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Technology & Entrepreneurship

Cost Overrun Could Raise Price Tag Of San Antonio's 311 App

The Open Cloud Academy's longtime home the Rand Building. Now renamed Rackspace Academy, it will move into Rackspace's Windcrest Headquarters.
Courtesy of Geekdom
Cityflag offices at Geekdom at the Rand and was cited as one of the inspirations for the city's CivTechSA program

Updated 6/1 at 11:15 a.m.

Last May, the city inked a deal with San Antonio-based startup Cityflag to create a new 311 app that would engage more residents through social media sharing, gamification, and ease of use.

The contract was for a $22,000 build out, with $6,000 a year in maintenance. It was originally scheduled to launch last summer.

Credit Courtesy of cityflag

The city’s current app through the company Verint last year had a yearly price tag of $36,000.

Since making the deal, Cityflag has garnered national attention and attracted more local investment.

Former San Antonio Mayor and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros invested in the company. CEO Alberto Altamirano was recognized as a Forbes 30 under 30 social entrepreneur. Recently, Mission signed on as a client for a new app.

But, a year later, the the new app hit the Google Play app store last week. The company is still working out the kinks, and an official launch is scheduled for the end of June.

Some features of the new app include a feed of service requests, the ability to upload photos of problems, and gain points based on participation and votes.

The company goes back to Council Thursday for an additional $62,980, nearly three times more than the original build budget.

The complexity of the city’s technology structure and integrating the new app on outdated  software was blamed at the time by city representatives for missing summer and fall launch dates. According to the company, the final app was presented to city staff at the end of January.

City staff wanted changes that included eliminating the comment section from service requests, using different flag colors and due date stamps.

BELOW | List of changes requested by city staff for the 311 app

Credit City of San Antonio

“These are added components that were outside the scope,” Altamirano said.

According to Cityflag’s proposal, the changes took hundreds of hours in additional work. Now they have to go back to Council to be paid.

Altamirano describes working with the city positively, saying it was new territory for everyone.

“We’re part of this program’s learning curve, right? We’ve grown so much as a company, and I think the city has learned a lot from the experience of working with us,” he said.

This is one of the first projects to come out of the Smart Cities budget.

“I know, for me, I definitely learned,” said Paula Stallcup, 311 call center senior manager.

She said city staff and developers had to work cloely together to develop the app.

“We were basically designing the mobile app together. We wanted to be able to do some things differently,” she said about feedback the department received over the years about its current app. Among the changes, the new app nearly doubles the number of requests users can make. And despite the added cost, Stallcup said she is still excited about its launch.

In the meantime, she said the city will continue to pay Verint for the current 311 app, at roughly $1,300 a month through the next few months. An open records request for the total cost of that contract was made, but TPR has not received a complete record.

City staff declined to be interviewed for this story citing concerns over Thursday’s vote.

Numerous interview requests since August about the app’s progress were either not addressed or declined.

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or follow him on Twitter @paulflahive

UPDATE: This story was updated with quotes from Paula Stallcup, 311 call center senior manager.