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HOUSTON (CW39) The City of Houston has launched a new app aimed at making it more efficient to report non-emergency issues.

The 311 Call Center receives roughly 2.2 million contacts and creates approximately 450,000 service requests annually. The creation of this new system embraces emerging technology that puts the power of case creation into the hands of residents via a newly created Virtual Agent, allowing residents to only rely on call centers for the most complicated cases, reducing call volumes and wait times, according to the city’s press release..

The cloud-based 311 application fundamentally will change how the City interacts with the public by delivering an advanced, self-service based platform. The new Customer Relations Information System (CRIS), powered by Microsoft Dynamics, was officially launched on June 26. According to city officials, over the past few weeks, the Houston Information Technology Services (HITS)  and the Administration and Regulatory Affairs (ARA) teams have worked diligently to stabilize the system as the city transferred over 10 years of data into the new system.

“The new, innovative system is a significant accomplishment for the City of Houston. Last fiscal year, we prioritized the development of a new 311 system by funding it through the CIP process. In nine short months, HITS and ARA were able to take that investment and develop a 311 system that modernizes 20-year-old technology and creates a platform that equips the City to better handle increased demand,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.

There are now three ways in which to create a service request: by smart phone app (Apple and Google), web portal via the Virtual Agent, and through call taker in the 311-call center.

Examples of some of the new functionality include:

  • A customer self-service portal with a virtual agent, allowing residents to create service requests on their own
  • The ability to re-classify a case instead of having to close it and create another one
  • Cases being routed to a team, instead of an individual minimizing case inactivity due to staff being out of office
  • Cases created via web portal, app, or call taker all have the same service request numbers and, when not confidential, are searchable on all platforms
  • Prior to service requests being created, there will be a proximity search performed to ensure no duplication of cases created (e.g., pothole cases being flagged as 1000 Main St. and at the corner of Main St. and Texas St.)

“Not only will this reduce wait times for people who need to call 311 instead of creating a service request on our app or web portal, this investment and upgrade in our technology will prepare us for the next 20 years of demand,” said ARA Director Tina Paez.

“By developing this new system we are also streamlining our technology to be hosted by the same Microsoft platforms, maximizing the interoperability of those platform and delivering a better quality service to the public,” said HITS Director Lisa Kent.

The new 311-replacement project is one of the most impactful technology projects in the past decade and will be an enhanced asset to all Houstonians. While 311 is the way in which the public can notify the City of challenges with everyday services, it is also a critically important tool during emergency response, according to the city’s press release.

During the Tax Day Flood, Hurricane Harvey, and Winter Storm Uri, the 311-web portal, app, and call centers were critical points of information gathering and distribute during those times of crisis. According to city officials, with this system upgrade there will be an improvement to call center wait times and self-service capabilities during regular times, and an enhanced capability to be more responsive and minimize wait times during times of crisis.

“The new system is another example of how Houston is building a Smart City of the future. This new 311 system has the potential to be the platform that connects all City departments and systems to each other ensuring a smooth and seamless experience for constituents,” said Mayor Turner.