Chicago's Brenna Berman Leaves City Hall, Continues to Use Technology to Help Government

The former CIO of Chicago will be a few miles away, working on laying the foundation for future partnerships among cities, universities and private industry.

by / May 1, 2017
Courtesy of UI Labs

Brenna Berman may have left her role as CIO of Chicago, but that doesn't mean she's finished helping the city through technology modernization and facilitating public-private partnerships (P3s).

Berman is joining UI Labs, a consortium of industry, academic, community organizations and government actors to expedite P3s that can tackle problems too large for any one organization. She has been named executive director of City Digital, the organization’s urban innovation program. Chicago Chief Technology Officer Danielle DuMerer is serving as interim CIO, according to the Chicago Tribune.

City Digital focuses on data-driven urban innovation within the built environment. The initiative, through its partnership with Chicago, conducts pilot projects that demonstrate the potential value of collaboration and coordination of partners and data. Berman said she will “focus on how we go from pilot to scale,” she told Government Technology. The program hones in on four critical impact areas: energy management, physical infrastructure, transportation, and water and sanitation.

Berman is no stranger to leading large-scale, data-driven programs in Chicago. After helping run smart city projects at IBM for more than a decade, Berman joined Chicago in 2011. She assisted the city in several Internet of Things (IoT) related projects including the Array of Things, a network of sensors attached to structures throughout Chicago that will measure air quality, traffic congestion and flood damage prediction. Berman also led the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology when it began creating a subterranean 3-D map of the city.

The experience developed from helping to initiate the Array of Things University of Chicago-City project, which will serve as a model for how Berman will direct the City Digital program.

One facet of her position is “bringing cities together with universities and corporate partners, big and small, to really solve challenging problems," she said. “There has to be more than just partnerships coming together, there is a lot to be said for the process that shores up that partnership.”

Throughout her career, Berman has helped public, private and community organizations implement technology solutions to contribute to residents’ quality of life. “I’m excited to continue that work at City Digital as we build on and expand our portfolio of cutting-edge, data-driven technology pilots and ensure that they take into account the needs of communities across Chicago and other cities,” she said in a release.

Berman sees her position as one that can help benefit cities beyond Chicago as well. “Every dollar spent in Chicago is a dollar that should matter, not just to Chicago.” Any time a project can serve as a model for another community, it multiplies the initial investment, Berman told Government Technology. “Cities are working to solve similar problems.”

One example Berman noted was how to deal with water, particularly as it relates to excess rainfall and possible flood inundation. While the issue for Chicago may be excess water, and learning how to recognize and identify areas that may need help, several other cities may have the opposite problems. The technology and methods, however, can often be translated to help solve both, she said.

“There’s a need for this new type of model that brings together the public and private sectors with community groups, and the city looks forward to its continued involvement as Brenna takes the helm of City Digital,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the release.

The City Digital program has successfully piloted 11 projects, ranging from stormwater management to using video analytics to boost energy efficiency, and Berman takes over as the program begins to enter its next stage — it has announced that it will launch an additional 10 projects this year.

As for the immediate future, Berman specified that the pilots will focus on three key areas: human-centered mobility, supply-side logistics and transportation of goods, and sustainability/emergency management.

Berman said she hopes that the pilots will not only lead to sustained partnerships, but also that the foundation created will help drive more partnerships in the future. “The ability to create processes and convening spaces that help solve those challenges is really what we’re all about.”

Ryan McCauley Former Staff Writer

Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.