When in September 2014 Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Minerva Tantoco as New York City’s first chief technology officer (CTO), he tasked her with a job that was fundamentally different from other CTO positions around the country.
The Mayor’s offices of Technology and Innovation, Data Analytics and Digital Strategy, in addition to the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), now serve a growing number of the city’s 60-plus departments. The use of technology has become so widespread within the city government that establishing a vision for its future and a strategy to drive it forward became crucial — that’s where Tantoco comes in.
The new CTO is responsible for developing a strategic vision that ensures new technology initiatives leverage value across the entire city. As chair of the NYC Technology Steering Committee, Tantoco helps align tech initiatives proposed by specific agencies with the citywide strategy and then monitors their implementation. This strategic position goes beyond the traditional IT-oriented role that CTOs play in many other cities. Tantoco not only oversees the performance of individual tech initiatives within City Hall. More broadly, she is responsible for imagining the future of the technology ecosystem of the city itself.
This strategy aligns with de Blasio’s tech-friendly agenda. In April, he established the Broadband Taskforce, a diverse group of industry leaders working to bring high-speed Internet access — and the economic and social opportunities that accompany it — to all New Yorkers. LinkNYC, the result of a public-private partnership between the city and a consortium of tech industry leaders, aims to provide fast, free Internet to low-income New Yorkers by replacing old payphones with wireless hot spots across the city’s five boroughs. Tantoco’s role is to coordinate with the leaders of these programs, which originate in city government, to deploy technologies that will have the most impact for actual citizens. To her, the diversity of the city’s population is among its greatest assets. In her words, “There is no place more diverse than New York City, and our rising tech sector can leverage and capitalize on that core strength.”
The new position is different in another fundamental way. Tantoco views the agencies as clients for whom she helps develop a strategy that meets their agency goals. Most tech-oriented solutions that stem from city departments tend to be tactical; Tantoco aligns such initiatives with the city’s strategic vision. The exchange of ideas between the CTO (and the mayor) and city agencies works in both directions, she said. “It’s two-way communication and two-way innovation.” Under this model, the CTO acts as a partner, helping to calibrate citywide efforts, recommending principles that guide agency tech activity and developing patterns for decision-making. This federated, interoperable approach to supporting the city government’s technological infrastructure is vital to managing the complexity of a city as large as New York. It gives officials within these departments the freedom to use their expertise to propose creative solutions while ensuring that NYC’s tech initiatives advance in a common direction.
“The future of New York depends on its tech sector, and the future of city government depends how well it uses technology,” Tantoco said.
Stephen Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He previously served as Deputy Mayor of New York and Mayor of Indianapolis, where he earned a reputation as one of the country's leaders in public-private partnerships, competition and privatization. Stephen was also the chief domestic policy advisor to the George W. Bush campaign in 2000, the Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the district attorney for Marion County, Indiana from 1979 to 1990. He has written The Power of Social Innovation; Governing by Network: the New Shape of the Public Sector; Putting Faith in Neighborhoods: Making Cities Work through Grassroots Citizenship; The Twenty-First Century City: Resurrecting Urban America, and The Responsive City: Engaging Communities through Data-Smart Governance.