing drug paraphernalia from playgrounds and reporting abandoned vehicles. The new platform makes these requests easier to fulfill through improved interdepartmental communication and a more effective system for citizens to monitor the status of their request. The city will also be better able to identify and predict trends that will help the city be more proactive about meeting the needs of its citizens by capitalizing on improved data collection.

“I think we are starting to see a shift away from the discussion of big government versus small government and into a conversation about smart government through solutions like this,” adds Vivek Kundra, Executive Vice President of Salesforce and former Chief Information Officer for President Barak Obama.

The new platform also relies on mobile capability, which gives users and government workers the ability to submit requests through their mobile phones. The application can be translated into 17 different languages in order to reach English as a second language or non-English speaking users. City officials also joined the 311 executive council formed last July, alongside a handful of other major cities with similar platforms.

“Ultimately we hope that Philadelphia isn’t the exception by offering this kind of system,” Lue says. “We know other cities are going to follow and we want them to. We want to be able to provide best practices and examples of what they can do.”