February 21, 2013 By Colin Wood
On Feb. 6, Los Angeles announced its first mobile app, along with a major website redesign. Though Los Angeles is one of the last major cities to have its own app, city officials believe their app is one of the best available.
During the Feb. 6 press conference, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa blamed city bureaucracy for delays, but also said that the app and the website were among the best anywhere. “There were a number of cities who were way ahead of LA," he said. "This app is going to put us in the position of being right there at the top of the heap when it comes to mobile apps and the ability to access services, to report problems, pay bills, and the like.”
In addition to taking some of the load off the 311 call center, the mobile app, developed by local company 3Di, provides an easy way for the city's growing mobile phone user base to communicate with the city, said Chief Technology Officer Steve Reneker. “It's just not an app that is used for access to submittal of items. It's almost like a mobile portal, if you will,” he said. Through the app, users can find location-specific news and information, report problems, access social media feeds and make payments to the city.
According to Reneker, the city also plans to use the mobile app to distribute original video content to Los Angeles citizens, Reneker said. The mayor's upcoming State of the City address, for example, could be streamed online and viewable through the mobile app. The city still has some development work ahead to make that project a reality. While there is no definite release date yet, it's just one of the many features the city wants to roll into the mobile app.
A new version of the application, scheduled to be released in August, will include several major updates. A Spanish version of the app will help serve the city's large Spanish-speaking population, and several updates to the city's back end will streamline citizen request processing on the city side. Upgraded systems will automatically route citizen requests to the correct agency, Reneker said. The system will also integrate more closely with the city's CRM application in order to intelligently generate service requests, ignoring duplicates and providing users with tracking information so they can see who is addressing their issue and when it will be completed.
The initial version of the mobile app cost the city about $150,000, Reneker said, noting that the city's size makes it difficult to move projects forward quickly. “When you're the second largest city in the United States, sometimes internal processes end up slowing innovation down,” he said, adding that everything from coming up with the requirements, to bidding a project out, to following applicable special procedures, all contributed to delays. “So when you come up with a great idea, before you know it, it's two years later.” Sometimes jumping through bureaucratic hoops takes so long, he added, that by the time things are finally ready, a fiscal year has passed and the original funding is no longer available.
To navigate the bureaucracy, Reneker recommends establishing good communication with all layers of management to ensure everyone prioritizes a particular project. “When you get that level of backing, you get everybody to put that particular project hot on their plate ... and you're able to get the project through the process much more quickly,” he said.
Process aside, Reneker is optimistic that residents will take advantage of the 311 app to report incidents and help keep the city clean. The app, he hopes, will help "keep them proud and wanting to continue to live here.”
*On Feb. 25, a representative from the city of Los Angeles confirmed that the app will not be Open311 compliant upon initial release. However, both the app and Open311 make use of XML, and the city will consider making the app Open311 compliant in the future.