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Raleigh CIO: Strategy Helps Drive Digital Transformation

The city's efforts, which are happening faster than expected, are enabled by a clear blueprint that focuses on five key areas.

North Carolina’s burgeoning capital city is ahead of schedule on its digital transformation, which is guided by a multifaceted IT strategy, its technology leader said recently.

Raleigh continues to add population and is now home to 465,000 residents, its CIO Darnell Smith told attendees at the North Carolina Digital Government Summit Aug. 30. And so far, its digital transformation has outstripped predictions, he said. In 2016, the city’s percentage of business that was digital was 27 percent, predicted to rise to 33 percent by 2019. But, Smith said, Raleigh has already taken 47 percent of its business digital and may reach 55 percent by next year — a bar initially set for 2021.

That hasn’t come without a lot of hard work, the CIO told attendees, noting that while the city is projecting correctly on its digital transformation, “there’s a lot we need to do to catch up.” In April, he talked with Government Technology about various initiatives underway, including getting off paper, and implementing body-worn cameras for police. But none of this would be possible, he said, without an IT shop at the ready — and a blueprint for that success.

Raleigh’s ongoing IT modernization is empowered by a five-part strategy that begins with the idea of focused enterprise — boosting efficiency and automation through tech, engagement, measuring service and achieving a “clarity of demand,” the CIO said. He offered two use cases for how this is being accomplished: a partnership with Esri to stand up an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) dashboard to inform mobilization, and the use of 3-D modeling “as a platform for citizen engagement” that is still being implemented.

“Raleigh is a growing city, and this is a way for us to basically model where the buildings are going in and allow citizens to see what the impact is on surrounding areas,” Smith said. The strategy also includes IT Excellence, the concept of a high-functioning organization “where IT works just like a light switch,” he said.

The city’s IT strategy also includes engaged community, the idea that the incoming customer or resident has a good experience. It features smart city enablement, providing tech leadership to spur smart city efforts, and actionable information, the idea of providing residents and officials with “information in the right format, at the right time and at the right level of detail” to inform decisions. Raleigh has empowered actionable information, Smith said, by more fully mapping its functions, people and capabilities around IT, and has “basically standardized on Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) around our organizational processes.”

IT shop members are all ITIL-certified, the CIO said, and the agency is working toward Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies (COBIT) certification for management. The city did a proof of concept earlier this year on actionable information, Smith said, and selected Microsoft’s Power BI analytics service — which is now deployed through most departments.

“Understanding the data, understanding what metrics they need to build in the right dashboards, so that people can make decisions with real-time data, it’s a process, but everybody is fully engaged,” Smith said.

“There is a need for data now like a person in the desert that needs water. And so, it is us making sure the data is there and available in a way with our VI [visual insight] tools,” he added in an interview, describing Raleigh’s efforts on integrating data as “early in the journey.”

Smith, who became CIO in January 2016, said smart cities were new to him as this is his first time in government, but pointed out Raleigh’s effort has been underway for years. It has examined Big Belly smart, solar-powered trash cans that monitor refuse levels, Soofa Bench solar cellphone charging stations downtown, and wireless Internet at its community centers through an AT&T partnership.

The city is also building a mobile app to drill down on the downtown parking situation, and now has a live help ticket feed through its Cityworks back-end system, to push its pothole filling process in real-time.

“You have to have your shop in order to be able to do smart cities in an efficient manner. It is consistent data at the enterprise level, so that you can do these integrations one time,” Smith said, noting that Raleigh was recognized by the company for its implementation of the technology on an enterprise level.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.