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FixMyStreet Pro says ‘Hi’ to Oxfordshire’s HIAMS


Our client councils continue to test our integration mettle with the many and varied internal systems they use.

One nice thing about FixMyStreet Pro, from the council point of view, is that it can play nicely with any internal council system, passing reports wherever they are needed and feeding updates back to the report-maker and onto the live site. What keeps life interesting is that there’s a huge variety of differing set-ups across every council, so there’s always something new to learn.

Oxfordshire County Council are a case in point. They’ve been a client of ours since 2013, and back in May they asked if we could work with them to integrate their new highways asset maintenance system HIAMS, supplied by WDM, and make sure the whole kaboodle could work with FixMyStreet Pro as well.

At the same time, they needed an update to their co-branded version of FixMyStreet to match a new design across the council website. FixMyStreet can take on any template so that it fits seamlessly into the rest of the site.

Oxfordshire County Council's installation of FixMyStreet

As FixMyStreet was well embedded and citizens were already using it, it was vital to ensure that the disruption was kept to a minimum, both for report-makers and members of staff dealing with enquiries.

We worked closely with WDM and Oxfordshire County Council to create a connector that would pass information the user entered on Oxfordshire’s FixMyStreet installation or the national FixMyStreet website into the new WDM system, with the correct categories and details already completed.

Once we saw data going into the system successfully, the next task was to get updates back out. One single report could take a long journey, being passed from WDM onto another system and then back through to WDM before an update came to the user. We didn’t want to leave the report-maker wondering what was happening, so it was crucial to ensure that updates came back to them as smoothly and quickly as possible.

The integration between FixMyStreet and WDM is now live and working. Users will receive an update whenever their report’s status is changed within the WDM system, meaning there’s no need for them to follow up with a phone call or email — a win for both citizens and councils.

It all went smoothly from our point of view, but let’s hear from Anna Fitzgerald, Oxfordshire’s Infrastructure Information Management Principal Officer:

“We’ve been using FixMyStreet Pro since 2013 as it’s a system which is easy to integrate and our customers love it.

“From an IT support side; integrating the new system to FixMyStreet Pro was seamless. The team at mySociety have been a pleasure to work with, are extremely helpful, knowledgeable and organised. They make you feel like you are their top priority at all times, nothing was ever an issue.

“Now that we have full integration with the new system, the process of updating our customers happens instantaneously. FixMyStreet Pro has also given us flexibility to change how we communicate with our customers, how often we communicate; and all in real time.

“What’s more, our Members and management team love it as it has greatly reduced the amount of calls to our customer services desk, which saves a lot of money for the council.”

As always, we’re delighted to hear such positive feedback. If you’re from a council and would like to explore the benefits FixMyStreet Pro could bring you, please do get in touch.

Image: Suad Kamardeen

Hit the Highway with FixMyStreet

It’s something we’ve been wanting for a long time, and it’ll very soon be a reality: FixMyStreet reports will, where appropriate, be channeled to Highways England. Look out for this functionality in the coming week.

My way or the highway

Previously, if you reported a problem on one of the country’s motorways or major A roads, we had no way of identifying whether it was the responsibility of the government department rather than the council. We had to rely on whichever council the report fell within, and hope that they would forward it on.

But now, we can send reports off to just the right authority. What’s changed to make this improvement possible?

Well, FixMyStreet uses our MapIt software, which matches points (in this case, the pin you put in the map when you make a report) with the boundaries they fall within (mainly, until now, council boundaries). That’s how it knows which council to send your issue to, even if you have no idea yourself when you make the report.

Motorways and A roads have boundaries too, of course, but that data wasn’t previously available under an open licence that would allow us to use it on the site. That all changed with GOV.UK’s release of the Highways England Pavement Management System Network Layer — just what we needed!

So now, if you make a report that falls within a small distance from one of the relevant roads, FixMyStreet will use MapIt in combination with this data layer. You’ll see a message asking for confirmation that your report actually does pertain to the highway: where roads cross a motorway, for example, a pin could relate to the road on a bridge, or the motorway below.

Confirm either way and boom: off it goes to either Highways England or to the council, as appropriate.

So that’s a big thumbs up for open data: thanks, GOV.UK! It’s also a good example of how our commercial work, providing FixMyStreet Pro to councils as their default street reporting system, has a knock-on benefit across the open source FixMyStreet codebase that runs not only FixMyStreet.com, but sites run by other folk around the world.

As you may remember, we recently added red routes to Bromley for FixMyStreet Pro, and it was this bit of coding that paved the way for the highways work. We can only prioritise not-for-profit development if we have the funding for it; but being able to improve FixMyStreet for everyone on the back of work done for commercial clients is a win for everyone.

Or, as our developer Struan says, in a metaphor perhaps better suited to shipping routes than highways, “a rising tide raises all boats”.

 

Image: Alex Kalinin

 

 

We’ll be at Highways UK

Highways UK is a massive annual expo for those working on the UK’s road infrastructure — from local authorities to contractors and regional transport bodies.

This year, for the first time, we’ll be heading to the NEC in Birmingham to demonstrate the benefits of our FixMyStreet Pro street fault reporting service for councils and other organisations.

If you’re one of the thousands of industry folk who’ll also be attending this two-day highways extravaganza on 7-8 November, do make sure you drop by our stand to meet us and learn more about how FixMyStreet Pro is saving councils money and transforming their services. We’ll be at stand D02, near the entrance.

Who’ll be there

Come and have a chat with one of these friendly mySociety team members:

Mark Cridge, Chief Exec Leading mySociety’s many activities, Mark is the one to ask about how FixMyStreet Pro sits within the current shift towards smart, digital solutions for councils. He’s also been instrumental in bringing councils in on the planning phase of our products — if you’re interested in contributing to that sort of input, do come and have a word.

 

Louise Howells of mySociety Louise Howells, Delivery Manager Louise handles much of the liaison between our client councils and FixMyStreet’s developers, making sure that everyone’s happy on both sides. She’s the best person to talk about the practicalities of implementation, ongoing support and the roadmap for future innovations on FixMyStreet.
 

David Eaton of mySociety David Eaton, Sales Director David can answer all your questions about integration, features and benefits — and because he’s talked to councils up and down the country, he’s very well-placed to discuss how other authorities are tackling their street reporting issues.
 
 

Events and presentations

We’ll be happy to show you a demo version of FixMyStreet — you can even have a play with it to see how all the different features work, both for the report-maker, and for various levels of admin staff. Just drop by the stand at any time during the two days. We’ve got plenty of reading material for you to take away, too.

But we’ll also have a couple of special presentations at our stand that you might want to put into your calendars:

Integrating FixMyStreet Pro with your asset management system

Wednesday 7th November 2.30pm Anna Fitzgerald (Principal Officer – Infrastructure Information Management Asset and Data Systems) from Oxfordshire County Council will be sharing the council’s experience of integrating FixMyStreet with their back end systems. Presentation followed by a Q&A session.

How FixMyStreet Pro transformed the customer service experience

Thursday 8th November 2.30pmTracy Eaton (Customer Experience Account Manager – Digital Team) from Buckinghamshire County Council will be exploring the impact adopting FixMyStreet has made to their highways related fault-handling. Presentation followed by a live Q&A.


Highways UK is a new venture for us, and we’re really looking forward to chatting face to face with people who share our interests. We’ll happily talk all day about effective digital solutions to the many challenges of roads maintenance! Hope to see you there.

Image: N-allen (CC BY-SA 4.0), from Wikimedia Commons

New FixMyStreet Pro case studies from client councils



We know there’s no substitute for hearing straight from other customers when you’re considering a big purchase, so you may be glad to hear that we’ve added to our Case Studies section.

You can now read about Lincolnshire County Council, Bath & North East Somerset District Council, and — for the contractor’s point of view — Transport for Buckinghamshire, the banner under which Ringway Jacobs provide services for the council.

We’re glad to be able to include direct quotes from clients, which really give you a taste of how the process was for them. Here are three of our favourites:

“The whole implementation process, from start to finish, has been incredibly smooth.” Andrea Bowes, ICT Data and Information Systems Architect at Lincolnshire County Council

“Feedback from staff across the organisation is almost unanimously positive, in stark contrast to that of the system FixMyStreet replaced.”
James Green, Business Implementation Officer at B&NES Council

My role is to help improve customer satisfaction, and FixMyStreet certainly makes the reporting of defects as easy as it could be, so I’ve no complaints there. Dan Elworthy, Customer Projects Officer for Ringway Jacobs

You’ll find these, and a selection of other case studies, in the menu at the top of this page.

Red routes on FixMyStreet

Our most recent improvement to FixMyStreet means that users in Bromley will experience some clever routing on their reports.

It’s something quite a few FixMyStreet users have requested, telling us that they’d reported a street issue in London, only to have a response from their authority to say that it was located on a ‘red route‘ — roads which are the responsibility of TfL rather than the council.

Of course, most councils have systems set up so that they can easily forward these misdirected reports to the right place, but all the same, it wasn’t ideal, and added another step into a reporting process we’ve always tried to keep as simple and quick as possible.

Thanks to some development for Bromley council, we’re now glad to say that within that borough, reports on red routes will automatically be forwarded to TfL, while other reports will be sent, as usual, to the relevant council department.

As a user, you don’t have to do a thing (although you can see this automated wizardry in action by watching changes in the text telling you where the report will be sent, as you click on the map in different places and select a different category – give it a go!).

Note that this functionality has not yet been extended to the FixMyStreet app; however in the meantime it will work if you visit fixmystreet.com via your mobile browser.

A new layer

As you’ll know if you’re a frequent FixMyStreet user, the site has always directed reports to the right UK council, based on the boundaries within which the pin is placed.

And equally, even within the same area it can discern that different categories of report (say, streetlights as opposed to parking) should be sent to whichever authority is responsible for them: that’s an essential in a country like the UK with its system of two-tier councils.

So this new innovation just meant adding in a map layer which gives the boundaries of the relevant roads that are designated red routes, then putting in extra code that saw anything within the roads’ boundaries as a new area, and TfL as the authority associated with road maintenance categories within that area.

FixMyStreet has always been flexible in this regard: you can swap map layers in or out as needed, leading to all sorts of possibilities. In a recent post, we showed how this approach has also averted one common time-waster for councils, and the same set-up is behind the display of council assets such as trees and streetlights that you’ll see for some areas on FixMyStreet.

The integration of red routes is available for any London Borough, so if you’re from a council that would like to add it in, get in touch. And to see all the new innovations we’re working on to make FixMyStreet Pro the most useful street reporting system it can be, make sure you’re subscribed to the Better Cities newsletter.

Image: Marc-Olivier Jodoin

When there’s no need to report: FixMyStreet and Roadworks.org

Seen a pothole or a broken paving stone? Great, the council will want to know about that… well, usually.

Buckinghamshire County Council’s version of FixMyStreet now shows where there are pending roadworks — alerting citizens to the fact that they may not need to make a report, because it’s already in hand.

When reports are a waste of time

In general, councils appreciate FixMyStreet reports from residents: inspectors can’t be everywhere, and often they won’t be aware of a problem until it’s reported.

But there are some reports that won’t be quite so welcome.

If the council is already aware of an issue, and in fact has already scheduled a repair, then sad to say but that citizen’s report will be nothing more than a time-waster all round.

Enter Roadworks.org

Screenshot from Roadworks.org
Screenshot from Roadworks.org

Fortunately, there’s already a comprehensive service which collates and displays information on roadworks, road closures and diversions, traffic incidents and other disruptions affecting the UK road network, from a variety of sources — it’s called Roadworks.org.

Just like FixMyStreet, Roadworks.org generates map-based data, so it correlates well with FixMyStreet.

But we don’t want to clutter things up too much, so users will only be alerted to pending roadworks when they go to make a report near where maintenance is already scheduled.

At that point, they’ll see a message above the input form to tell them that their report may not be necessary:

Buckinghamshire FixMyStreet roadworks alert
Buckinghamshire FixMyStreet roadworks alert

Of course, they can still go ahead and make their report if the roadworks have no bearing on it.

Slotting in

We were able to integrate the Roadworks.org information like this because Buckinghamshire have opted for the fully-featured ‘Avenue‘ version of FixMyStreet Pro. This allows the inclusion of asset layers (we’ve talked before about plotting assets such as trees, streetlights or bins on FixMyStreet) and the Roadworks.org data works in exactly the same way: we can just slot it in.

We’re pleased with this integration: it’s going to save time for both residents and council staff in Buckinghamshire. And if you’re from another council and you would like to do the same, then please do feel free to drop us a line to talk about adopting FixMyStreet Pro.


Header image: Jamie Street

What does backend integration actually mean?

mySociety developer Struan wrote a great update recently, describing everything we do when we integrate FixMyStreet Pro with a council’s system.

It was really for his colleagues to read, but it seemed like a shame to keep it only for our own consumption, because it’s a super-clear explanation, even for the less technically-inclined. So we thought we’d publish it here, as well. We hope you find it as useful as we did!

One of the benefits of FixMyStreet Pro’s Boulevard and Avenue plans is that, instead of sending emails to the council, we put reports directly into the council’s back end systems.

‘System’ can mean a lot of things, but for FixMyStreet we’re usually working to integrate with some sort of software that manages assets, often run by the council’s highways team. If you hear someone muttering about Confirm, Exor or WDM then we’re talking about one of these systems.

The most basic thing we can do when connecting FixMyStreet up to one of these systems is to take the information that a report-maker enters on FixMyStreet and put it into the equivalent fields in the council’s system. This is largely automating the process of cutting and pasting from an email that the council staff were probably doing before, and while that’s already a win for the council in terms of saving time and resources, we can usually do much better than this.

For example, we can pull a list of report categories out of the council’s system. This means that category changes don’t need to be made in both the backend system and FixMyStreet; they only need to happen in the backend system, and they’ll be automatically reflected on FixMyStreet without anyone having to remember to make the update on that side too.

This isn’t always practical, often because councils have many categories, not all of which they want to expose to the public. In those cases we still have to update the categories at our end. However, even doing this by hand in an integration allows us to add various bits of metadata to categories which are useful to the council. If we’ve automated this then all the metadata is pulled in as part of the automated process.

Depending on the council’s preferences/set-up, this metadata can include extra information to gather for certain categories, e.g. “how large is the pothole?” or information such as streetlight numbers associated with the category. These can help the council prioritise reports and also reduce the need to go back to the user to ask for further information.

The other thing integrations allow us to do, is both send — and more importantly for the council— fetch updates on reports. Not only does this mean that the council only needs to update the problem in their internal system; it enables better reporting on the current problem state.

While a member of the public can only mark a problem as fixed, a greater range of states are available to councils (Investigating, Work Scheduled and so on) which helps make it a bit clearer what’s happening with a report. Councils often have a fairly complicated internal workflow so another step in the integration can be mapping their internal status codes to those displayed on FixMyStreet.

From a public perspective, this also means that updates to a problem get to the council (we don’t email updates on reports; they’ve historically been presented as a way for FixMyStreet users to discuss an issue rather than to chase an issue or note a change in its status). This is also good for the council as it means if a member of the public isn’t happy with their response then they find out.

The gritty technical details

FixMyStreet’s native way to communicate with outside systems is Open311, an open standard for problem reporting.

Unfortunately, most council systems don’t speak Open311, so we need to write code that sends information in whatever format they use. We used to do this by adding code directly into FixMyStreet, which wasn’t too bad as the problem sending code is pretty modular and supports plug-ins for the actual sending process.

Once we started adding more integrations we wanted to move away from this approach, largely to avoid clogging up the main FixMyStreet codebase. As Open Source code, FixMyStreet has been deployed in many countries around the world, and it is unlikely that people running their own sites abroad would need this part of the code, and certainly not the whole range of different systems we were covering.

So now, most of our integrations communicate through a proxy that accepts Open311 requests, transforms them into requests to the council’s backend system and then transforms the responses back into Open311. The proxy is an evolution of the code our ex-colleague Hakim wrote some time ago for a previous integration.

Open311 is a pretty flexible standard, so there’s lots of room to pass custom information about, and that means we can hide quite a lot of the complexity in the proxy and never have to touch FixMyStreet’s code.

For councils where we can’t automatically fetch the list of categories, all the configuration is included in the proxy, making this invisible to FixMyStreet.

As more and more councils come on board, the process of adding integrations to the proxy will become easier. For example, now that we’ve set up a few Confirm integrations, any new clients using Confirm will require less code-writing and it’ll just be a matter of configuring mappings and categories.

And even if we’re integrating with a system we haven’t come across before, we now have a standard pattern of work, meaning that more of the code is in the specific implementation, and less in the set-up. That makes for a quicker, easier implementation all round.

Want to know more? Drop us a line and we’ll happily answer all your questions.

Image: Randall Bruder

Image by Alexandre Godreau - a shop sign saying 'Open'

The FixMyStreet Pro staff manual is now online

You’ll now find the staff manual for FixMyStreet Pro online and easy to access. Do take a look!

When we were putting the design for this manual together, we thought we’d have a quick google round for other council SAAS documentation, to see if anyone was doing it particularly well.

We didn’t get very far, though— it seems there’s a culture of corporate secrecy amongst other suppliers, and a fear of publishing such materials in case of imitation.

So our decision to publish our entire manual online, along with a handy print version, freely available with no password, is perhaps a little unusual.

Why so open?

We’ve gone our own way on this one for a few reasons.

First, because it helps you. We know that it’s far easier for customers to look online for materials than it is to remember where they’ve put a physical handbook.

We know we could have put it behind a password, but that just adds an impediment for our customers, and for anyone hoping to understand the service a little better before making a purchasing decision. Plus, who remembers passwords for something they might only be accessing a couple of times a year? It’s just extra faff.

You only need bookmark the documentation page, and you’ll always be able to find the most up to date version of our staff manual.

There’s another reason as well, though. Most mySociety codebases — including FixMyStreet — are Open Source, meaning that anyone who wants to can inspect or use the code for their own purposes. If anyone really wanted to know our ‘secrets’… well, they’re already out in the public domain.

We reckon there’s more to gain by publishing our instruction manual than there is to lose. Sure, competitors might see what features we offer, and they might even copy them. We’re confident, though, that our customer service, company culture, and our insistence on making our products as user friendly as possible, all give us an advantage that imitators are unlikely to be able to match.

So, please do go ahead and read the manual. We hope you’ll find it useful, and that you’ll get in touch if there’s anything you think is missing.

 

Image: Alexandre Godreau (Unsplash)

Seeing spots with FixMyStreet Pro

If you visit FixMyStreet and suddenly start seeing spots, don’t rush to your optician: it’s just another feature to help you, and the council, when you make a report.

In our last two blog posts we announced Buckinghamshire and Bath & NE Somerset councils’ adoption of FixMyStreet Pro, and looked at how this integrated with existing council software. It’s the latter which has brought on this sudden rash.

At the moment, you’ll only see such dots in areas where the council has adopted FixMyStreet Pro, and gone for the ‘asset locations’ option: take a look at the Bath & NE Somerset installation to see them in action.

What is an asset?

mySociety developer Struan explains all.

Councils refer to ‘assets’; in layman’s language these are things like roads, streetlights, grit bins, dog poo bins and trees. These assets are normally stored in an asset management system that tracks problems, and once hooked up, FixMyStreet Pro can deposit users’ reports directly into that system.

Most asset management systems will have an entry for each asset and probably some location data for them too. This means that we can plot them on a map, and we can also include details about the asset.

When you make a report, for example a broken streetlight, you’ll be able to quickly and easily specify that precise light on the map, making things a faster for you. And there’s no need for the average citizen to ever know this, but we can then include the council’s internal ID for the streetlight in the report, which then also speeds things up for the council.

Map layers

So, how do we get these assets on to the map? Here’s the technical part:

The council will either have a map server with a set of asset layers on it that we can use, or they’ll provide us with files containing details of the assets and we’ll host them on our own map server.

The map server then lets you ask for all the streetlights in an area and sends back some XML with a location for each streetlight and any associated data, such as the lamppost number. Each collection of objects is called a layer, mostly because that’s how mapping software uses them. It has a layer for the map and then adds any other features on top of this in layers.

Will these dots clutter up the map for users who are trying to make a report about something else?

Not at all.

With a bit of configuration in FixMyStreet, we associate report categories with asset layers so we only show the assets on the map when the relevant category is selected.

We can also snap problem reports to any nearby asset which is handy for things like street lights as it doesn’t make sense to send a report about a broken street light with no associated light.

Watch this space

And what’s coming up?

We’re working to add data from roadworks.org, so that when a user clicks on a road we’ll be able to tell them if roadworks are happening in the near future, which might have a bearing on whether they want to report the problem — for example there’s no point in reporting a pothole if the whole road is due to be resurfaced the next week.

Then we’ll also be looking at roads overseen by TfL. The issue with these is that while they are always within a council area, the council doesn’t have the responsibility of maintaining them, so we want to change where the report is going rather than just adding in more data. There’s also the added complication of things like “what if the issue is being reported on a council-maintained bridge that goes over a TFL road”.

There’s always something to keep the FixMyStreet developers busy… we’ll make sure we keep you updated as these new innovations are added.

From a council and interested in knowing more? Get in touch.

Confirming the benefits: how FixMyStreet Pro integrates with the Confirm Asset Management System

We often talk about how FixMyStreet Pro can integrate directly with council’s existing systems, and how doing so can help councils be more efficient — but what exactly does that mean in practice?

Let’s take a look at our two most recent FixMyStreet Pro installations. Both B&NES and Buckinghamshire councils use the same asset management system, Confirm, and it gives us a great example of how FixMyStreet Pro’s ability to ‘communicate’ with such systems will make everything a whole lot easier for residents and for council staff, even with two very different types of local authority.

Saving time and effort

FixMyStreet has always provided the resident with an easy interface through which to file a street report. For many councils, however, such reports arrive in an email inbox and then have to be forwarded to the right location or typed into the council’s CRM, all adding to the sum total of time and effort dedicated to each report.

Now, using the Confirm API, Bucks and B&NES councils can access and work on FixMyStreet reports through Confirm’s standard ‘inspector module’, removing any need for this extra step.

Two-way information

Optionally, the information flow can go both ways, and indeed this is the case for both B&NES and Buckinghamshire councils. What this means is that for example, when an issue has been inspected and council staff change its status (perhaps from ‘report received’ to ‘repair underway’), this status change will be passed back to FixMyStreet, automatically syncing with the site, and notifying the report-maker with the update — again removing another mundane task from customer services staff.

If a highways inspector should come across a new issue while they are out and about on their rounds, they can raise an issue in Confirm just as they always would have. But now, that will also create a report on FixMyStreet which residents can view, keeping everyone up to date and ensuring that reports aren’t made about issues that the council already know about.

Canned responses

FixMyStreet Pro also allows for council administrators to create template responses — an invaluable timesaver when responding to one of the more common situations such as “issue identified and prioritised” or “issue now fixed and closed”. While Confirm also has its own template responses, FixMyStreet Pro offers more flexibility, as the same template can be reused across multiple report categories and status types. Buckinghamshire really saw the benefit of this: they were able to reduce the number of templates in use from around 450 to 46.

Mapping assets

Assets such as streetlights, grit bins and gullies can be pulled through from Confirm and overlaid on the map. This makes it significantly easier for both residents and staff to locate and report issue, speeding up the issue resolution time — we’ll be delving more deeply into this in our next blog post, with a few more technical details for those who are interested.

Image: Highways England (CC by/2.0)

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