SOConnect, a new app and website designed to make it easier for South Orange residents and visitors to report problems such as potholes and downed trees to the village, is starting to take off.
Trustee Howard Levison, Chair of the Finance & Information Technology Committee, spearheaded the program and is a big fan.
“Anytime I see a question raised, I say, ‘Go to SOConnect!'” said Levison.
“This is what New York City calls a 311 system. It’s a system where we have selected topics that people can report and we can continuously update.”
Besides being able to report problems in an easy and timely manner, Levison says that there are other, unseen benefits to the product.
When a complaint goes into the SOConnect system, there are structured workflows that send it automatically to a specified department to handle that complain. “That department director will answer back and say ‘I’ve got it’ and will report back in the end that it’s closed.”
Levison said that SOConnect not only provides timely response to problems but is a great benchmarking tool for the village. “You can measure response of departments over time. We will set standards of what we should be doing. The other thing is that it produces a weekly or monthly report back to the administrators so that there is an awareness at the higher levels where we have a sense of problems and expectations for fixing them.
Deputy Village Administrator Adam Loehner said that since the app launched in January, 1,857 issues or complaints have been submitted by 342 individuals (as of Friday, December 5). Of those, 1,735 have been resolved. The Village received 444 requests through iPhone services and 509 through Android. The remainder of the issues have been reported through the SO Connect website.
The program cost $2,669 to purchase and install. Ongoing maintenance will cost the village $5,446 for 2014 and $5,827 for 2015.
Loehner said he is seeing the benefits of the program. “SOConnect has helped connect our residents to the appropriate departments to address their issues more effectively and efficiently.”
Levison said that SOConnect is just one part of South Orange’s shift toward smarter and more efficient administration through technology. He pointed to South Orange’s move to e-ticketing several years ago, and to the new computer-aided dispatch and recording system for emergency personnel. “Very shortly, we will be able to do code enforcement where we give tablets to code enforcement staff and they can issue violations. They can schedule permits or inspections. Or when they go around doing inspections they can report any issue on the tablet.”
One big fan of SOConnect is Elnardo Webster of Speir Drive. “I complained about a pothole in front of my house and [Levison] explained there was an app. Initially I thought I was getting blown off, but I did the app. It was easy to use. The funniest thing is that I did it at 8:30 a.m. and by 11:30 a.m. the pothole was filled.” Webster was suspicious: “I thought Howard did that to show me it would get done. But I asked one of my neighbors to do the same thing with another pothole and it was fixed the next day.”
The SOConnect app and online service are free. Download the app to your smartphones by going to the Apple app store or the Google Play store and searching “SOConnect.” To find and use the service via laptop or tablet, visit www.publicstuff.com and search “South Orange.”