A British software provider joined forces with municipal government agencies around the country on a solution for faster, more efficient, and less expensive reporting and responses to neighborhood problems like
graffiti and illegal garbage dumping.
The “broken windows theory,” first published in the early 1980s, helped shaped the way that cities and police departments fought crime. James Q. Wilson, the political scientist who posited the theory, noted a link between the physical decay of urban environments
and increasing criminal activity. “One unrepaired window,” he wrote, “is a signal that no one cares.” Quick action by citizens and proactive government agencies in dealing with vandalism and other signs of decay, he argued, could slow the advance of crime.
The problem for local government agencies, though, is that efficiently collecting and responding to complaints about environmental crime is easier said than done. Call centers can be costly to operate, and websites used for reporting can be slow and cumbersome
tools for quickly addressing issues.
It’s a problem that Blackburn IT Services (BBITS) decided to tackle using state-of-the-art technology. Working with local officials in a London borough, they created Love Clean Streets, a “shared service” that provides a mature solution and financial benefits
to local authorities. The solution includes an application built on Windows and available on a broad range of platforms, including Windows 8, Windows Phone, and mobile platforms such as iOS and Android. It’s helping citizens and local government agencies in
England tackle problems like graffiti and illegal dumping. It’s also helping them carry out tasks more efficiently while cutting costs.
The idea started during discussions between BBITS and officials in Lewisham, a borough on London’s southeast side, prior to the 2012 London Olympics. Community officials were looking for ways to spruce up the city prior to the international event. The collaboration
resulted in “Love Lewisham,” in which officials publicized photos of work being done to clean up neighborhoods in response to citizen complaints.
“It was a great start, and we wanted to find ways to enhance it,” says Ian Blackburn, Founder of BBITS. “There were two business needs we tried to address. First, there was the need to support the engagement between the public and their local government officials.
At the same time, these officials needed to find ways to cut operational costs and work as efficiently as possible. Accomplishing these goals required a solution that would let anyone get involved in the process.”
For BBITS, the first step involved Windows Azure. BBITS used the Microsoft cloud service as a central location for information to support a web application designed to work on multiple platforms, including Windows laptop and desktop devices, smartphones from
multiple vendors, and tablets. Without that multi-platform capability, it wouldn’t succeed in the ways Blackburn’s company envisioned.
BBITS then created its free Love Clean Streets solution, which is available as a paid, customizable app for authorities and as a free, downloadable version for consumers that is available through the Windows 8 Marketplace and the Windows Phone Store. It lets
people take pictures of neighborhood blight like vandalized buildings or “fly-tipping” – illegal garbage dumping. Citizens can add a brief note about the problem and then upload the information to a linked website run by the local municipality. They get an
immediate confirmation of the report through email or text, and are notified when authorities address the problem.
“We are Microsoft .NET developers, and decided to use the Windows platform as the basis for developing the app for other platforms,” Blackburn says. “It’s a great fit, and it got better with the introduction of Windows 8, which provides broader integration
into the tablet form factor.”
Cutting Costs—And Cleaning Neighborhoods
Love Clean Streets caught on fast, and it’s now used in more than 40 local government authorities across England. BBITS provides a simple version of the software that can be customized based on what officials feel will best serve their local needs.
That’s not the only feature, however, that is spurring the rapid adoption. The solution is boosting efficiencies and cost savings for local governments. Love Clean Streets has created what Blackburn calls a “channel shift” away from traditional reporting channels.
The shift includes a 34 percent aggregate decrease in the use of call centers and less website reporting, and more use of the efficient processes supported by the app. While BBITS charges government authorities an annual subscription fee for the service, the
savings they achieve over the long run provide a substantial return on investment.
One of the government authorities using Love Clean Streets conducted an analysis of the savings achieved. With a typical call center operation, the transactional cost of receiving and responding to a problem was about £6 (U.S.$9), while a web form costs about
£4.50 (U.S.$6.83). But with Love Clean Streets, the cost for a transaction is about £1.50 (U.S.$2.28)
“That authority estimates it will save them about £125,000 a year [U.S.$189,737],” says Blackburn. “Spread that over the 40 authorities currently using Love Clean Streets, and it adds up to a lot of money saved.”
Love Clean Streets delivers other equally dramatic benefits. Lewisham officials compared conditions before and after the solution was available, noting an 87 percent reduction in the time it takes to process an issued reported, a 73 percent reduction in the
amount of graffiti seen on the streets, and less than a day to clean up fly-tipping, instead of the two or three days or longer that it used to take. In the latter case, fast responses to illegal garbage piles discourages others from replicating the behavior,
Mike O’Brien, a councilor with the Medway Council in southeast England, says the benefits of the app are compelling.
||The Windows development tools, the scalability of Windows Azure, and new features like the charms and tiles in Windows 8 give us more options than ever before for acting on our own ideas and those from our customers
| Ian Blackburn
Blackburn IT Services
“Our community officers working out on the streets find that it is very efficient to use,” O’Brien says. “They can report things as they see them, and we’ve had a ‘soft’ launch with members of the public who are also able to report problems. They’re all pleased
with the speed at which problems are acknowledged and the fact that things are getting done. Just in office time alone we’ve achieved an estimated £20,000 [U.S.$30,900] in savings in the first year. If I was speaking to other councilors around the country,
I would give them one simple message: Download the app and start reporting.”
Success Spurs Innovation
That kind of enthusiasm for Love Clean Streets has inspired BBITS to develop another related offering. The app, expected to be available in mid-2013, will be an enforcement tool ideally suited to the tablet platform.
“Employees for local authorities will be able to take their Windows 8 tablet and do reporting from the field on contractors who are not fulfilling their obligations,” says Blackburn. “Traditionally they have gone out, gathered this information on paper, go
back to the office, and enter the information manually into systems. This new solution will be far more efficient. It will be an excellent example of how to use the Windows 8 platform for easier, faster data input than is now possible on smartphones.”
He says the integration of the Windows platform across form factors—and its ability to work easily with non-Windows devices—opens up entirely new business opportunities.
“The Windows development tools, the scalability of Windows Azure, and new features like the charms and tiles in Windows 8,” Blackburn adds, “give us more options than ever before for acting on our own ideas and those from our customers to deliver new solutions
that meet business needs.”