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  • City of Auburn

How Auburn, AL Created a Customized App to Meet Public Service Request Needs

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While Auburn, Alabama is known as a college town, the city is also home to one of the fastest-growing populations in the South. Meeting the needs of over 78,000 tech-savvy residents required a new approach to handling public service requests. Thanks to govService OneView, the City of Auburn was able to create and implement a mobile app to make it easier to submit requests, as well as update citizens on the progress towards resolving their concerns.

“Our goal is to empower users with advanced technology to do their jobs better. I think OneView fits right in with our goals both as a department and City leadership to work more efficiently in solving citizen concerns.”
Britt Johnson, GIS Business Analyst, Auburn, AL


  • 2,915 app downloads
  • 1,531 requests submitted in last year
  • 6 days from request start to completion
  • 96% response rate to requestor
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Meeting Demands of a Tech-Savvy City

College towns may invoke images of team spirit, ambitious students, and enthusiastic alumni, but for the over 78,000 residents of Auburn, Alabama, life in a college town also means an interest in technology and being on the front edge of what advancements offer.

As one of the fastest growing cities in Alabama, demands can come hard and fast, said Britt Johnson, GIS Business Analyst for Auburn. Keeping ahead of the needs that come with that growth also requires keeping pace with technology.

“Being a college town with obviously a lot of tech-savvy citizens, we realized that our old ways of doing business in how citizens could report concerns to us, was something we needed to improve,” he said.

Auburn’s population continues to grow disproportionately to city staff. Staff culture values working smarter, not harder, and therefore leans on IT to help implement efficiencies. Yet even IT runs “a very, very lean ship,” prides Johnson.

“There’s not many of us to support a lot of users,” he said. “So, that’s one place where we certainly lean on technology as much as we can to help us out in that regard.”

As a result, Johnson’s team constantly looks for ways to optimize business processes with technology across the organization. As administrator for Cityworks, Auburn’s enterprise-wide work order, asset management, and permitting system, Johnson saw the need to bring technology to help meet growing needs for public service requests.

“We had most people just calling City Hall and getting transferred around,” he said. “There were generic email addresses posted on the website. We had developed a limited number of custom web forms, but those were generally for a specific use case here and there. There was certainly by no means an all-encompassing one-stop shop approach.”

Routing of requests also created issues, he recalled, as non-emergency requests weren’t appropriate for routing through Auburn’s main call center.

“We didn’t have the budget to set up a dedicated call center for 311-type calls, and these non-emergency requests weren’t appropriate to route through our 911 call center” he added. “We were really looking for a solution where we could catch these requests as they came in, and basically route them straight into Cityworks. We needed to get with the times and be more technologically advanced in ways for citizens to interact with us.”


An App That Embraces Customization

The city growth, especially in residential areas, was a major factor in looking for a solution that utilizes the most up-to-date GIS data available. Starting in mid-2018, Johnson looked to build a digital tool that would help residents leverage that data, while not changing the daily processes staff relied on to do their job.

After speaking with other cities that were dealing with similar needs, Auburn decided on govService and the OneView tool that integrates ESRI map information into a user-friendly app for reporting service requests.

“There were certainly some advantages that we saw and heard from other cities on how (OneView) did things better than some of the other apps,” he recalled. “And just the fact that we already had the Cityworks side of things already fully built out, led to our implementation time being considerably shorter than our peers who had to build out both the citizen-facing and internal processes at the same time.”

After gaining approvals, implementation began in 2019. Part of that convenient integration came with OneView’s ability to easily incorporate ESRI information, saving Auburn’s team time in creating and executing the app launch.

“That was also one of the big selling points for OneView with us: the ability to add our custom basemap to the apps,” Johnson said. “Competitors gave us the choice of a Google map that wasn’t customized. Especially in residential areas, we needed to get new streets into the map much more quickly than they do in their standard basemaps.”

Having a way to more quickly update maps helped show the responsiveness the city sought to bring to the app, as did OneView’s capabilities to increase interactions with the public. City staff have the ability to add a comment to the request in Cityworks that is flagged to notify the citizen automatically in their OneView app, reducing the need for staff to manually update on the status of a request.

“The ability to have that communication from us back to the citizen, and they get a notification with the app is something we’ve tried to leverage heavily,” Johnson said. “The IT department’s mission is to empower users with advanced technology to do their jobs better. I think [OneView] fits right in with our goals both as a department and City leadership to work more efficiently in solving citizen concerns.”


A Positive Response from Staff and the Public

The Auburn FixIt app powered by OneView, launched auspiciously in February 2020, setting the new service up for an immediate stress test.

“It was very fortunate timing,” said Johnson of the pre-COVID launch.

Johnson reported, though, that the new app not only withstood the challenges of COVID-related shutdowns but has continued to make a positive impact both on the tech-driven Auburn community and in the internal processes of city staff.

While Johnson has seen some of the more common results of a digital transformation, such as reduced call and email volume and positive customer comments, one unique place where the shift has been noticeable is in one of the roughest forums for public service-related comments: Nextdoor.

“We’ve seen improved comments on social platforms, and Nextdoor had a big improvement in comments,” he said. “We would see a lot of discussion there just when people would talk about, ‘Why doesn’t this pothole get fixed?’ or this and that. But we noticed a decrease in comments once the frequent posters got word that we had this new way to report issues. Somebody would comment, ‘Hey, the city’s got this new FixIt app. You can take a picture and report it to them just from your phone.’ We absolutely did notice that there was improved engagement.”

Auburn staff has also taken to the new app when submitting internal requests and tracking progress. Implementing the new services both internally and to the public gave the chance to train staff and adjust their expectations, as well, Johnson said.

“We made a major effort to train our internal staff on the new communications processes that the FixIt app opened up to us,” he said. “This is how we’re going to do business and enforcing that communication back to the citizen. So, we make a point to track internally that when requests come in, responses go through Cityworks to reinforce the process.”

With over 1,530 requests submitted in the last calendar year, Auburn staff is achieving a 96% response rate on requests and completing those requests in an average of six days from submission. The Auburn community has also shown their interest in the new approach to service by downloading the FixIt app nearly 3,000 times since it launched.

It’s a progression that Johnson said fits right into the plan for smart, focused growth in both technology and city services.

“We definitely don’t want the citizen experience to be a request is submitted and they receive no updates on it until it’s closed out,” he said. “We’re communicating with the citizen to keep them abreast of what we’re doing to resolve their concerns.”