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City Services

Chicago 311 History

In 1997, Chicago took a hard look at how its residents requested city services and how departments responded to those requests. The City realized that although its system was considered one of the best in the country, there was opportunity for improvement.

The system was dependent on outdated software that was not Y2K compliant, and was unable to produce work orders or generate the management information necessary to enhance the efficiency of City departments that deliver basic city services. In addition, due to a proliferation of phone numbers used to market different City programs and services and an area code split which required even more 10-digit dialing, residents were finding it increasingly difficult to access the services to which they were entitled.

The City culminated more than one year of research and planning for replacing its outdated mainframe system with a modern PC-based system that would improve communication among departments, reduce response time to residents' requests, and generate management reports to ensure a more efficient service delivery system for all departments.

In January 1999, the City implemented the 311 system as a "one-stop-shopping" center for access to all city services and non-emergency police services, eliminating a number of smaller call centers.

Chicago residents can now call 311 - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - to report service needs, check the status of previous service requests, obtain information regarding City programs or events and file police reports. By combining one easy-to-remember number, a staff of highly trained operators and an enterprise-wide software that automatically routes service requests to the proper department, Chicago has worked to make city government work effectively in several ways.

  • A simplified and shortened time between a resident reporting a problem and its resolution.
  • The system has become an effective management tool, generating real-time reports that help departments manage staff, track trends, highlight and monitor performance, target efficiency needs and maximize its resources.
  • Service requests can also be submitted to the City utilizing several other discrete channels: Aldermanic offices, community policing offices within each police district, the Internet, and remote City department facilities.
  • 311 has helped to make our 911 Emergency System more efficient by diverting non-emergency calls that could impede the City's emergency response.

Accomplishments & Recognitions

1999 – 2002

  • 1999 - Instituted the three-digit 311 capability in Chicago; became a consolidated center for residents to access information, City services and non-emergency police services; and handled a record call volume of 2.8 million calls.
  • 2001 - Introduced the web-enabled version of SunTRACK, making it possible to enter service requests via the internet.  Also, completed the build out of the existing 311 Call Center.

2003 – 2006

  • 2003 - Received the "Innovations in American Government Award" from the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • 2004 - Awarded the National Public Service Excellence Award conferred by the Public Employees Roundtable.
  • 2005 - Featured on The Visionaries, a nationally syndicated PBS program.
  • 2006 - Consolidated Call Center Operations with the Department of Aviation, responsible for providing information for O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport. With over 60 million travelers annually, 311 provides general customer service information regarding terminal locations, concessions, lost & found  and ground transportation among other inquiries.

2007 – 2012

  • 2009 - Upgraded the computer system from a client-server application to a web-based application to help accommodate the  growing popularity of 311 and the increased number of requests from Chicago residents as well as visitors.
  • 2010 - Upgraded to the AT&T Vesta Phone System with an expanded auto-attendant designed to help manage the increased call volume as well as additional channels for information-only calls.  Also, the method used to enter service requests was expanded to include the use of mobile devices by several City departments -- workers can input service requests directly into the system while in the field.
  • 2011 - Launched ChiTEXT, a short message services (SMS) text application, which allows residents and visitors to receive frequently requested information via authentic text messages directly through their mobile phones.
  • September 2012 - Launch of Open311 -- a public interface with the current 311 System.  Developed to modernize and improve service efficiencies, the Open311 standard will open access to web and mobile applications to simplify the way requests for service are reported and provide a tool to easily track the status of requests.  In addition, City departments will be able to monitor and respond to these requests more efficiently.

311 City Services now takes approximately 3.9 million calls annually, and continues to be a model for effective city government working to enhance the quality of life for all those who live, work, and visit the City of Chicago.