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Boston's Citizens Connect app bridges gap between city, residents

Bill Oates, CIO of the city of Boston, Mass., is bridging the gap between citizens and government agencies with a citywide mobile collaboration effort that residents can access via their smartphones.

In this video interview, filmed at the 2012 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass., Oates sits down with Executive Editor Christina Torode to discuss Boston's Citizens Connect application, and explain why 140 other cities plan to replicate the city's mobile and Web-based efforts.  

Read a partial transcript from the interview below, and watch the video to learn more about Boston's Citizens Connect program. Don't forget to watch the second part of our interview with Oates

What is Citizens Connect? How is technology making that happen?

Bill Oates: Citizens Connect is our first attempt to create an innovative way to connect with the constituents of the city of Boston. We had spent some really good time and effort building some really good technology platforms in the city, and we really wanted to find a new way to reach out and really touch the constituents. The mayor of Boston [Thomas M. Menino] is really all about the neighborhoods, the kids and the families. We pitched this to him and said, 'Mayor, we think this is a really cost-effective way that really takes advantage of the technology trends today.'

You think about the consumerization of technology, and the fact that many of our constituents have great technology in their hands now with their smartphones. We went out and developed what we thought was a great app, and used a lot of user feedback because we wanted to make it work just right. What this app allows people to do is essentially connect with their city government. So, whether there is a streetlight out in your neighborhood or a pothole that needs to be filled, Citizens Connect is the app that takes that request and doesn't bring it to some standalone PC somewhere -- it brings it right to those folks that are delivering the service.

We had an overwhelmingly positive response to this around the city. We first did it in 2009. We are now on our third iteration of the project, and it has become an essential piece to how people connect to the city. Right now, 20% of the service requests that come into the city are coming through this mobile channel. So, not only have we reached out and found a new way to connect with the citizens, [but] we have also created a really low-cost channel to allow them to do that. It's been great, and now we get all the data generated from those requests as well.

Citizens Connect opened the door to the city that showed us what we can do with technology, and in very innovative ways. So what we did with Citizens Connect, in connecting [residents] with their basic services -- we now do in lots of places: in the education space, in the administration and finance space, in public works, public safety [spaces]. It has been really fun to watch this new culture of innovation take hold in the city.

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