Central Texas cities look to apps to better serve residents [Austin American-Statesman]
(Austin American-Statesman (TX) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 07--At least four Central Texas cities have decided to go mobile, using free smartphone apps to better serve residents.
But the apps' price tags vary. Pflugerville recently approved spending $103,600 for four-year contracts with two app developers. The Austin City Council last month unanimously approved spending $9,000 for Motorola Solutions to create a smartphone app complementing the city's 311 non-emergency services system.
Bastrop is spending $1,000 a year for an app released last year, while Cedar Park's mobile app is costing $6,000 annually.
Austin's initial app willallow residents to use smartphones to photograph a problem such as a broken streetlight and forward the information, including the location, to the city. Residents then will be able to track the filing and get a response from the city. Cedar Park's app is similar, but also allows video submissions.
Pflugerville's app will include the citizens' request tracker function while adding tools such as access to entertainment schedules and maps for public events such as Deutschen Pfest. Bastrop's app promotes shopping, city listings, historic sites and events.
For Austin's app to work, the city has to upgrade its computer and data systems as part of an $854,191 contract extension with Motorola Solutions. Eventually residents and outside developers will be able to access city information to create other mobile apps that could be used by the public. For example, a developer could create an app to show potholes in Austin neighborhoods.
Austin is joining cities such as Baltimore, Chicago and San Francisco that are already using "Open311," which creates standards for governments to respond and interact with residents. Those cities have created apps for their 311 non-emergency services systems.
Austin officials say the app will be money well spent.
"It does move us in the direction we need to go," said Council Member Laura Morrison, who began talking to city staff more than a year ago about the need to have more interaction between the city and residents.
"This is important because 311 is the most widely used interface between the citizens and the city," said Chip Rosenthal, a member of the Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission and steering committee member for Open Austin, which advocates for open government, open data and civic application development.
Cedar Park spokeswoman Jennie Huerta said Cedar Park officials moved forward with the plan for the city's app, CP Connect, because data showed that out of the 354,121 visits to the city's website since Aug. 1, 22 percent came from a mobile device.
Huerta said there have been 827 downloads of the city's mobile app since December.
Pflugerville will use the same provider as Cedar Park, Los Angeles-based CitySourced, for part of its app.
Pflugerville spokeswoman Terri Waggoner said Pflugerville officials became interested in an app after reviewing the 2012 Pflugerville citizen survey, which showed 65 percent of residents owned a smartphone, and 2012 city data showing 10 percent of the 526,030 visits to the city's website came from mobile devices.
Pflugerville's "Pfone" app will allow residents to track citizens' requests, access the city's website to pay bills, get information about events and receive notifications on their mobile devices from the city. Part of the app is scheduled to be ready for the city's Deutschen Pfest in May.
"To me, it brings a whole other interaction with the city," Waggoner said.
Another part of Pflugerville's app, developed by McLean, Va.-based CrowdTorch, would allow the city to highlight bigger events such as the Pfirecracker Pfestival and the Pfall Chili Pfest and to give app users entertainment schedules as well as maps. Users also would be able to post photos to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Bastrop's tourism-driven app has similar components.
Nancy Wood, director of the Bastrop Main Street Program, said Bastrop's app was developed by Sacramento, Calif.-based GoLocalApps, and content for the app is updated by city volunteers.
"It's cutting edge for us, especially the event one," Pflugerville Mayor Jeff Coleman said during a recent City Council meeting. "I'm not crazy about the price. But we'd be the only municipality in the area to do it. We'd be on the forefront instead of being behind."
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