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 Norfolk, Va.

Climbing to the top of the list in 2019, Norfolk, Va., has invested heavily in several critical areas. Still recovering from the recession, Norfolk invested $8 million in IT infrastructure this year, including new public safety radios, police in-car cameras, updated Microsoft Office software and small cell sites to support 5G. For efficiency, Norfolk IT reduced the number of file servers in the city’s data center from 30 to three by purchasing enterprise SQL (structured query language) server software. The city hopes one of its largest projects, a 37-mile ring of city-owned fiber to connect critical facilities, will save $200,000 a year compared to leasing fiber from a local Internet provider. The city’s other giant fiber project is still underway: a 103-mile shared, regional connectivity ring, in collaboration with five nearby municipalities, which the city expects will lower the cost of broadband services in underserved areas.

Cybersecurity being a growing imperative, Norfolk increased its cybersecurity budget to be 8 percent of its total IT budget. The city bought a $5-million cyberinsurance policy, a $10-million crime policy for computer fraud, and an Automated Security Awareness software package to train employees on cybersecurity practices. To reduce risk, the city also adopted a policy to minimize employee use of personally identifiable information, worked with the Virginia Department of Homeland Security to simulate cyberattacks, and conducted a comprehensive cybersecurity assessment as the basis of a new response plan, among other initiatives.

Developing a team for future projects, the city hired a chief data scientist and had increased its IT staff training budget by 119 percent, which led to staff training on data management analysis. The city also launched several citizen-facing initiatives, like engaging more than 1,200 residents in the budget planning process for 2020 with Balancing Act software, launching a new city website that pairs with a citizen-reporting app called My Norfolk, and using Microsoft PowerBI to create public-facing dashboards.

2nd City of Cape Coral, Fla.

In Cape Coral, Fla., many technology initiatives intersect with the core missions of the local government — especially where it relates to public safety. The best example of this crossover is a heat map dedicated to tracking crime trends, as well as a tool that alerts code enforcement officers if the address that they are going to has had altercations in the past five years. This is taken a step further with the tools designed to give police and first responders more accurate turn-by-turn directions to calls for service, thus improving response times. 

The smart city also has a foothold in the community. A mile-long streetscape project has become a catalyst for community development. Where broadband is concerned, the city also takes a “smart” approach in coordinating with the utility whenever a road is opened up for utility work. This alleviates much of the work and cost that comes with installing new fiber infrastructure on its own. Cape Coral is also pursuing partnerships to expand connectivity even further. This sort of city-owned fiber also extends to the water reclamation plant, a fire station and the public works complex, offering a stable, secure connection for daily operations.

Efforts to make government more efficient rely heavily on careful applications of technology. For example, each year, city IT staff are pushed to automate 10 manual processes. This sort of advancements can be seen in the Pcard — or procurement card —which allows the city to automatically match receipts to their corresponding purchases. Similarly, city meetings are transcribed by artificial-intelligence-enabled captioning.

Workforce training is also a part of the city’s ongoing work, especially when it comes to cybersecurity awareness training. Regular phishing test and open lines of communication help all employees stay apprised of the risks related to cyberattacks.

3rd City of Bellevue, Wash.

Bellevue, Wash., has long been a leader in data work among cities its size. The city, which is just across Lake Washington from Seattle, has a comprehensive and varied open data program. It can be easy for that work to garner all of the tech and innovation attention there. Bellevue, however, has other priorities too, one of which is continuing to advance the city’s smart city strategy, which has a heavy focus on mobility, involving autonomous, connected, electric and shared vehicle technologies.

It is to Bellevue’s credit that this work has generated close collaboration between the Information Technology Department (ITD) and the city’s Transportation Department, which have partnered to turn smart city plans into realities. In the past year, they have applied for federal grants related to a public-private partnership on autonomous shuttles for commuters, conducted infrastructure security assessments, and partnered with Waze on an interactive dashboard to help analyze crash patterns and risks, among other projects.

Bellevue, home to major companies such as T-Mobile and REI, has benefited from these partnerships to help with its connectivity needs through leases of fiber conduits or dark fiber strands. The city has also done impressive work related to another emerging technology—small-cell or 5G connectivity. ITD has partnered with other departments to create a Master License Agreement enabling small-cell deployment on city streetlights. Officials expect this to benefit both the city and the private companies behind the deployment, bringing both 4G connectivity to the downtown core and business district while also paving the way for the inevitable 5G networks in the area.

4th City of Alexandria, Va. 

Alexandria, a northern Virginia city just seven miles south of Washington, D.C., maintained its fourth-place finish from 2018. The city increased its use of digital maps, called Story Maps, to present residents with detailed information about its initiatives. These Story Maps are available online and include a variety of elements such as custom maps, images, multimedia content and narrative text. Also available to the public are live data streams from city traffic cameras, made available in anticipation of the four-month closure of the city’s Metro stations, as road traffic was expected to increase as a result.

Alexandria also made use of dashboards this year, implementing an online dashboard where residents can check up on the city’s progress toward its Vision Zero Action Plan. Located on the city’s website, the platform allows visitors to interactively view and analyze crash data, promoting government transparency and encouraging road safety. And the Office of Performance and Accountability turned to dashboards to keep city decision-makers informed, creating one that is regularly updated with data on performance trends to help improve service delivery.

In cybersecurity Alexandria has made great strides, reducing the average time to resolve a security issue by 30 percent. Technology and improvements in automation have been a significant factor in achieving this reduction. The city recently implemented a new single sign-on system as well as a new security information and event management system, which facilitates interdepartmental collaboration in addition to improving cybersecurity. Alexandria also automated patching and realized a 300 percent increase in incident reporting, contributing to a more proactive cybersecurity stance. Additionally, Alexandria will be one of the hosts of Amazon’s second headquarters, HQ2. As a result, Virginia Tech university will build an Innovation Campus in the city, geared towards fostering technology talent and building up the region’s growing innovation economy.

5th City of Baton Rouge, La.

This year, the city of Baton Rouge, La., made significant efforts to use emerging technologies to improve services for its citizens, earning it fifth place. In particular, the city’s IT department, Information Services, channeled those endeavors towards innovative solutions for public safety and traffic management. 

The city’s expansion of its Public Safety Common Operational Platform (PSCOP) has helped expand predictive policing capabilities — a big win for a city with one of the highest relative crime rates for a community of its size. IT solutions, like the platform, have helped the city offset the police department’s current 10 percent manpower shortage, born from recruitment difficulties, by directing officers towards geographic areas where crime remains most persistent. The city also partnered with Axon this year to deploy drones to assist with recovery efforts from Hurricane Barry — another innovative security investment. 

Meanwhile, a recently approved $1 billion capital improvements program, MOVEBR, heavily prioritizes transportation and improved traffic flow initiatives. All of the program’s more than 70 individual projects have been designated opportunities for integration of IT and smart capabilities. Improvements to the city’s Advanced Traffic Management Center, including software and fiber updates, are a big part of this. Simultaneously, the city’s IT department is tasked with integrating GIS into all of those CIP projects, while Baton Rouge construction services staff are to consider opportunities for fiber-optic infrastructure installation during projects. Additionally, the city has invested some $40 million into smart transportation initiatives, including signal upgrades and a pivot towards accommodations for smart, IoT and autonomous vehicles.

5th City of Pasadena, Calif.

Officials in Pasadena worked to improve citizen engagement, which, with key planning and progress on other tech projects, helped move the city from a tie for sixth place last year to a tie for fifth. Pasadena has made investments to enhance communication, debuting a ZenCity presence that brings together social and traditional media with data sets to better understand community talking points. The city is continuing work from 2018 with Meltwater to better manage marketing and branding through its social media monitoring solution.

Staffers created and launched the first phase of new Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and performance metrics across the enterprise. Plans are to develop an interactive dashboard to display those metrics this fiscal year.

The city showcased its innovation in July at the 2019 Esri User Conference. Initiatives included the city fire department’s Operations Dashboard launch, using Esri’s ArcGIS Online platform to integrate calls for service, equipment location, hydrant data and other indicators; and an app that creates a digital twin of the city, to assist the Planning Department in modeling development and growth. 

The city transportation department is working with the California Department of Transportation, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and other cities in connecting on- and off-ramps to the 210 freeway via fiber optics, to improve traffic flow. 

Pasadena will revisit cybersecurity strategy during the next year to 18 months, including its cybersecurity response; identity and access management; and cloud security plans. The city issued an RFP this year, to do an Information Risk Assessment and help the IT security officer’s team improve security practices. The city and the California Institute of Technology received a National Science Foundation Grant. In a collaboration that expanded this year, the partners are working on using fiber optics to measure earthquakes.

6th City of Corona, Calif.

Becoming a data-driven city — ensuring access to key data analytics in real time — has helped Corona, Calif., better understand projects and policies and what needs changing because of inefficiencies. Measuring outcomes and using AI and predictive analysis has helped the city streamline efforts. 

An example is the city’s efforts to curb homelessness. The IT department helped coordinate a transparent performance analytics dashboard to understand how the city’s efforts are working and to help the citizens understand what the city is doing in this regard. The dashboard gleans disparate data from multiple sources, providing information in one location. 

Corona has also undertaken a robust cybersecurity defense. The city chose the Microsoft Azure GCC platform and deploys next-generation firewalls, intelligent endpoints (remediation), hardened cloud infrastructure, a self-healing network and access identity systems. An AI system evaluates logins and will automatically block one if a problem arises and notify an administrator. 

The city does a monthly scan of the dark web to search for any issues that could be a security risk. Corona also uses a service to monitor and test employees. The city uses Microsoft Intune and Microsoft identity to protect its software network and will deploy Cisco Identity Services Engine to protect from hardware intrusion.

6th City of Winston-Salem, N.C. 

One of Winston-Salem's larger IT goals is improving communications and processes within the city's 311 call center. Part of the solution included funding for Accela Civic Solutions software to support the code enforcement department and Community Development. The new system uses the city’s GIS platform for improved efficiency and data visibility for code enforcement officers. New 311 call center technology will provide a more streamlined experience for residents and city staff. 

The IT department has also focused on enhanced cybersecurity and the formation of an “enterprise cybersecurity team,” made up of city staff and led by the chief information officer. There’s also a “technical cybersecurity team” made up of subject matter experts. Periodic cybereducation and other information is sent to all employees, with cybersecurity awareness a mandatory part of new employee orientation. Winston-Salem is now in the process of releasing an RFP for a managed security services provider (MSSP) and has implemented next-generation firewall technology, which will shield the network from active threats anywhere on the planet.  

A new city website, with an accompanying high-quality mobile presentation, offers enhanced citizen engagement. The site links directly to online payment centers, social media and other information. The new website project received input from all city departments, as well as residents. Winston-Salem is also rolling out the “Advanced Meter Infrastructure” project, updating about 120,000 water meters.

7th City of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. 

Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., moved up from ninth place in 2018 to seventh place this year. For its size (roughly 177,000 people), this city engages in a wide array of IT-driven projects. The most obvious example is its use of a new small robot assistant in City Hall that, among other features, can help visitors navigate the building with its “follow-me” capability. 

The city’s IT team finished an automated workflow system in 2019 that connects street workers, traffic engineers and citizen-reported issues through an integrated application. Not only does the system allow road crews to geotag assets and modifications in a comprehensive reporting feature, but it has also dramatically increased the efficiency of roadway management. A problem that might have taken days or weeks to go through the communication chain can now make the rounds in minutes or hours. 

Through a new Office of Communications, the city has transformed online, phone and in-person citizen engagement components into understandable and approachable experiences. As part of this effort, the city introduced in 2019 a variety of cloud-based services, including ones for meeting management, public information requests, access to city records and direct engagement on initiatives. 

During the summer, the city kicked off its citywide fiber broadband project, which was made possible by a public-private partnership with Inyo Networks. In addition to helping with the goal of giving residents and businesses high-speed Internet, this initiative has assisted the city with technological strategies, such as boosting connectivity between most city buildings and two data centers and increasing capacity for smart transportation.

8th City of Fort Collins, Colo.

2019 was a banner year for Fort Collins, Colo., which comes in eighth place in this year’s survey. In the third quarter of the year, the city launched its long-anticipated municipal broadband network, which offers low rates for high-speed Internet to all residents in an effort to shrink the digital divide. To further this equity work, the city is now looking at which populations may have difficulty using broadband to deploy assistance where needed. Fort Collins is also finalizing agreements with neighboring cities that may want to use its broadband network hubs so they can strengthen their own connectivity. Broadband will continue to be a top priority going forward. 

Open data is another strong area for Fort Collins. In the last year, the city’s open data portal has grown from 38 to 141 public data sets, easily searchable by citizens. IT is also expanding the city’s Amazon Alexa skill to increase public participation, as well as to enable access to municipal services and knowledge. To balance a commitment to transparency with the need for robust cybersecurity and data protection, the city has both a data architect and a privacy officer and takes a three-pronged approach to cyber through people, governance and technology. Employees undergo mandatory monthly cybertraining, and a dedicated cyberanalyst focuses on policies and procedures to harden the city’s cyberposture. This year, to improve efficiency, Fort Collins hired an IT asset manager tasked with tracking and optimizing hardware and maintenance agreements, which resulted in $100,000 in savings.

9th City of Augusta, Ga.

Transparency emerges as a consistent through-line in the work of ninth-place Augusta, Ga. Named as a priority by city policymakers, this spirit of openness is supported by many of the IT shop’s endeavors, laid out in its first-ever strategic plan. Building on its all-encompassing CityWatch portal, which links city-funded project data and extensive budget information, the city has migrated to a new open data platform called Open Augusta, which offers deeper context and visualization options based on GIS data. One noteworthy example is Augusta’s Fight Blight initiative, which offers detailed visual dashboards to track and visualize blight-related service requests by type and location

Augusta’s efforts toward transparent operations and the growing use of key performance indicators throughout the organization are linked to concrete efforts to improve operations. The city uses a system to track both work orders and assets, resulting in more coordinated, efficient workflows. A recently introduced feature aggregates issues related to hurricanes and other natural disasters, bringing faster responses to resident-reported problems and allowing the city to better account for storm-related costs. The same system is used to audit equipment use to ensure the city pays only for what it needs and uses. An audit of mobile devices, for example, removed more than 200 unneeded units from service, saving more than $100,000 annually. But Augusta’s tightly managed organization leaves room to explore the potential of emerging technologies and put them to use for the city. In late 2018, Augusta started working with drones to add to its inventory of aerial images. Citizens are joining the effort, too, contributing their drone footage for use by the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Drones have also been used to document cases of illegal dumping, supplementing the work of the Planning and Code Enforcement staff.

10th City of Roseville, Calif.

In 2000, the city of Roseville, located in Northern California, had a population of just under 80,000. Today, 20 years later, the city has grown into a metropolis of close to 140,000. The explosive growth has led to challenges around fiscal management and balanced resources. To deal with the situation and to ensure technology is part of the solution, Roseville has created a Vision 2020 Strategic Technology Roadmap. It calls for hiring and retaining competent and skilled IT personnel, increasing collaboration both internally and externally and making sure good data is driving the right decisions. To that end, the city has begun to focus on the kinds of tools it needs for analytics, and it has migrated more than 50 percent of its systems and applications to the cloud. 

The city also has a growing homelessness problem and has turned to GIS to help conduct point-in-time population counts and to help steer the vulnerable to the services they need. Roseville has launched a new self-service portal for workers that has reduced service calls by 10 percent. On the innovation front, the city has invested in drone technology to support its public safety programs.

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