Upgrading Cities: How CIOs Bridge the Gap Between Cities and Technology

Inbal Naveh Safir

Inbal Naveh Safir

Upgrading Cities: How CIOs Bridge the Gap Between Cities and Technology

Filing cabinets, clunky phones, computers still running on a dial-up connection, and other relics from the end of the 20th century are some of the things that people might imagine still exist in local government organizations. And in part, there is some truth to these stereotypes. But things are changing. Cities have recognized the need to shift to be more technology savvy organizations and to become “smarter,” but that requires someone with the digital expertise to help connect cities with the right tools and resources. That’s where the CIO comes into the picture.

Helping Cities Become Smarter

The Chief Information/Innovation Officer is the bridge between a city and new technology. A CIO comes with a toolbox of knowledge and experience that they’ve accumulated from the private sector to help execute the vision of a city’s leadership. They can also identify any additional places where an “upgrade” in technological tools is needed. And the CIO does all of this in the interest of helping the city better serve the public.  

The Hurdles

For a CIO, it’s the norm to have a finger on the pulse of cutting edge technology and to use tools like dashboards and cloud-based software solutions in a private sector organization. But a city isn’t a large private tech company, and there are multiple hurdles a CIO must deal with such as:

  • A much smaller and/or limited budget, which is a general issue for local government organizations
  • Limited communication and/or collaboration between departments. This means data from, for example, the Transportation Department, is often siloed and separated from other departments, like Waste Management, even if both parties could potentially benefit from the shared knowledge
  • Lack of an overarching tool, like what large private sector organizations use from companies such as SAP, to help manage a city’s entire software suite
  • Outdated software like older operating systems, browsers, and websites that are in need of upgrading
  • Established paper-based systems for storing, managing, and processing information
  • And perhaps a local government organization itself where the culture is a general fear of technology and change

All these potential limitations can make things all the more difficult for a CIO to affect widescale, organizational change. Still, all these limitations can also help a CIO get creative with solutions.

Using Tech Alchemy to Improve Cities

A CIO is like an alchemist, transforming old technology and resources into gold and integrating the new into the existing framework. With their experience from the fast-paced private sector, they also have an understanding of the need to connect with an organization’s consumer, which in the case of cities, is the average resident. This is where they can use their magic skills and potions, by introducing new ideas and innovation that a city might not be familiar with. That ingenuity, curiosity, and knowledge is part of what CIOs bring to the table that helps a city shift from a slow, outdated organization, into an efficient modern-day, tech-savvy institution.

CIOs also bring with them an understanding of a different organizational structure that can be adapted to City Hall. CIOs help departments formulate and identify relevant KPIs and metrics to create benchmarks to improve upon, which also helps the CIO figure out what data needs to be organized and leveraged and to introduce the right tools into the picture to manage it. For example, a city might want resident feedback on what should be included in a new park that is being built. While there are public meetings where citizens can voice their opinion, a CIO might identify that an Artificial Intelligence platform like Zencity will provide a better understanding of what citizens want since it allows them to connect with the voice of silent majority that will most likely not attend a council session. Additionally, if a CIO isn’t sure or requires further information on a tech topic or tool, he/she can access a large professional network from their prior positions in the private sector but also in the local government world, where there is a growing community of game-changing CIOs.

Helping Everyone Upgrade to the Next Level

The CIO is the behind the scenes person that most citizens within a city will never really encounter, but will definitely feel their influence. They make sure that resources like city-related websites, forms, and even call-centers run faster, smoother, and more effectively. They are also the tech guides for the city and their colleagues by helping different departments optimize themselves with tools like Artificial Intelligence so that they can shift from a 20th-century city to a 21st-century one. But beyond all that, the CIO is the person who just wants to help change and improve everyone’s lives within a city by taking a city to the next level.

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