THE 411 ON 311

City of Houston reboots with efficient new virtual 311 system

Houston's 311 is going virtual. Image courtesy of the City of Houston

Houstonians who've been occasionally frustrated by having to call the city's 311 service for the simplest of issues are now in luck. The City of Houston has launched an innovative new virtual 311 platform.

Now, locals can address needs and create individual cases via a newly created, cloud-based "Virtual Agent." This means residents should only need to dial into the 311 call centers for the most complicated cases, which promises to reduce call volumes and wait times.

The new system officially launched on June 26; city technology and data teams have stabilized the process as the city transferred over 10 years of data into the new system, a press release notes.

Why upgrade now? Each year, the 311 Call Center receives roughly 2.2 million contacts and creates approximately 450,000 service requests, the city estimates. The 311 system was crucial during the Tax Day Flood, Hurricane Harvey, and Winter Storm Uri. This system refresh assures a more responsive and minimal wait time during times of crisis, press materials note.

Residents can now create a service request by an app (Apple and Google), web portal via the Virtual Agent, and through call taker in the 311-call center.

Some of the new functionality improvements include:

  • A customer self-service portal with a virtual agent, allowing residents to create service requests on their own
  • The ability to re-classify a case instead of having to close it and create another one
  • Cases being routed to a team, instead of an individual minimizing case inactivity due to staff being out of office
  • Cases created via web portal, app, or call taker all have the same service request numbers and, when not confidential, are searchable on all platforms
  • Prior to service requests being created, there will be a proximity search performed to ensure no duplication of cases created (e.g., pothole cases being flagged as 1000 Main St. and at the corner of Main Street and Texas Street)

"The new, innovative system is a significant accomplishment for the City of Houston," Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a press release.

"Last fiscal year, we prioritized the development of a new 311 system by funding it through the CIP process. In nine short months, HITS and ARA were able to take that investment and develop a 311 system that modernizes 20-year-old technology and creates a platform that equips the City to better handle increased demand."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Rice once again is named the best collegiate value in Texas. Photo courtesy of Rice University

By one measure, earning a degree at Rice University is the smartest move in the Lone Star State.

In its eighth annual ranking of colleges and university that give students the best return on their educational investment, personal finance website SmartAsset places Rice at No. 1 in Texas and No. 10 in the U.S. It’s the only Texas school to break into the national top 10.

To determine the best-value colleges and universities in each state, SmartAsset crunched data in these categories: scholarships and grants, starting salary for new graduates, tuition, living costs, and retention rate.

While the tuition ($47,350) and student living costs ($17,800) at Rice are the highest among the top 10 Texas schools on the list, the average amount of scholarships and grants ($43,615), average starting salary ($77,900), and retention rate (97 percent) also are among the highest.

According to Rice, tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, and personal expenses for the 2022-23 academic year add up to $74,110. That figure, which excludes financial aid, applies to a full-time, degree-seeking student living on campus.

“Rice University is consistently ranked as a best value in higher education and is one of America’s leading teaching and research universities,” the school’s Office of Financial Aid says. “By attending Rice, you will not only receive a superior education at a reasonable cost, you also will benefit from having a Rice degree long after graduation.”

Three other schools in or near the Houston metro area appear on SmartAsset’s list of the biggest-bang-for-your-buck schools in Texas:

  • Prairie View A&M University, No. 4. The university posted the lowest retention rate (74 percent) among the 10 schools. The remaining figures sit roughly in the middle of the pack.
  • University of Houston, No. 5. The university’s tuition ($8,913) was the lowest in the top 10, as was the average amount of scholarships and grants ($6,544).
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 6. The university’s living costs are the second highest among the top 10 ($17,636), while its average starting salary for new grads lands at No. 3 ($64,400).

Other schools in the state’s top 10 are:

  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 2.
  • University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson), No. 3.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, No. 7.
  • LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 8.
  • University of North Texas in Denton, No. 9.
  • Texas State University in San Marcos, No. 10.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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