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The Arizona State University Smart City Cloud Innovation Center Powered by AWS (ASU CIC) recently collaborated with the City of Phoenix, Arizona to apply Amazon’s Working Backwards Innovation process to explore how the City can improve its ability to engage and serve customers - residents, businesses and visitors. 


The City of Phoenix is the 5th largest city in the United States with over 1.7 million residents spread over a large geographic area in the Valley of the Sun. The fast growing City was looking for a way to improve its ability to engage and serve customers.  Today, the City operates 19 different customer service call centers to provide various city services and a robust public website with pages for all of the City agencies and departments. The call centers are typically only open during weekday business hours, which limits the ability of customers to access information and complete transactions when and how they want.  

The City wanted its customers to have more choices for how they access and share information with the City, how and when they want. The City researched the top searches on the City website and wanted to make the information more readily accessible and easier to find. The City believed website visitors often knew what information they were looking for, but maybe not which Department to find it in.


In January 2020, the ASU CIC assembled City of Phoenix employees for an Innovation Workshop to explore the challenge of improving how the City communicates with customers.  In the Workshop, City workers explored a number of current use cases where the access to information and the ability to complete transactions could be improved. Examples included making it possible to pay water bills outside of business hours when the call center is closed.   

Using the Working Backwards process, the City participants designed a system using chat-bots and digital voice assistants to allow customers to query information and perform transactions like paying bills that currently require either an in-person visit to a City office or a call to the call center during business hours.    

The City team continued their engagement with an ASU CIC solutions workshop that dived into the specific technical requirements that would be needed to build a POC. During the workshop, the team assessed the data that would be needed, the AWS services that should be used, and a path forward to build out a proof of concept.

Supporting Artifacts

The Amazon Working Backwards process produces three artifacts - a Press Release, a list of Frequently Asked Questions and a Visual depiction of the user experience. You can find the City of Phoenix artifacts here:

Next Steps

Watch the 311 chatbot demo below:

About the ASU CIC

The ASU Smart Cities Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) is a strategic relationship with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and is supported by AWS on ASU’s Innovation campus - SkySong. The mission of the CIC is to drive Innovation Challenges that materially benefit the greater Phoenix metro area and beyond. The CIC will do this by solving pressing community and regional challenges, using shareable and repeatable technology solutions from ideation through prototype, as a service for the greater human good.

The CIC also provides real-world problem-solving experiences to students by immersing them in the application of proven innovation methods in combination with the latest technologies to solve important challenges in the public sector. 

The challenges being addressed cover a wide variety of topics including homelessness, water conservation, vandalism, pedestrian safety, digital service delivery and many others. The CIC leverages the deep subject matter expertise of government, education and non-profit organizations to clearly understand the customers affected by public sector challenges and develops solutions that meet the customer needs.

For more information on the ASU CIC, to read about projects or to submit a challenge, please visit