Lee: You’re working with Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) and came up with an app to support the department. What is it and how did you come up with the idea?
Makki: The idea came about after realizing the disconnect and lack of tools municipal governments provide to residents. I had the opportunity to pitch the idea for a water app very early on to Detroit’s Chief Information Officer, Beth Niblock. She and the city have been very supportive of the technology and instrumental in the launching of our company.
And the DWSD customer care portal (water app) enables Detroit residents to:
- Register accounts for residential and nonresidential properties.
- Make or schedule payments using a credit card or banking information.
- Use “guest pay” feature to pay on other accounts.
- Monitor payment and account history anywhere, any time.
- View and track water usage to more closely manage monthly expenses.
- Enter a payment plan arrangement.
Lee: How long were you in development before rolling it out in August?
Makki: It was a seven-month development with the support of DWSD’s team including Director Gary Brown, COO Robert Presnell, CIO Dan Rainey and IT Manager Paul Fulton. The CityInsight team includes, COO Nathan Christie and Developer Alec Tower.
Lee: What challenges did you have to overcome and how did you navigate these obstacles?
Makki: The biggest challenge was consolidating all DWSD’s services into a simple and easy to use interface. We overcame this by developing many different use cases and rigorously testing the app on a daily basis. Our mode of thinking was always — “what’s the simplest and easiest way to present information to residents?”
Lee: Water shut-offs have been a significant issue in Detroit and widely-publicized. How does the app address these issues?
Makki: For customers looking to track and manage their water usage online, they can now do that through the app. DWSD is improving business practices by delivering compassionate customer service. In the past, customers would have to stand in line and could only access the service center during regular business hours. CityInsight’s portal can be accessed 24/7 through a mobile device, tablet or computer. The web-app is another avenue customers can pursue to eliminate waiting in line.
Lee: And what will it take to expand usage across all households in the city? Is it a free download?
Makki: The goal is to continue to add features to engage users and make their lives easier. We hope to continue to improve and update the portal in the years to come. All Detroiters can access the portal free of charge via a mobile-web browser. Just visit www.detroitmi.gov/paymywaterbill
Lee: Why should a resident use it and what’s been the overall response by users?
Makki: Detroit is America’s comeback city and a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. In such a short amount of time Detroit has made great strides. The revitalization is real!