Civic Innovations

Technology, Government Innovation, and Open Data

Time to Get Tough with 311 Vendors

Big news recently in the Open311 world.

Lagan – a technology company that provides solutions for local government, including 311 systems – has announced the launch of an integration toolkit to allow “local government customers worldwide to receive and action service requests via social networks, mobile applications and third-party websites.”

This is good news for governments that want to utilize different communication channels to accept and respond to non-emergency service requests, or that want to stand up an API for outside developers to use.

Lagan’s announcement is based on some pioneering work done in the City of San Francisco to do both of these things – San Francisco was one of the first (if not the first) city to use social networking services to take 311 service requests, and they were an early adopter and enthusiastic advocate of the Open311 initiative.

Hopefully, this action by Lagan will catch on with other vendors. It’s worth noting that, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts (which conducted a study of Philadelphia’s 311 system earlier this year, and compared it to 14 other large cities with 311 service) that over 30 percent of large municipalities with 311 service share a common vendor – Motorola. It would be nice if Motorola would follow Lagan’s lead on this issue.

Whether or not they do is an open question. Certainly they have a customer that is as pioneering in their support of Open311 and alternative channels for 311 service as Lagan does (Motorola is the vendor for the District of Columbia).

I continue to believe (and have argued the point with other Open311 advocates) that the best way to “encourage” vendors to support integration toolkits like Lagan’s in their products is to make it a requirement in bidding on 311 projects.

Let’s be realistic – if even one of the large cities that utilize Motorola’s 311 solution made it a requirement during a contract renewal or an open bid that any 311 solution considered must support integration of multiple communication channels or have a generic interface for implementing an externally facing API it would get done. No question about it.

This position is actually strengthened by Lagan’s recent announcement. They have removed any possibility of responding to such a requirement in a bid by saying that no vendor supports such functionality. There is now a vendor that does – Lagan.

It’s time for governments with 311 services to get tough with their vendors and insist that they support alternate channels for servicing 311 requests and for implementing external API’s.

6 responses to “Time to Get Tough with 311 Vendors”

  1. Mark,

    Motorola actually implemented the Open311 API a month or so ago — we’ve been testing the release and are about to launch it into production.


  2. Bryan:

    That’s great to hear! That’s bound to make things easier for other municipalities that use Motorola’s solution for their 311 services that want to start emulating what you guys have done in DC.

    I do think, though, that enacting some sort of institutional requirement (like in bid and/or contracting specs) is still in the best interest of their customers.

    It’s great that Lagan and Motorola have decided to support this. Other vendors need to follow suit.

    And to the extent that there is a formal specification for Open311, there should probably be a more formal requirement for vendors to support it.

    In the same way that vendors can be required to comply with standards like section 508 (for disability access to government web sites) they should also be required to support formal standards like Open311.

    Just my 2 cents.

  3. Mark, we started to survey information about vendors supporting the specification on the mailing list last week. If you have more information or ideas on strategy to add to the conversation there, that’d be great:

    Also, governments increasingly have policy that outlines requirements for open standards (like open311) with their technology. You can see an overview of that at:

  4. Phil, I’d be glad to continue to make the point in this post on the Open311 discussion forum.

    In fact, I made this very point a few weeks back:

    I’d be happy to start a new forum topic to continue this discussion if you think it would be worth exploring further. I may do this, as I’m interesting in getting feedback from others on the forum as well.

    Also, thanks for the link to the open standards listing on the Open Muni site. Some good stuff there.

  5. Mark,

    You hit the nail on the head.

    As you know, I’ve been advocating 311s take the lead on open311, not just with traditional vendors like Lagan, Motorola, Oracle, etc. but also with 311 app developers (both internal and external).

    Many 311s we work with had started down the path to developing apps internally and we strongly urged them to adhere to open standards. Other 311s were contacted by 3rd party app developers and we advised them to insist on Open311.

    I predict that Open311 will be rapidly adopted because of 2 key benefits: a) it represents inherent best practices in constituent services and, b)ultimately 311s should be able serve as hot-site backups to one another in the event of emergencies because their transactions will be standardized.

    You heard it here first.

    Jame Sullivan, Director 311 Consulting, Winbourne & Costas, Inc.

  6. […] But for this to work, there must be mutually agreed upon standards for things like data formats, APIs and data licensure to name just a few. Crafting and adopting these standards is work. Hard work. And making this even more difficult is the fact that there are those who would benefit from the absence of such standards – software vendors and other service providers. […]

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About Me

I am the former Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia. I also served as Director of Government Relations at Code for America, and as Director of the State of Delaware’s Government Information Center. For about six years, I served in the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), and helped pioneer their work with state and local governments. I also led platform evangelism efforts for TTS’ cloud platform, which supports over 30 critical federal agency systems.

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