Wednesday, 28 September 2022 12:15

AP 2-23 helps make Houston a smart city

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A Houston Public Works crew spread asphalt on a neighborhood street pothole. The Mayor’s Office of Innovation credits the AP 2-23 policy with improvements in the 3-1-1 Houston Service Helpline, which allows the city to better respond to calls from residents wanting services in their communities. A Houston Public Works crew spread asphalt on a neighborhood street pothole. The Mayor’s Office of Innovation credits the AP 2-23 policy with improvements in the 3-1-1 Houston Service Helpline, which allows the city to better respond to calls from residents wanting services in their communities. Photo by Pete Mayes

 

For Jesse Bounds, it isn’t enough for Houston to just be a great city. He wants it to be a smart city.  As director for the Mayor’s Office of Innovation, he is a major advocate for the smart city concept, which uses data and technology to inform decisions, improve operations and enhance the customer experience.

They have a big task ahead of them, but service-level agreements such as AP 2-23 Citywide Service Request Response Standards helped pave the way for technology like the 3-1-1 Houston Service Helpline, the city’s primary channel for residents to access information and services.

“There are technologies like cameras and sensors, artificial intelligence and advanced analytics that can help enable a smart city to become smarter by providing additional data points or insights,” Bounds said. “But what’s most important is that staff from every level use the data and tools they have available to fully understand how city processes or functions are performing and how they can be improved.”

To understand the significance of the AP 2-23 policy, Bounds said Mayor Sylvester Turner set a goal for departments in May to achieve a 90% on-time performance rate per month and anything below that would spur a conversation to identify and troubleshoot any underlying issues.

“Before this policy was implemented, we were averaging below 75% on-time performance citywide, but just in the few months since the policy was implemented, we’re now at record performance levels - 83% in August!” he said. “We still have a way to go, but we’re on the right track.”

Bounds said the policy creates a regular system of accountability and an incentive for continuous improvement efforts. “When you have a city of our size with the resource constraints we have, there is no other choice but to do more with less. Finding ways to work smarter saves us a ton of time and helps us keep up with the increasing demand of a growing population,” he said.

This has been a key part of the mayor’s strategy from day one with the “Pothole Promise,” Bound said. “Everyone thought he was crazy when he pushed us to go from resolving pothole requests in a couple of weeks to the next day … a month later and pretty much ever since, we’ve been filling potholes the next business day!” he said.

Bounds said it wasn’t easy to get the policy approved, citing the mayor’s push, a ton of coordination, process improvement and good data and reporting to make it happen. “That’s really what this policy is intended to build upon,” he said.

He also said there are legitimate reasons why departments are unable to achieve their SLAs: weather, equipment issues, staffing shortages, request complexity, inefficient processing, etc.

“By bringing those issues to light and having a regular cadence of follow-up, we can work through any challenge to achieve our goals,” Bounds said.   

He also said it’s important to take a little time out of your day or allow your staff the leeway to critically examine processes.

“So often, we have our heads down trying to accomplish the day-to-day tasks of running the fourth largest city in the country, and we don’t make the time to look up and examine why we’re doing things the way we are, and whether there are opportunities to do things better, faster or cheaper,” he said.

“I would also encourage everyone to use the data and technology tools we have available to guide decisions – and if you don’t have the data or skillsets you need to understand your data, give us a call, that’s what we’re here for.