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Much has been said about the various phases of citizen-government interaction over time. Los Angeles CIO Ted Ross offers up yet another interpretation of events — a five-phase view that helps place him among leading government IT practitioners.

The most antiquated way for citizens to access government services was a visit to a city building. Next came telephone-enabled service, followed by the world of government websites ushered in by the age of the Internet. Ubiquitous smartphones led to public-sector mobility efforts, making government available anytime, anywhere. The fifth wave of citizen engagement Ross points to — the one he’s most excited about — centers on virtual assistants.

“Ultimately we want to work toward the direction in which 311 service requests can be taken through a virtual assistant,” he explained, adding that the city recently started coding Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, to take in data from the city calendar. “We’re not there yet, but we want to work in that direction because in the year 2017 with 4 million Angelenos, we need digital tools to be able to connect and engage with them.”

Under Ross’ leadership, the IT establishment in California’s most populous city is on solid footing. Its focus, he explained, is being responsive to city employees as well as residents; responsible in promoting sustainability and diversity; and providing excellent technology tools and practices.

The strategy is proving effective. Los Angeles won the Center for Digital Government’s 2016 Digital Cities Survey and is consistently pointed to for IT leadership. A multifaceted Women in Tech initiative coupled with aggressive recruiting at colleges, hackathons and coding academies is helping build its tech bench to prepare for an impending retirement wave, while partnerships with local universities are supplementing the city’s in-house data analytics capacity. A visible commitment to transparency is fueling the need and creating opportunities, like Vision Zero, aimed at wiping out pedestrian deaths by 2025. What unites the efforts is a steady commitment to the needs of the people they serve. “We need to focus on our customers, have a great understanding of who they are and what they need,” Ross said, “and deliver the maximum value to them using technology.”

Ted Ross was presented with his Top 25 award at the Los Angeles City Council meeting on May 23. Pictured from left to right: Councilman Bob Blumenfield, Ross’ wife and daughter, Ross, and Rebecca Friedman of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.