IT Operations

City of El Paso develops call-in portal alongside Cisco team, overcoming challenges

“That was not an easy thing to overcome for our technology partners,” city official says of one hurdle.
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Necessity is the mother of invention, especially when a worldwide pandemic is top of mind and community members are asking questions and demanding answers—and they’re often calling on IT to facilitate that innovation.

That’s why the city of El Paso partnered with Cisco on its El Paso Helps program. The Texas town launched a pandemic pilot program, the Delta Welcome Center, with Cisco assistance in the early days of Covid, City of El Paso Climate and Sustainability Officer Nicole Ferrini told IT Brew at Cisco Live in early June.

“We were faced with this challenge that suddenly we had to shelter in place,” Ferrini said. “Well, how do you do that if you don’t have a place? And you surely cannot go into existing homeless shelters that are not equipped to deal with that kind of a public health crisis.”

Aperture of woe. During the development of El Paso Helps, Ferrini and her team had to make certain requirements clear—notably, that the program had to work as smoothly as possible for the benefit of the community members using it. At one point, Ferrini recalled, she had to put her foot down over Cisco’s default insistence that users download Webex to use the portal. It was a nonstarter, Ferrini said, and she made that clear to the company.

“That was not an easy thing to overcome for our technology partners,” Ferrini said. “I don’t know how they solved it; what I know is that I said that can’t happen.”

But as any IT team knows, the back and forth can yield success.

Flinging. Cisco described the program that El Paso developed as a “portal quickly connecting community members in crisis with a live person to assist with vital services such as street outreach, shelter, food, Covid-19 assistance, mental health counseling, and more” in a February 2023 press release. The program uses Webex and Cisco networking.

“By leveraging Webex by Cisco, members of the El Paso community can now connect virtually on video with live help, allowing for a better user experience in navigating government and social services,” Gary DePreta, then Cisco VP for state, local governments, and education, said in a statement at the time.

The program may be spreading—Ferrini told IT Brew that a number of other cities have reached out to her to adapt El Paso Helps for their communities.

Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to cloud computing, IT Brew covers the latest trends shaping business tech in our 4x weekly newsletter, virtual events with industry experts, and digital guides.