In 'complaint-driven' St. Louis, City Hall takes steps to improve customer service

Better technology can solve a lot of the city’s communication issues, said St. Louis Building Commissioner Frank Oswald.

For the last decade, City Hall departments have used Cityworks, an off-the-shelf software designed to help governments manage work and infrastructure.

When Oswald needed new software for the building division, he contracted a local company to custom build it. Now almost all permits are done online, and the new system is expected to be integrated into Cityworks by the end of January.

Currently, it takes a building division inspector two to three days to receive a paper copy of a complaint, Oswald said. The inspector’s investigation and findings also are recorded on paper, resulting in a week or more until a resident hears back. Once the two systems are linked and the complaint is sent directly to inspectors’ tablets, Oswald expects the city to be able to generate updates more quickly.

But until the city figures out how to overcome some technological limitations, most residents will have to follow up to learn the status of their requests.

New software to complement Cityworks could make it easier for residents to monitor progress on complaints, but city officials say they don’t have the money right now.

“(It comes) at a significant price tag and would require our IT team to support implementation of the product,” Cindy Riordan, the city’s chief information officer, said in an email through city spokesman Koran Addo. Instead, the city is using its staff to find ways to share the complaint data with the public, including through the city’s open data portal.