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Baltimore spending board approves $1.6 million purchase to upgrade 311 technology

The city's 311 system is getting a $1.6 million upgrade.

Baltimore's spending panel approved on Wednesday the purchase of a new software system that will allow 311 operators to better use the internet, cellphones and social networks to interact with the public.

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Lisa N. Allen, the call center director, said operators have been relying on a customer relationship management system that is a decade and a half old to answer the approximately 1 million calls for service received each year, or about 85,000 a month.

The Board of Estimates approved money last year for the project. Allen said Wednesday's action will allow the city to reallocate the capital funds to operating funds, which will cover the purchase of California-based Salesforce's cloud-based software and implementation.

The new system will allow operators to communicate with city residents by chat, text and social media.

Allen said the new system should be implemented citywide in September.

The old system "suffers from unanticipated outages and slow performance," Allen said. It lacks modern communications channels, such as text messaging and social media communications.

The city's legacy technology was supplied by Motorola.

In 1996, Baltimore became the first city in the country to use 311 as a police non-emergency number, Allen said. It became the contact number for city services in 2001.

Operators at 311 also provide general information and serve as liaisons between the caller and city agencies. The call center has about 70 employees, including operators and administrative support.

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