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Chicago’s New Department Focuses Its Commitment to IT, Service

The city of Chicago’s recently established Department of Technology and Innovation aims to transform the way city agencies work with one another and the way the city provides services to constituents.

Chicago skyline at sunset
Downtown Chicago.
(Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock)
At the end of last year, the city of Chicago announced some major developments in its information technology strategy; among them was the establishment of a new Department of Technology and Innovation (DTI).

According to Chief Technology Officer Nick Lucius, this was one critical piece of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s approach to better serve residents, as it addresses some of the operational complexities of delivering effective government services.

“It’s not a revival of an old technology shop that we had before; it’s a new rethinking of an approach to how we combine technology and innovation,” Lucius stated.

When it came to building buy-in for this massive undertaking, Lucius said that there was a lot of support from the start because people are focused on the benefits of process improvement.

According to DTI Chief of Staff Robert Duggan, Johnson saw tech as deserving its own resources. Establishing DTI was a way of ensuring that a city the size of Chicago — with a population of over 2.5 million residents — dedicated the attention and technology resources required to effectively improve outcomes. A key part of the shift is an experiential change for constituents.

Other agency leaders within the city will benefit from the new methods of collaboration, Lucius said, with modern platforms like data management tools for productivity and other products that can make workflows more efficient.

An initial focus of the new department is the creation of a new data platform. While the city has, for a long time, offered the public access to an open data portal, the new initiative will offer an internal repository of consolidated data streams from different systems to support city agencies.

And while the agency is still in its early stages of this process, Duggan noted that instead of internal customers coming to the technology team with a pre-designed solution, problem-solving can be a more collaborative process with the emergence of the new department.

The new department has the room to grow significantly thanks to City Council support, Lucius said, and plans to more than double the amount of people working in technology for the city are underway. In addition to retaining the city’s technology teams, Lucius said there is an exciting opportunity to bring in new people with diverse perspectives, from government and technology backgrounds and from other backgrounds altogether.

DTI leadership is embracing a startup mentality through the process of shaping the new department, Duggan said, and staff are engaged and embracing the opportunity to reshape structure and processes.

“We get the advantage of being able to reset and re-create almost everything,” Duggan said.

The work starts with journey mapping many processes for the first time. And while he noted that government has regulations it must adhere to, establishing new working norms, processes, frameworks, and even culture offers numerous opportunities for the DTI team.

Lucius acknowledged the concerns some have about workforce changes spurred by AI, but he feels confident that technology jobs will continue to be a critical part of Chicago’s growing economy.

“People are always looking to the city government as the model for the workforce and for the economy,” Lucius said. “People are really excited about this new department because, again, it’s a magnet for people who want to make things work better.”
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.