The inability to quickly inquire about in-process public service requests led top city and public works officials in the City of Long Beach, California, to push for the development of an electronic work order system. On July 15, 1987, the city brought its new Service Request Tracking System (SERTS) on-line. SERTS is a highly advanced and sophisticated mainframe database system developed and used by the city's Public Service Bureau to receive, schedule, and follow up on over 40,000 citizen and client requests for service each year.
In the past, systems that were used to track and schedule the 28 various public service functions were paper-and-file oriented, where scheduling was done on a chalkboard. Paperwork for scheduled and completed jobs was kept in metal box files in separate locations corresponding to the various operational headquarters. SERTS represents a breakthrough for public works operations in Long Beach because it places service information into an electronic format that is immediately accessible from almost anywhere in the city and is capable of generating a tremendous wealth of management information.
SERTS was designed to eliminate the classic government "runaround" experience, where constituents seeking services were transferred from department to department. With SERTS, any city phone operator with a computer terminal has the capability of bringing up the caller's address onto the screen, which lists information such as job title, date requested, date promised and date completed. Thus, if the hypothetical caller with a tree-trimming concern is incorrectly routed to the Electronic Maintenance Division, that operator can still provide him with the information he desires. The caller will not be asked to dial another number.
SERTS was designed, however, to be more than just an on-line inquiry system: it is a larger integrated package, providing a tremendous wealth of management information. The system is interlinked with the city's financial operations to produce monthly and annual interdepartmental billing reports for cost-accounting purposes. And, perhaps more importantly, the system is used to track management accountabilities and goals. All Public Service Managers receive a weekly status report detailing missed promise dates, jobs not estimated within five days of receipt, and large discrepancies between estimated and actual costs.
The percentage of public service jobs completed by the promised date have increased from about 60 percent to over 90 percent. This phenomenal increase is not due to the fact that public service personnel are suddenly working faster or more efficiently, but instead to the performance statistics generated each week by SERTS: these numbers are published each week in a newsletter, which is widely disseminated throughout the city.