How the Internet of Things could kill non-emergency systems

One area of investment for cities in the US and globally have been 311 services or non-emergency call centres. These systems are getting renewed attention with the advent of mobile apps that allow citizens to reports issues conveniently and...

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One area of investment for cities in the US and globally have been 311 services or non-emergency call centres. These systems are getting renewed attention with the advent of mobile apps that allow citizens to reports issues conveniently and directly to city systems.

San Francisco is an example of a the city administration has invested significant time and money to make 311 a strategic initiative to improve service delivery for citizens. Between 2009 and 2012, the city of San Francisco's 311 service received over 620,000 non-emergency requests from citizens. Those requests included graffiti removal, street cleaning, damaged property, abandoned vehicles, sewer issues, tree maintenance and so forth.

The city's investment has included integrating the existing call center with web self-service, mobile apps and even social media, such as SeeClickFix and Twitter, to ensure citizens had truly omni-channel access and could seamlessly pick the most convenient channel to use at any given time. And San Francisco is just one example of the leading cities that have moved in this direction.

Many others in North America, and around the globe, have followed suit. One of the earliest adopters, New York City recently celebrated 10 years of NYC311 which has answered 158 million calls since March 2003.

Now imagine that city assets, such as roads, buildings, trees, pipes, bridges, vehicles, garbage bins, street and traffic lights, even park benches, are equipped with sensors that can automatically trigger service requests and feed them into asset management systems. Work orders would be automatically opened with a standard description of the type of damage or problem, location coordinates, date and time.

By the same token, video-cameras or small drones could be used not only to detect crimes but also recognize graffiti, debris and garbage on streets, and in turn trigger cleaning and graffiti removal work orders. Consider also the citizens themselves, walking sensors with opt-in apps on their devices that sense changes in road conditions, temperature and also feed automatic data to work order or transportation management systems.

These are not far-off scenarios. Boston has been testing an automatic pothole sensing app that citizens use while driving on city streets. Germany's national railway operator, Deutsche Bahn has plans to use drones to detect graffiti activity on its buildings, and many more cities have instrumented bridges, waterways, garbage bins etc.. in which sensors collect and disseminate data without human intervention.

All of a sudden, the technology platforms used to support 311, even via the most sophisticated social media channels, could become redundant as they are replaced with monitoring machine-to-machine interactions that constantly gather city data.

Of course, this scenario to instrument every city asset is neither currently affordable or realistic, the technology is not yet fully developed, and there are governance and regulatory compliance issues, but it is not a complete exaggeration either. It seems like a far-fetched scenario today, but in five years will that still be the case?

This scenario presents significant ramifications for government executives and 311 systems vendors that Max and I touched upon in our Link. These ramifications include the disintermediation of citizen-to-government interactions, a lessened reliance on call center operators and/or citizen navigation of self-service web sites, even a reduction in use for 311 systems as a basis for city performance analysis.

For suppliers, the current focus on a seamless omnichannel experience could be replaced by the IoT and vendors should start now to assess what parts of their 311 portfolio could still be valuable in an M2M world.

While this is still a somewhat futurist viewpoint, we believe these changes are coming. What do you think?

We welcome comments and feedback.

Posted by Ruthbea Yesner Clarke, Research Director, Smart Cities, IDC Government Insight

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