Becoming a world-class digital city has been several years in the making in Charlotte, N.C.
Chief Information Officer Jeff Stovall has helped make the city’s IT efforts more operationally efficient, instituted a technology master planning process, and altered the culture of the organization to reduce outages and prevent the kinds of cyberattacks that have affected other municipal IT systems.
“We’re down, outages, by 90 percent from what we were in 2015,” said Stovall in a recent interview. He joined Charlotte as its first CIO in 2008, and heads the city’s Innovation and Technology Department. In recognition of his efforts over the past decade, the North Carolina Technology Association named Stovall its 2017 Public Sector CIO of the Year.
Charlotte now has a dedicated innovation fund, which Stovall aspires to grow and formalize going forward. But evidence of leading efforts are also visible in infrastructure in use today, like solar-powered trash bins and benches in public spaces equipped with sensors to gather environmental data. The city will add self-supporting interactive kiosks in the near future, complete with Wi-Fi and lighting capabilities.
But in the last year, the biggest initiative by Charlotte has been in information security, an area that has become more high-profile in light of cyberattacks against other communities.
“Information security has always been something that we’re strong at. But it has taken a real focus over the past several months, as people have come to really appreciate the work that we’ve done over the past several years, in order to build up a very strong information security environment,” he added.
Among the tools now in place are a dedicated solution to thwart distributed denial of service attacks, an artificial intelligence-based method of fending off malware and two-factor authentication for VPN users. These are hard-fought victories, he notes, when the aim is prevention.
“I’ve never spent as much time explaining something that didn’t happen to us as I have over the past six months,” said Stovall.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.