Mobile Service On-Demand Delivery for Cities: A Hotel Is Like A Little City (Part 2)

At ALICE, we see mobile service on-demand technology as a trend that applies to any hospitality-like situation where guests and staff need to interact in real time. Perhaps the way ALICE is transforming hotel operations can be an inspiration to cities in how they provide their citizens service on-demand.

Yesterday, ALICE’s CTO Dmitry Koltunov joined an accomplished field of presenters pursuing cutting-edge projects related to the use of Smart City and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, at this year’s Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC) Expo in Washington, D.C.

Organized by US Ignite and the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), GCTC is a one-day international showcase of Smart City and IoT technologies.

It has been an honor to join the Smart Cities program and we have really enjoyed learning about some of the parallel difficulties cities face in providing service on-demand to their residents. There is a lot to be learned from understanding their complexities and applying it to our hospitality product.

Global Cities believes the work ALICE is doing with our partner hotels is a model for how municipalities can embrace mobile technology to connect with their citizens in today’s Smart Cities. At ALICE we see mobile service on-demand technology as a trend that applies to any hospitality-like situation where guests and staff need to interact in real time. Perhaps the way ALICE is transforming hotel operations can be an inspiration to cities in how they provide their citizens service on-demand.

Last week we presented Part I – our prelude to ALICE’s presentation. Today, we conclude with Part II.


As we discussed in Part I, mobile advancements and the corresponding rise of the Uber-for-X model have not only lead to innovation in the consumer sector. Indeed, as mobile penetration has increased considerably over the past several years (Mary Meeker reports the current global penetration for mobile devices at 73% of the population in her latest Internet Trends), many cities have implemented mobile apps to accompany the 311 dial-in services they were already providing.

Allowing citizens to register requests and complaints via app is much more cost effective and time efficient than using call centers. Digitized messaging means cities can process huge quantities of reports very quickly. And importantly, the quality of citizen reports is very high because users can upload photos of the problem and pinpoint their location with GPS.

In 2012, only one year after creating the app, the city of Riverside, California, received more than 33,000 311 reports each month from its 310,000 citizens. Riverside’s CIO said at the time 10 to 15 percent of Riverside’s 311 reports were generated by the mobile app, a number that was then growing by about 30% a month. The CIO said locals who might not have bothered to call or visit the city’s website to report issues or seek information were more likely to do so with the mobile app. “The app has helped the city be on top of these issues, and it’s empowered our citizens to help clean up the city and make it a better place to live,” he said.

City apps are helping citizens easily accomplish all manner of tasks that would have been inconvenient or costly in the past. In New York City, where city living can be particularly contentious, the city’s 311 app lets New Yorkers instantly address any number of issues, including registering noise complaints, heat or hot water issues, lost property in taxis, illegal parking and blocked driveways, homeless assistance and, everyone’s favorite, rat conditions. Similarly at hotels, guests are able to access a suite of services from maintenance to housekeeping to the concierge and so on.

Citizen-facing communication and on-demand mobile applications can also promote transparency and accountability – both essential elements of good municipal governance. In the wake of the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy, the mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, launched the city’s own 311 app. In addition to using the app to increase citizen access to city services, Detroit is also leveraging the app against the city’s effort to curb blight (the city is currently tasked with demolishing more than 20,000 abandoned homes), and rejuvenate public trust in so doing. The app feeds data to the city’s new open data portal, and city departments have set goals to ensure responsiveness. “There is a lot of skepticism [after the bankruptcy], and it does us a lot of good to make sure our citizens can see what happens in city hall. That transparency is a big, big deal for us,” said Detroit’s Director of Digital Media and Community Engagement of his government’s app.

Convenience, accessibility, transparency and accountability are all important byproducts of mobile service on-demand. For a 311-type app to be truly service-on-demand, however, it is not only about the ability for citizens to enter a mobile request form on the front-end, as has been built thus far in most instances, but it is also about having that public-facing system be able to dispatch to and coordinate the appropriate response via the appropriate city department on the backend. Indeed, just as we discovered at ALICE when we first started to iterate on a guest-facing hotel app that the convenience of mobile request would never be truly realized without an integration of all the disparate systems on the back-end, cities are finding the integrated approach to development a necessity for their success.

Citizen requests, like guest requests at a hotel, are as diverse in nature as the city agencies or groups tasked with addressing them. Sometimes there’s a pothole to report, sometimes it’s those rats, and sometimes it’s even the safe removal of homes, like in Detroit. Each of those issues falls under distinct jurisdictions within municipal operations. A 311 app that successfully brings all these domains together within one mobile application necessitates mobile infrastructure that provides digital integration of all those city agencies and groups.

As more and more of the things in the so-called Internet of Things come online, and as today’s mobile supercomputers (our smartphone and tablets that combine sensors, location, cameras, payments, and social platforms) become ever more sophisticated, the opportunities for cities to execute on service on-demand will become even greater. The challenge will remain, however, to integrate all these touchpoints and their data to one integrated service on-demand system.

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