Last week, we wrote that Philadelphia’s planned 311 iPhone app — which would allow folks to submit complaints and ask questions to the city’s citizen-serving 311 agency — was two months late.
In a conversation last week, city Chief Technology Officer Allan Frank responded to some of the specifics of the article, which posited alternatives to in-house development of the application and challenged the city to take advantage of free app technologies and to turn to Philadelphia’s talented and civic-focused developers for help.
Frank said that contrary to statements in the article, the application hasn’t cost taxpayers anything — it’s been a labor of love for several employees in the department — and that the city did research low-cost and free, third-party options but found that its solution was the strongest.
So, then, why is it two months late?
What started as a front-end application to serve citizens has been transformed into a cross-departmental project, Frank says, tieing the app’s complaints into 311’s queue system, so that the same moderation process involved with the department’s standard customer service is integrated across the platforms.
“I had the front-end done overnight,” he says. “The reason I don’t have it out today is because of the desire on [311’s] end to have it entered into their work management system.”
And as for a release date? Frank was mum on a hard date. “I’ve asked them, I’ve given you enough time, I’m committed to the citizens, now I’m pushing it, I’ve given you a month or two, now let’s make it happen,” he said.
Frank also voiced some opposition to Councilman Bill Green‘s belief that the Division of Technology should spend more time focusing on citizens and less time concerned managing servers.
“I wish i could spend all my time focusing on citizens,” Frank said. “Unfortunately, in a city that has somewhere between 800 and 1000 servers, 52 agencies, 19 data rooms, 300 network locations, I have to manage servers. I have to build a protected stable environment to handle an online world.”
See our Q&A with Frank this Friday for more details and a full-length interview with the CTO, a conversation that covers the city’s plans to release data to thid-party developers, consolidation of city information technology, and how Frank grades his tenure in office with 10 months remaining until the mayoral primary.