Integrators Answer the Call for 311 Services

Local Gov'ts Look to Expand Non-Emergency System<@VM>Where 311 Is Heading

John Cohen

Ray Lehr

Joseph Lewis

Dialing 311 isn't just a way to reach police in a non-emergency. Companies that build these systems are witnessing the creation of a thriving market for 311 systems that also provide quick and easy access to other local government services.

More than a dozen jurisdictions across the country have installed or are installing 311 systems, according to industry officials. Another dozen opportunities with medium and large cities are on the horizon, they said.

"We are seeing increasing interest on the part of jurisdictions to handle a broader range of service requests beyond police and fire," said David Moskovitz, a partner with Accenture Ltd. "311 offers an important channel to do that."

Some systems integrators building these systems view 311 as a piece of their 911 work. But others, such as John Cohen, president and chief executive officer of PSComm LLC, contend that 311 is emerging as an important market on its own.

"311 is set to explode," he said. "Integrators and telecom companies that see 311 as an adjunct to 911 are missing the boat."

Integrators are urging prospective 311 clients not to limit themselves solely to the telephony aspect of the system but to consolidate requests from all communication channels, including walk-in, telephone and Internet, into a comprehensive e-government plan.

The large integrators advocating this approach include Unisys Corp., Blue Bell, Pa.; TRW Inc., Cleveland; PricewaterhouseCoopers, New York; and Accenture, Hamilton, Bermuda.

The average cost of a 311 system is between $1 million and $2 million, according to government and industry officials. However, Los Angeles may pay up to $18 million, according to a study completed for the city in 2000 by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

A typical 311 installation occurs in phases, beginning with the purchase of telecommunications equipment and consolidation of call-center operations. Next is the implementation of customer relationship management software and solutions, said government and industry officials.

The first phase is fairly straightforward, the second phase is more complex and involves business process re-engineering, legacy system integration and development of service agreements among agencies that support the effort.

The push for e-government is helping spur demand for 311 systems, said industry and government officials. Both e-government and 311 initiatives share the goal of improved delivery of government services.

Moskovitz said the move to e-government, for example, is motivating jurisdictions to integrate the call-center channel with the Internet channel.

"In jurisdictions where we are working with clients on e-government and customer service, we are thinking about how it fits in with broader e-government initiatives and gives citizens access to the services that they need," Moskovitz said.

Dallas and Houston are two 311 projects that have the attention of local government officials throughout the nation.

Los Angeles officials plan to visit Chicago, Dallas and Houston to study those cities' implementations before proceeding with their own 311 projects, said Greg Dexter, 311 project manager for the Los Angeles Information Technology Agency.

In Houston, Unisys will receive $2.7 million to complete what the company describes as a 311 interaction center, which runs on a customer relationship management software platform, said Kevin Curry, vice president and general manager of Unisys' Public Sector North America. Unisys is tracking 22 similar opportunities with medium and large cities around the nation, he said.

The 311 systems integration for Dallas is being handled by SCA Technologies Corp. of Dallas. The first phase of the project will be implemented in early 2002, the company announced in August. It declined to disclose the value of the award.

PSComm of Rockville, Md., has helped develop a 311 implementation strategy in several cities, including Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Newport News, Va.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Washington. The company is discussing partnerships and alliances related to the 311 opportunity with Aether Systems Inc., Owings Mill, Md.; Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif.; TRW and Unisys, Cohen said.

Accenture hopes it can provide integration services related to 311 systems where it has e-government work in cities such as Boston and New York and states such as Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Wyoming, Moskovitz said.

TRW expects to find opportunities in cities where it has existing public safety or communications projects, said Ray Lehr, business development manager. For TRW, the 311 system is typically connected with a 911 installation.

"311 is not usually the opening event that gets us into a project," he said. "It usually is one of the enhancements to a 911 system. It is not an independent market, but an option."

PricewaterhouseCoopers is interested in implementing a CRM solution that integrates voice and Web, said Joseph Lewis, a PWC partner.

"Our interest would be in implementing a CRM solution that integrates multiple input channels," he said. "We are interested in an enterprise approach rather than a call-center approach."

For this reason, 311 is not a top priority for PWC right now, Lewis said. "This is one that we have put on the back burner," he said. "We don't see a lot of activity on the enterprise level to merit our focus on that [at the expense of other opportunities]."

Rishi Sood, principal analyst with Gartner Dataquest, said the 311 market should remain attractive, because it has a political mandate and a funding source associated with it.

While funding up to this point has been through traditional IT budgeting, governments are expected to begin charging citizens for the calls in the near future. California and the District of Columbia are already considering such measures, industry sources said.

"It is not a here-today-gone-tomorrow kind of thing," Sood said.The Federal Communications Commission designated 311 as a three-digit number for non-emergency government calls in 1997 to relieve congestion on 911 emergency systems. As many as half the calls to some 911 systems were for non-emergencies.

By 1999, the Association of Public Safety Officials reported seven cities, including Baltimore and Chicago, had 311 systems. The systems were managed and operated either by the police department to field non-emergency calls or by the city government to field a variety of non-emergency service calls, ranging from pot hole, power line and traffic signal repair to abandoned car or fallen tree removal.

The trend is toward integrated 311 call centers that consolidate non-emergency service requests across all municipal agencies in a city or county government. These systems go far beyond the original vision of service request to provide streamlined call reporting.

The enhanced 311 systems use customer relationship management software and a work order management system, integrated voice and Internet service request and a work-force management system that allows the city to analyze a call taker's performance and forecast staffing requirements.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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