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Digital Cities 2023: Up to 75,000 Population Category

The 56 winning cities in this year’s awards from the Center for Digital Government focused their efforts on technology projects that impacts residents communitywide.

Click here for full coverage of winners in all population categories.

1st Tamarac, Fla.

Innovation, accessibility and ease of use have been top of mind for Tamarac, earning the city first place within its population category. One of the city’s top priorities in achieving this has been its smart city initiative, which focuses on embracing Internet of Things concepts and developing a smart city and technology strategic plan to streamline operations. So far, changes such as connecting devices in the city’s fire stations like alert systems, HVAC systems, exhaust control systems, generators and fuel tanks to a centralized network for remote control and monitoring have taken place, along with connecting the city’s parks to high-speed fiber connections to ensure reliable Wi-Fi coverage. Other efforts, like upgrading the city’s enterprise resource planning software and merging enterprise and web-based systems, are also underway to make doing business with the city easier. For context, the city started using CentralSquare Technologies’ NaviLine government enterprise software suite in 1998 for its enterprise resource planning needs. However, the system has slowly become obsolete, resulting in the decision to migrate to the company’s newer Finance Enterprise, Community Development and Enterprise Asset Management software. The migration process is expected to take three to five years. Once complete it will provide staff and residents with rich web applications and improved access to online services.

Lastly, the city has also made great strides in increasing its cybersecurity. In the past year alone, three significant initiatives were implemented, including launching a multi-OS vulnerability management and compliance solution that helps the city identify, assess and address vulnerabilities in its IT infrastructure; plus a continuous autonomous penetration testing solution that emulates the behavior of real-world attackers; and Microsoft 365 Defender, which provides comprehensive email protection from attacks such as credential phishing, business email compromise and ransomware. These new solutions join the city’s multilayered approach to security.

2nd Punta Gorda, Fla.

Punta Gorda offers a great example of how to use technology to deal with and recover from a disaster. As the city’s 2023 fiscal year kicked off, a category five hurricane struck the city, setting the tech agenda for the next several months. Staff spun up networks from trailers and, because of downed fiber, worked with low bandwidth initially as the city developed apps for gathering data about damaged buildings and seawalls, debris and signs.

Communication turned into a prime focus. The city’s tech workforce implemented mobile technologies and figured out how to combine field reports from multiple sources. Crews relied on smartphones and tablets as Punta Gorda got back on its feet, with services returning in stages, and city hall relying heavily on its GIS tools.

After the storm, permit requests quadrupled, leading to overcrowding and chaos in the building department. The city deployed a QLess management and appointment scheduling system to ease those pressures, giving staff more control over their workdays and more time to focus on permitting instead of crowd control.

3rd Tinley Park, Ill.

Tinley Park climbed to third place in its population category in this year’s Digital Cities Survey, in part thanks to its dedication to improving digital services for residents. In a collaboration with the city’s website provider, the village created a user-friendly search option that helps guide residents to pages within the website based on predetermined keywords that users are most likely to use when searching. The upgrade improves both user experience and navigation on the city website. Additionally, the city increased its use of QR codes on the main website, thus making it easier for residents to access information.

On the cybersecurity front, the IT team partnered with a third-party vendor to complete a network inventory. The IT team plans to hire a full-time employee dedicated to network and security, in hopes of fortifying the city’s cybersecurity posture. The city also created a data analyst role with the intention of providing oversight to the city’s data ecosystem. The IT team’s expansion shows its determination to bolster the city’s cybersecurity.

Tinley Park is also making strides in emerging technology. A drone committee was recently formed to bring more structure to the use of drones throughout the village. The committee also purchased software that allows real-time video streaming from all city drones to any location with access to the Internet. This software helps increase situational awareness for the city’s public safety departments.

4th Delray Beach, Fla.

Delray Beach in Florida ranked on this year’s list following recent efforts to increase digital citizen engagement and access to information about city services and programs. As one example of this, officials noted that the city has enabled online permit applications to streamline the process of obtaining city permits, as well as launching a mobile app dubbed MyDelrayBeach that makes information about city services more accessible to residents, at any time of day.

In addition, the city's technology strategist program and budget planning worked to grow its IT department in size. Another priority was to increase its reputation with residents, visitors and across departments, including with the city's communications department, which works in close partnership with the IT team on citizen engagement efforts.

5th Kalamazoo, Mich.

Kalamazoo, Mich., IT shone this year by using tech to support other city departments as they worked on the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 plan. While that plan is a useful guidepost, a lot of the collaborative work the IT department did seems likely to have a lasting impact for years to come. For example, IT partnered with each internal department on data-driven management dashboards to help guide their progress and decision-making. In addition, Kalamazoo’s tech shop is now working with the city’s senior leadership team to start publishing external data dashboards aimed at the public as well.

While there have been many fruitful partnerships of late between IT and other departments, one that stands out is public safety. IT is currently managing the installation of a new citywide security camera system, which will enable viewing of all city-owned cameras for Kalamazoo’s public safety officers. IT and public safety are also collaborating on a new cloud-based camera system platform that would allow the city to view resident and business security cameras on a volunteer basis.

IT is also helping with the modernization of the city’s physical infrastructure by partnering with the Public Services Department to map both the infrastructure’s current status as well as any planned improvements. On top of that, IT is helping to deploy tablets that can be used in the field to update statuses or see new work orders without going back to City Hall.

Finally, after a hiatus due to staffing issues, Kalamazoo has revived its data stewardship committee, which is now working on an accountability framework, outlining tasks for data stewards and more. GIS is now also under IT’s data division, and is working on some interesting projects, including live tracking for city snowplows.

6th Williamsburg, Va.

The city of Williamsburg took a sixth-place ranking in this year’s survey, with special emphasis on providing the best experience it can for its residents. The expansion of broadband service has been a priority for the city, though there is only one Internet service provider serving the area. During the pandemic, city staff worked to provide free wireless service to a low-income neighborhood with many school-aged children. Along these same lines, the city has been pushing the provider to improve the cellular backbone used by police, fire and emergency services. Officials have also worked to implement mobile-integrated health care, which aims to reduce “frequent flyer” 911 calls by identifying and mapping these problem callers.

Protecting critical networks is also a top priority for the IT department; a strategic plan, cloud system backups and alignment with federal best practices are all in place. Training for IT staff is another priority. The city has adopted a training partner to hone staff skills while also charting career paths.

7th Newark, Calif.

The city of Newark, Calif., has a brand-new IT department after promoting the office up from being a division in 2022. The city also hired its first official CIO, Ed Miranda, and the work has been keeping him busy. Miranda has been tasked with hiring the department’s personnel, creating an IT Master Plan, striking up partnerships with internal and external stakeholders, and putting the pieces in place to advance Newark’s municipal technology.

The new department has notched several accomplishments in its first year or so: It fixed intermittent network stability problems that were disrupting city operations, began work on a broadband deployment plan, implemented digital services and citizen engagement tools, beefed up the city’s cyber defenses, and adopted cloud services such as Laserfiche and SharePoint. The department’s collaborations are also notable: an IT Steering Committee brings together cross-department stakeholders and helps assess new technology; a partnership with the county plus nearby cities and special districts is building toward cooperative disaster recovery and continuity of operations planning; and participation in an open data initiative with Esri is allowing for wider transparency.

Aside from its work to wrap up its strategic plans, the IT department’s forthcoming projects include deploying advanced cameras to support public safety and enabling more productive remote work through VPN and cloud-based technologies.

8th Gainesville, Ga.

The past 12 months saw several infrastructure improvements in the city of Gainesville, most notably the installation of a fiber-optic network with almost 20 miles of city-owned fiber connecting the city’s buildings. For citizens, the city is also partnering with a local fiber/co-op to bring a new Internet service provider to Gainesville. Internally, the Department of Information Technology added a core switch to the network for high availability and redundancy, and it set up environmental-monitoring tools to make staff aware of any HVAC issues with data centers as soon as possible. To maintain a pipeline of internal talent to fill positions, senior IT staff worked with division managers to create succession plans for each division. For others, such as the community development department, DoIT implemented Accela’s customer relationship management system for permits and reviews, and for the Department of Water Resources, it provided an AI tool for water meters that notifies customers when there’s a possible water leak on their property.

Having implemented the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework 800-53 last year, Gainesville also built upon steady progress in its cybersecurity posture with a network monitoring system, stronger patching processes and quicker notifications about variances. To forge collaborative relationships and promote cybersecurity intelligence-sharing, the city’s CIO has been sharing briefings with cyber analysts from other Georgia agencies as well as the FBI, NSA and DHS.

9th Dunwoody, Ga.

Dunwoody, Ga., has a strong foundation in data-driven decision-making. The city uses surveys and feedback requests to obtain citizen input, in addition to tracking KPIs to monitor engagement. Another major accomplishment for the city in the way of analytics is that it has moved a large portion of data to the cloud. To that end, the city has segregated access to maintain the least privilege access model, as well as using policies to ensure data storage is in compliance with Georgia’s Open Records Act. Also, the city’s stormwater replacement program uses GIS data to prioritize replacements and align them with budget requirements; over a mile of pipes have been replaced using this system.

In policing work, the city leverages data collected from the police department’s records management system and additional sources. This data is then processed by the city’s crime data analyst, who uses it to support the development and implementation of strategic policing methods.

This data governance approach will help the city meet select priorities designated this year to increase communication and transparency, ultimately improving citizen access to services.

10th Hillsdale, Mich.

Hillsdale has persevered despite operating with one fewer major staffer in the IT services department as well as the challenges that presented. In spite of this, leadership continued working to ensure that all municipal departments and employees have the technology and training they need to carry out their responsibilities efficiently. In its measured response to cybersecurity, the city has required routine cybersecurity training for all users, which locks them out of the system if their training is not up to date. Each employee is required to complete training modules every other month to summarize pertinent threats and how to avoid them. Employees who’ve not completed training are locked out of workstations.

In order to make progress toward its goal of upgrading physical equipment, the city’s technical services has prioritized an aggressive schedule, including installation of AMI meters for the Hillsdale water department. To increase customer service, the Hillsdale Board of Public Utilities — the city’s municipally owned electric, water and wastewater utility — created a new Customer Connection Estimate form to simplify the process for potential customers.

Click here for full coverage of winners in all population categories.