Boston Chief Information Officer Jascha Franklin-Hodge, who ascended to the city’s top technology post in mid-2014 with the goal of making better use of technology as a positive force in residents’ lives, will do something a bit unusual for a CIO of a major American city.
He will step down effective Jan. 24 with no definite plans, he told Government Technology — a somewhat atypical path, as many in the C-suite head to the private sector — and described himself as “excited to a have a little bit of unstructured time to figure out what’s next.”
Franklin-Hodge, who announced his departure on Dec. 14, is a Brookline, Mass., native who came to Boston from the private sector.
He was previously co-founder of the online fundraising and CRM platform Blue State Digital, an enterprise that counted among its clients former President Barack Obama. About three-and-a-half years in, he spearheaded the creation of Boston’s digital and analytics teams; the hiring of its first two chief digital officers; and the new, resident-inspired city website.
The 14-year Bostonian spoke highly of his time guiding the city’s technological path and said he’s not discounting a return to the public sector.
“I think there’s a lot of exciting opportunities out there that combine technology and public good, and I am sure that whatever’s next for me will be something at that intersection,” said Franklin-Hodge, who described the role of CIO as “a dream job for someone,” as it has been for him.
“I came into the job with a long list of ideas and things that I thought we could accomplish. We’ve accomplished many of them. I’d be lying if I said we hit 100 percent. But I think it’s time for somebody new with their own list of ideas and their own passion and their own energy to come and take on this leadership role,” he added.
The city will conduct an extensive search for its new CIO and expects several highly qualified candidates to be interested, a spokesperson said. A job posting will appear on boston.gov next week, and an interim CIO will not be appointed. Chief of Staff Patricia Boyle-McKenna will lead the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) during the hiring process for a permanent CIO.
Mayor Martin Walsh, who arrived shortly before the CIO and handily won a second term last month, praised Franklin-Hodge for having “helped to bring city hall and city services into the 21st century in just four short years.”
“From his work creating the new city website, to using analytics to ensure all residents receive the highest level of service, he has brought dedication, hard work and passion to his role,” Walsh said, adding that in its search for a new CIO, Boston will work to continue creating a city hall that is “open and accessible to all."
During Franklin-Hodge’s time as CIO, Boston has marked several other firsts. The city of roughly 675,000 held its first Open Data Challenge; launched an integrated, branded 311; and began using machine learning to guide and to mine its requests as a way to track performance.
Elsewhere, officials are testing autonomous vehicles and exploring smart street concepts aimed at reducing traffic and enhancing safety, including at the tricky intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street.
Internally, they’re implementing an identity and access management program expected to be complete in fall 2018. And they’re reviewing responses to an RFP to connect fiber to all the city’s public schools, libraries, community centers, police stations and fire stations.
Franklin-Hodge said a consistent theme at DoIT — and a major plank of this administration — is that of equity.
“We really tried to apply that lens of equitability and accessibility across the board, and certainly in some places explicitly investing in digital equity programs,” he said. “But also, just thinking about the idea that it’s our job to serve, and our job is to figure out what our residents need and to meet them where they are.”
A “substantial portion” of residents, the CIO said, “are dependent” on mobile phones for Internet access, and thus, municipal websites that are not mobile-friendly or mobile-responsive are not equitable.
Boston.gov, launched in 2016, is mobile-responsive and one of several key moves aimed at improving digital equity. In 2015, the city hired a broadband and digital equity advocate — a staffer whose focus, Franklin-Hodge said, “is to find ways to help improve connectivity and access for city residents, with a special focus on those communities that are historically underconnected.”
Earlier this year, Boston launched a Digital Equity Grants Fund, monetizing it with $35,000 to be awarded in one or two amounts to community-based organizations. The city is in the final stages of its first grant-making process, the CIO said, guided by an advisory group of city employees and residents “with a lens into the challenges of digital equity.”
Verizon, which is also partnering with Boston on its smart streets efforts, is now building residential fiber, the CIO said. “That’s something that has eluded the city for a long time and has been a real point of frustration for a lot of residents who only had one option for broadband.”
The city has also negotiated licensing agreements with wireless companies to install equipment on city assets, including street lights, to improve the availability of high-speed wireless.
Boston has also been active on the cybersecurity front, Franklin-Hodge said, moving the city’s primary data center from the basement of city hall to a secure site and establishing an out-of-state disaster recovery site. They have also implemented modern firewalls, and boosted employee security with updates like multifactor log-in and cybersecurity awareness training.
And last year, the city upgraded its human capital management system to migrate more of its human resources work to the digital space, enhance the job application process and make employee resources easier to find.
But Franklin-Hodge said he’s ultimately proudest of his having helped hire the team of employees with which he works.
“It is an incredible group of technologists and people with both really valuable and impactful skills and a sense of mission and service that drives their application of those skills,” he said.
In an interview earlier this year, Boston’s inaugural Chief Digital Officer Lauren Lockwood said teams “had the wind at our back in work.”
“There were a lot of people already thinking about these things, so in a way our job has been really easy,” said Lockwood, named one of Government Technology’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers of 2017. She resigned in May as her family prepared to move to Philadelphia.
Franklin-Hodge praised Lockwood for having done “a lot of the hard work” and her successor Jeanethe Falvey for “following in that mold.” He said he’s confident that under the mayor’s stewardship, Boston’s technological transformation will continue.
“None of that is possible without having a boss who is excited to see how these tools can be applied. I think that’s been, throughout my time here, the key enabler for a lot of what we’ve been able to do,” Franklin-Hodge said.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect new information from the City of Boston.