July 8, 2009 By Elaine Rundle
Boston is preparing to roll out its first iPhone application, Citizen Connect, which will allow citizens to place complaints that would usually be made through a telephone hotline. Citizens will be able to take a picture of a city nuisance -- like a pothole or graffiti -- with their iPhone and use the app to send the report to City Hall, complete with location information.
Christopher Loh, press assistant to Mayor Thomas Menino, said the city's senior adviser for emerging technology, Nigel Jacob, realized that the iPhone's mapping technology and camera could be used to offer citizens another way to connect with the city.
Loh said the app will enter the testing phase next week when approximately 70 people start using it. He said the testers will include City Hall employees, like management information system staff and people who work directly with the complaint hotline, and volunteers from outside city government. Citizen Connect should go live in mid- to late August, Loh said. It will be offered as a free download from Apple's iPhone App Store.
Connected Bits, a New Hampshire software company, developed the iPhone application. Loh said Boston came to an agreement with Connected Bits that it would pay for the application after the testing period if it fulfilled the city's requirements. According to Loh, the cost will be about $25,000, which includes the engineering work that began in late February.
"It's just a really cool application, and it's going to be fun to see where it leads because if this is successful, I can only imagine that there are other applications that could be developed as well," Loh said. "So we'll see how this one goes, but people around [City Hall] and Boston are really excited about it because of the possibilities that it has."
Boston isn't the first government to find inspiration from the iPhone. Utah launched the Utah.gov application earlier this year. It lets users search for state agencies' contact information and browse government services. The state also released the Professional License Lookup app that lets users check on the professional license status of doctors, nurses, contractors, accountants and others.
In June, San Francisco released EcoFinder, an iPhone app that locates where residents should recycle and dispose of certain materials. The application is based on a city XML feed and uses location-based software to identify a resident's closest recycling facility. San Francisco also teamed up with Twitter to allow citizens to make 311 service requests or complaints to the city's call center. CoTweet, a Twitter enterprise platform, manages and tracks messages, and a third-party application lets citizens attach photos with their requests.
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.