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Digital Cities 2019: Winners Gear Up for a New Decade

The winners of this year’s Digital Cities Survey from the Center for Digital Government are those making smart investments in technologies from infrastructure and citizen engagement to data storage and cybersecurity.

by , / November 14, 2019
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Hover over points on the map above to learn more about each winner. Red indicates 1st place winners, yellow indicates 2nd place winners, green indicates 3rd place winners, and blue indicates winners that placed 4th through 10th.

1st City of Lynchburg, Va.

Lynchburg, Va., is often a top finisher in the Digital Cities Survey, and in 2019, it snagged the No. 1 spot in its population category. To deliver on the city’s policy priority to be “a resilient, agile and innovation organization,” IT staff is working alongside the human resources department on several initiatives. A new training program includes content on information technology and security created by technology staff, and a cloud-based performance management tool is now available citywide. For the IT Department specifically, alternative schedules and remote work options are available for certain positions. Further, an external study resulted in increases in pay and adjustments to job titles, enabling clearly defined progression plans that help increase job satisfaction.

Reflecting the importance of cybersecurity to Lynchburg, the city hired its first IT security manager — only one of four new general fund positions added in the 2019 fiscal year. The addition has contributed to increased focus on activities like data security analysis and the development of citywide policies on things like passwords and unauthorized devices on the city’s network.

Lynchburg also continues to add digital services, going live with a suite of options for contractors looking to get permits, schedule inspections, submit plans and pay fees online. City staff can now also use their mobile devices in the field to track and report progress on their work remotely. The GIS team also recently implemented a tool from Esri to fine-tune how fire equipment is dispatched in emergencies. Multiple data streams are combined to generate better-informed responses that consider factors like a structure’s height, use and occupancy.

2nd City of Westminster, Colo.

A fleet manager saved $45,000 a year. The utility meter shop saved $100,000. Budgeters saved at least 700 hours of time per year. These are the ways Westminster IT is working for its agencies — pragmatic savings that address pain points and present a clear return on investment. The agency has made a recent shift in the way it approaches new technology, more thoroughly interviewing stakeholders and considering process improvement as a possible alternative when something new isn’t truly necessary. It has notched a lot of wins, including several time-saving automations — work orders related to road work, sewers and 811 calls are now generated automatically through integrations. It has also delivered a new app to help the police’s victim services unit complete more work in the field, improved the business license application process and increased its broadband throughput to allow the city to use more cloud services.

On top of all this, city IT has been turning to collaborations and partnerships to extend its capabilities in several areas. It’s working with two counties to realize cost savings on fiber network expansion, integrating emergency response dispatch systems across several neighboring jurisdictions and participating in a smart cities alliance to share knowledge. One particularly impactful example of collaboration is in cybersecurity — the city recently put in place a new intrusion detection device, which will be monitored by the Center for Internet Security, and an upcoming security information and event management implementation will be managed by a third party as well. That means the city can achieve a cybersecurity hardening that its staffing limitations otherwise wouldn’t allow. Finally, the city demonstrates a clear desire to improve itself: Last year, it met with officials from several other winning Digital Cities to learn what more it could do.

3rd City of Columbia, Mo.

Columbia, Mo.’s progress in the past 12 months is vast. The city’s work last year involved launching a new website with interactive charts, graphs and other tools that citizens could use to learn about city finances, complete with a data portal that was updated weekly. Shrinking tax revenue, however, was a problem, with a reduced budget greatly contributing to high employee turnover. Columbia’s IT department reduced costs substantially, freeing up more than $109,000 for its IT pay plan, which is enabling it to move experienced employees with more than five years in their positions to a higher pay range with a cost of living increase.

The city’s pursuit of best practice awards, as well as its use of benchmarking, has also yielded results. Columbia decided to pursue the Missouri Quality Award, which is a state-level accolade for success in business, government, health care or education. Winning that award requires aligning performance with customer expectations. In the process of pursuing it, IT leadership identified a need to formalize best practices and some specific performance certifications that have led to new training programs for agency management and staff alike.

Finally, Columbia’s IT department has also embraced the need to support digital equity. IT staff donated 50 computers this year to lower-income families with school-aged children, while also continuing to offer internships that give struggling youth a chance to hold a paid position and gain invaluable job experience.

4th City of Sugar Land, Texas

Fourth-place Sugar Land, Texas, maintained its three-way partnership with Traffic Technology Services (TTS) and Trafficware this year. The two companies and the city share data so that each can increase its services and improve traffic flow. Trafficware, a local technology firm, operates a centralized advanced transportation management system that picks up signal data from intersections, which is provided to TTS as a data feed. TTS uses this information in conjunction with data from its connected vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) applications to predict when an intersection’s signal will change color several minutes before a driver reaches it. TTS also shares the data it collects from its connected and V2I-equipped Audis with the city. 

Sugar Land also turned to tech to increase transparency, implementing an interactive map of Fire and EMS incidents. Built by the Office of Performance and Accountability (OPA) on Esri’s ArcGIS platform, the map is updated quarterly and lets residents see things like hot spots and incident details. OPA also uses technology to enhance its services to other city departments following process improvement assessments. Post-assessment, OPA provides departments with an infographic summarizing the statistical findings and a recommendation tracker that it can use to monitor its progress.

And last, but not least, Sugar Land’s water department has tech that is so good you can actually taste it. The technology in its treatment facility won the city an award this year for the best-tasting water in the U.S.

5th City of Roanoke, Va.

The Roanoke City Council created seven priorities for the city: Community Safety, Infrastructure, Good Government, Education, Human Services, Livability, and Economy. The Department of Technology started or finished multiple projects related to technology infrastructure, which is measured in uptime. In February of this year, Roanoke upgraded its Internet redundancy by adding the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority as the secondary provider for Internet services. This was soon put to the test when the primary provider went down for several days. 

Roanoke continues focusing its attention on continuity of operations and improving resiliency in the event of an emergency, as well as cybersecurity incidents. The city is migrating more systems to the cloud and has built an incident response plan.

In terms of cybersecurity, a phishing test was done in October as part of cybersecurity month, new anti-virus software was deployed, and cybersecurity training was incorporated into new hire orientation. Other security-related projects also received funding for fiscal 2020, including implementing Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) software.

Roanoke partners with neighboring Roanoke County to back up each other’s E911 data centers. The city uses space in the county data center for disaster recovery and has space reserved to provide the same benefit for Roanoke County. The city also co-owns a Motorola radio system with Roanoke County. Other jurisdictions have also joined the system, including the city of Salem, the town of Vinton and Franklin County. Roanoke City Public Schools, the Valley Metro bus system, and Carilion Hospital are also users on the system.

6th City of Boulder, Colo.

In 2019, Boulder, Colo., continued several initiatives it had begun in previous years, with a particular focus this year on new practices around data and technology. Formed in 2017, Boulder’s Innovation Team has been active with city staff. The Innovation Team conducted workshops and sit-downs with city departments to update Boulder’s “smart city” strategic framework, started training various departments on key performance indicators, and has been incorporating those into city’s the annual budgeting process, using information dashboards to measure outcomes and outputs of different departments. The city also established a new division of IT, the Project Management Office, and a new program to establish IT liaisons to help other departments.

Looking ahead, Boulder is also focused on policy, exploring new citywide IT policies for emerging technologies such as AI, algorithms and privacy, drone management, and technology standards and architecture. The city updated its disaster recovery plan and is working on a business continuity plan for its ERP system, and Boulder’s Innovation and Technology Department put out an RFP for help turning its data sets into useful information that might steer decisions in the future.

Boulder is in the process of building 55 miles of citywide broadband infrastructure, much of which will reach 20 low- and middle-income neighborhoods. The city saved about $150,000 through several archiving projects, including consolidating servers and deleting old email archives, and completed 14 process-improvement projects that saved $51,000. For citizens, Boulder put out an RFP in June to assess and improve online services, and it contracted with ZenCity to start collecting mentions of “Boulder” across social media sites, which will be run through AI algorithms so the city can be proactive in addressing people’s issues.   

6th City of Independence, Mo.

Hometown of President Harry S. Truman, Independence, Mo., population 117,306, has earned accolades for its efforts to generate data-driven decision-making. At the core is CityWorks, which is the consolidation of numerous legacy systems into a new system of record for assets, licenses and permits. Data from CityWorks has simplified the reporting of critical information to the city council and the public. In conjunction, the city has partnered with CitySourced, a third-party citizen engagement platform for service requests, queries and other types of hotline information for public consumption.

Like other jurisdictions, Independence faces challenges around its tax base and the retirement of key personnel, especially in IT. By consolidating data and simplifying service requests via CitySourced, the city hopes to avoid problems that occur when resources and skills become limited. Independence has partnered with Bloomberg Cities to improve operational performance, beefed up its social media and Web presence for better customer engagement, consolidated its GIS and implemented a new ERP system. The result is a better government through judicious applications of new technology.

7th City of Allen, Texas

The growing city of Allen, Texas, has had to increase services, while getting smarter about how to offer them to residents. Perhaps one of the best examples is in online services. Recently, building permits and inspections were taken online to allow for easier payments and scheduling. In a similar vein, code enforcement officers are now equipped with tablets, allowing them to maintain productivity in the field. Automation and digitization have also spilled into other departments. For example, hiring and onboarding is done completely digitally and the finance department is using new tools to monitor transactions and search for irregularities. Software is now allowing for better records compliance and retention of human resource materials.

Keeping the city aesthetically pleasing for residents and visitors has taken the form of a partnership with telecommunications providers AT&T and T-Mobile to utilize existing light poles for 5G infrastructure, rather than installing standalone antennas. But creating new Internet connections goes beyond telecoms and stretches into regional partnerships as well. An agreement between Collin County and Collin College has established a fiber network to transmit court data and supplement recovery in the event of a disaster. This sort of resilience foresight also translates to 911 systems, which have been girded through substantial investment in new applications and data center equipment.

One of the primary concerns for the city of Allen, Texas, is maintaining “operational excellence” while warding off the myriad cyberthreats that have come with connected, digital government. These concerns are warranted in light of the recent attack launched against scores of Texas localities. To combat the growing issue, the city partnered with the Department of Homeland Security in 2018 to run a two-week test of city systems. Quarterly phishing tests and state-mandated trainings have seen click rates on tests drop from 21 percent to 10 percent. Furthermore, the city uses special software to capture and retain data on a daily basis, boosting backups from around 50 percent to 100 percent.

8th City of Duluth, Minn.

Despite its relatively small population of 86,000 people, Duluth, Minn., saw an impressive commitment from its limited IT staff to pursue the twin goals of modernization and improved service delivery over the past year — earning it eighth place.

In 2019, the city launched a utility billing portal, and succeeded in signing up one third of its 33,000-strong customer base in the months following its June launch. The portal, which gives residents the ability to access and pay their bills online, as well as read about utility consumption rates and payment history, also has a feature that allows multiple accounts to be set to a single customer login — a boon for landlords, real estate management companies and commercial properties. 

At the same time, the city also expanded the options for its eTRAKiT Online Permit Portal, a business-facing customer service application provided by the city’s Construction Services Office that has helped manage the city’s myriad construction projects that take place during the summer months. The portal uses automation to shorten processing time for certain permits, while also giving the 950 contractors enrolled in the app increased transparency around permit status. Currently responsible for processing over half of the city’s electrical, mechanical, and plumbing permits, the portal’s expanded permitting options this year made it more useful than ever. 

9th City of Longmont, Colo.

Two citizen-centric online platforms launched in Longmont, Colo., in 2019. Engage Longmont gives residents one convenient site to leave feedback on public projects — a boon for those who cannot attend events or meetings. Even more impressive is Longmont Indicators, which allows users to monitor how well Longmont achieves its planned goals. For instance, citizens can check trends in traffic congestion and bike path construction and see if the city’s transportation efforts have led to positive outcomes.

Longmont IT also drives projects that aim to assist the most vulnerable populations in the city. Not only does Longmont have its own municipal broadband system called NextLight, but this year it successfully relaunched its Sharing the NextLight program, which provides free high-speed Internet to low-income families who qualify for the National School Lunch Program. Moreover, IT enables multi-departmental approaches to multi-faceted problems. Currently, Longmont is working toward a data-warehousing solution that will connect its public safety, public works and community services components to local hospitals and nonprofits in order to better serve individuals who face homelessness, mental health challenges, and addiction.

10th City of Avondale, Ariz.

One of the focuses in 2019 for Avondale, Ariz., was enhancing the lives of families in the city. To that end, a number of improvements took place with the Neighborhood Family Services Department, including the development of an online citizen intake form. The form allows staff to glean information from citizens on needs such as finances, food, medical assistance and counseling, and then recommend resources for the citizens’ needs. The system has saved the staff six hours a week of data input. 

The city also continued to utilize its AI-based cybersecurity system, which continuously monitors networks, files and outbound traffic for anomalies or unusual patterns. The city also collaborates with the Arizona Cyber Threat Response Alliance, where partners in industry, academia, law enforcement and intelligence share data and resources to analyze and respond to cyberthreats. 

Avondale also continued its collaboration with several agencies to add improved communication and dispatch to the emergency operations center (EOC). Collaborations with ISM Raceway; the Department of Homeland Security; the FBI; Phoenix Regional Fire Dispatch; and the County Sheriff allow the EOC to be used as a command center during a major event or special activity, such as a NASCAR race. The EOC has the benefit of computer-aided dispatch remote consoles for fire, EMS and law enforcement, as well as multi-channel 800 mHz, VHF and UHF radio control.

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