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Online Customer Service Center Launched on TampaGov.net

Angela Champsaur
May 2004
The Innovation Groups

Making city government more accountable and accessible to citizens is a commitment of the city of Tampa, FL (pop. 303,447) to its residents. To ensure best practices for customer service, the city launched  the Customer Service Center in March 2004, an on-line Web-based communication tracking system that allows citizens to communicate their concerns and requests for services via the Internet. The software uses Microsoft ASP and SQL, which allowed the city's IT professionals to develop and write the program internally.

"We put in significant effort to research what other jurisdictions are doing," said Rick Smith, Director of the Strategic Planning and Technology Department.  "By researching best practices, the city is able to develop cutting edge tools to serve our citizens via the city's Web site."

He said the idea is to make it easy for anyone to get information to the city of Tampa, whether it's making a complaint or simply reporting information outlined in 300 different service areas Tampa citizens inquire about. 

For example, when reporting an abandoned vehicle or a pot hole -- both are separate events and call upon different services. With the new customer services center, residents can go online and click on the service area that applies to the issue being reported. By clicking on the service area, the resident will view a form that asks for the details that the department would need to know. Once filled out, the resident can then periodically go online and track the request and view its status.

"These details are what I believe makes this egovernment service unique," said Smith.

The Customer Service Center offers services from six categories including:

  • Citizen Action Request: Report abandoned vehicles, accumulated trash, building violations and much more.
  • TampaGov Services: List of services, frequently asked questions, department lists and most requested services.
  • Submit an Opinion or Question: Code Enforcement, Parks and Recreation, Police, Solid Waste and more.
  • Make a Payment or Purchase: Construction permits, monthly parking permits, parking tickets and utility bills.
  • Obtain a Form or Application: Construction services, job applications, start utility service, etc.
  • Self Service Research: Crime activity maps, fire rescue calls, police calls, Tampa events calendar and more.

Steve Cantler, IT Project Leader, said "This customer service center allows us to combine the access of existing services like our self service payments, self service research and links to non- city services (county, state, federal).  But the real addition is the incorporated two-way communication between government and the citizens.   This seamless approach puts together various pieces of the puzzle into a complete picture."

Any citizen can access Tampa's Web site at www.tampagov.net 24 hours a day, seven days a week to report non-emergency concerns or request services.  If they no longer need the service, the customer can withdraw the request.  Or they can remain anonymous and in most cases a vast majority do.  

"Most government offerings give residents a front door to submit a request.  We allow them to track and observe what the city is doing, which gives opportunity for them to actively participate in the process," said Cantler.  "That is what is unique and leading edge."

For example, if a citizen was suspicious of a neighbor doing illegal activity, it might not be reported because of their concern over their identity being revealed on public record.  This provides a way for those who might not normally report to report or request while providing anonymity.

According to Cantler, egovernment has changed the way Tampa does business.  Ultimately, it gives citizens easier, faster, and a more convenient way to access the services the city provides versus traditional methods.  The demand for accessing services goes beyond the hours in which the "brick and mortar" of local government allows. 

"It has forced us to rethink how we provide those services and has redirected our energy," he said.  "However, this effort doesn't change the fact that our traditional methods are in tact."

Tampa, FL won the 2003 Digital Cities Award given by the Center for Digital Government, a national research and advisory institute on information technology in government education.  In addition, the 2002, "Best of the Web" by the Center for Digital Government and Government Technology Magazine.