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Cities Are Key to Fostering Big Ideas in Technology

The "Big Ideas for L.A." event, hosted by Los Angeles and the National League of Cities, allowed mayors to share “big ideas” that are driving innovation within their communities.

by / May 11, 2015

Los Angeles and the National League of Cities partnered last week to host an interactive dialog with mayors committed to taking bold steps at the local level.

Big Ideas for Cities Los Angeles featured the mayors of Austin, Texas; Salt Lake City; Newark, N.J.; and others to discuss how technology can help cities become more efficient and improve citizen engagement.

“For the first time, 80 percent of the world’s population lives in cities,” said Clarence Anthony,
CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities. “Cities are where things are happening, but we also have to make sure innovation is for everyone and find opportunities to reach those that are not able to be part of our cities.”

"Big Ideas for L.A." was intended to provide a platform for mayors to share “big ideas” that are driving innovation within their communities.

“For us, it’s simple,” said Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Rick Cole. “The mayor has challenged us to create a data-driven culture of innovation. With 4 million people in Los Angeles, we simply need big data to govern effectively.”

Cole said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has committed to improving data and accountability within the city. But Cole emphasized that it’s not just about the amount of data cities make available, but also the relevance and quality of that data.

“If we want to create a data-driven culture of innovation," Cole said, "it’s not about how much data we put out, but the quality of that data that counts."

As an example of how cities can tap data to achieve real results, Cole pointed to the city’s use of Compstat, a computer statistics program that helps get police officers back in the business of actually proactively fighting crime rather than just reacting to it.

“Compstat has gradually helped reduce crime in L.A. for the last 12 years,” said Cole. “Today, the city has less violent crime than it has since the Truman administration.”

Cole pointed to the Los Angeles Department of Finance (DOF) as another example of a city department that’s improving operations through data. Until recently, DOF was only able to answer 51 percent of taxpayers’ calls and had a two-week backlog of voicemail. Using data to analyze the types of calls they were getting, DOF expanded its website and its educational outreach to taxpayers, making the key information people tended to call about more easily available to them and reducing the need for many calls. As a result, DOF answered 85 percent of calls from citizens this year and its voicemail backlog was reduced to one day.

Big Ideas for L.A. also featured a panel discussion focused on the role of technology startups in government moderated by Abhi Nemani, chief data officer of Los Angeles.

“The emergence of the cloud has had a huge impact on government technology,” said Ron Bouganim, managing partner for Govtech Fund, a venture capital fund. “The cloud is finally making it possible for startups to work with government. That combined with budget pressure and a wave of retiring workers means the time is right for government to look at technology in new ways.”

The panelists agreed it’s still early for the sector, and that they expect significant growth in the number of companies addressing the govtech market over the next several years.

“The government sector is yearning for changes,” said Alan Mond, CEO and co-founder of MuniRent, a platform that makes it easy for public agencies to share heavy-duty equipment internally and with other departments. “The first waves of technology innovation focused on the consumer. The next waves will focus on specific sectors like government.”

The panelists agreed that government procurement processes still represent challenges for companies attempting to enter the market, and that efforts should be made to simplify those processes in order to encourage more government innovation.

“Our collective goal should be to look at procurement processes and examine those two or three key things that really make the process difficult and rob cities of the competition that would allow them to be more innovative,” said Bob Sofman, executive vice president of SmartProcure, a purchase order database designed to help boost government sales and transform government procurement.

Ultimately it’s very important to enable government to try new things at low risk because the exposure that occurs when a mistake is made is significant, Mond said, pointing to the problems with the federal HealthCare.gov website. “The small startups appearing in this space give government the ability to try new things on a small scale and a low cost and prove they work," he said. "They can then turn them into bigger successes.”

The video from the entire event can be viewed at https://youtu.be/4pvzapjfq1o

Justine Brown Contributing Writer