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Digital Cities 2021: 250,000-499,999 Population Category

The top performers in this year’s Digital Cities Survey from the Center for Digital Government pushed through the challenges of COVID-19 while continuing to innovate and engage with residents.

1st Long Beach, Calif.

Long Beach rose from second to first place this year, continuing to enhance residential service delivery while modernizing its technology infrastructure. The city’s Technology and Innovation Department (TID) facilitated many of the solutions connecting community and city leaders during the pandemic; developed digital tools for providing services where they were most needed; and helped move more than 5,000 staff to remote work. TID is working with the city’s Civil Service to streamline technology recruitments, and during development of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, city officials approved modernizing and renaming areas of the TID organization, in part to enhance the city’s market position as a recruiter.

Among the initiatives TID played a key role in establishing was VaxLB, a portal and vaccination sign-up platform to let residents know when they could receive the COVID-19 vaccine. TID also deployed a renewed Go Long Beach app for service requests. And the department guided extension of work with social media insight platform Zencity, which helped Long Beach gauge effectiveness of COVID-19 messaging. Officials consolidated older tech policies to avoid inappropriate use of technology that could expose the city to attack or compromise, and enhanced implementation of an email security system to guard against phishing and malware. Long Beach adopted a Smart City Initiative Strategy, designed to set a citywide approach to leveraging emerging technology. The Long Beach Augmented Reality (AR) Challenge began in March, and from May to July, teams tested ideas for AR solutions, unveiling them in August at an outdoor AR Exhibition. The city’s Digital Inclusion Roadmap is a plan to ensure equitable access and use of digital inclusion resources; they also developed an equity toolkit. And this year, Long Beach was named to the Certification Honor Roll that’s part of Bloomberg’s What Works Cities program.

2nd Durham, N.C.

Durham, N.C., cemented a second-place ranking in its population category this year with a special focus on stopping and recovering from a 2020 malware attack and working within the strains on IT created by the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic. While cybersecurity is top of mind for most local governments in 2021, Durham suffered a ransomware attack just days before the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a full-blown pandemic. As such, the city’s IT team has recentered efforts to secure vital systems and ensure resilience against future attacks. To meet these goals, the city is working to implement multi-factor authentication, hire additional cybersecurity resources and implement a zero-trust network model.

In line with efforts to gird the city’s networks, officials have also put special focus on creating a robust IT governance model over the last several years. This framework has allowed the Technology Solutions Department to thoroughly evaluate and prove out the business cases of new technologies, and it was instrumental in adopting a next-generation firewall that uses machine learning. This allows IT staff to target and stop threats developing across the network.

The city has also adopted next-generation 911, which was a top priority during the pandemic, and the fire department has developed a drone program to help entry teams assess hazardous materials risks before personnel are deployed.

3rd Virginia Beach, Va.

The city of Virginia Beach demonstrated its commitment to using technology in realizing its five core focus areas, which include infrastructure to expand broadband services, and an innovative and sustainable government established through data-driven decision-making. To that end, the chief information officer’s position was reorganized so that the CIO reports directly to the new city manager, to guarantee technology has a seat at the table. Another move was to hire the city’s first chief performance officer, who is tasked with creating organizational performance metrics for all city services. All agencies are now required to participate in the Performance Stat initiative and be evaluated based on performance and plans that strengthen, enhance and innovate government services. A new customer relationship management system implemented in April 2021 provided a single portal for residents to make requests, and integrated existing 311 functions.

In its effort to promote a healthy community, Virginia Beach expanded its technology incident management system to enhance the reports of city employees on their daily health self-check. The city developed a citizen registration portal to aid the Virginia Beach Department of Health in registering citizens to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The city also created a new Enterprise Technology Plan that will focus on four core areas of IT, including services delivery; business solutions, governance and infrastructure; and operations.

4th Chandler, Ariz.

With a citizen-centric approach in mind, the city of Chandler uses modern technology to streamline government services to its residents. Upon the pandemic’s arrival and the shelter-at-home orders that followed, the city’s selection of activities that took place at recreation centers were moved online, including enrichment classes, science experiments, crafts and workouts. In 2021, Chandler expanded its online offerings with remote streaming options for live concerts and events, as well as virtual tours of art exhibits and museums. Concurrently, IT capitalized on CARES Act funds by allocating them toward supporting a next-generation workforce. The money allowed IT to replace city desktop computers with laptops, upgrade telepresence rooms and enhance infrastructure security.

Last year the city completed a fiber assessment program that identified network capabilities. Following up on their long-term strategy for future fiber investments, city leaders used existing funds to begin the first phase of three in Chandler’s fiber network strategic road map. And if that wasn’t enough, the city also provided necessary infrastructure upgrades to enable citywide Wi-Fi capabilities.

Public safety remains a high priority for Chandler, as seen in its quest to modernize its communication center. The city introduced a virtual threat simulator to provide police officers with better training, implemented technology that allows video sharing between the caller and 911 dispatchers, and launched a “Text to 911” service. For individuals who are unable to communicate verbally in emergency situations, the city’s use of RapidSOS technology provides accurate, real-time caller locations.

5th Henderson, Nev.

A successful government technology program isn’t just about using the latest tools – it’s about buying them in an efficient manner, as recent experience from Henderson shows.

Over the past year, the city’s I.T. department worked with Henderson’s finance officials to further streamline procurement and shave more days off that task. One way of doing that involved ending the requirement that the city council approve any contract of $100,000 or more – which could lead to a 90-day approval process.

A new option removes that requirement for renewals, cutting processing time by up to 90 percent and boosting satisfaction for end users and vendors alike when it comes to government technology projects. And for renewals that call only for ongoing annual maintenance, the city’s tech pros now can handle those tasks via purchase orders, which can also speed up turnaround times for technology.

In the meantime, Henderson also leaned on technology to improve public safety, one of the local government’s main overall priorities. That work included the upgrade and installation of cameras in the city, as well as the deployment of software to manage those cameras. According to the city, the project will provide images not only directly related to public safety but for the purposes of edge computing and analytics.

All of this is happening as the pandemic continues to command focus. During the outbreak, the city’s workers did their part to support the state’s vaccine rollout by quickly learning the tech requirements of that system and training colleagues, running a helpdesk and keeping an eye out for tech problems that could end up either slowing down the public health push or costing millions of dollars in relief funding.

6th Riverside, Calif.

Riverside, Calif., holds onto its sixth-place showing in the Digital Cities Survey this year thanks to a slate of practical priorities and IT that’s well integrated with government operations. CARES Act funding was used to equip more than 500 city workers with laptops and other equipment to enable remote work while the city initiated other developments like e-signatures and video conferencing with Microsoft Teams. Up to 40 percent of the city’s workforce works remotely. The COVID-19 crisis also enabled the rollout of more paperless processes and virtual meetings. The city’s technology office has taken on large infrastructure modernization projects related to city network improvements, GIS upgrades, virtual city services, Office 365 migration, and data warehousing and analytics, using PowerBI to support more data-based decision-making and virtual city hall services.

Riverside’s website and other digital products are increasingly interactive and invite citizen engagement. The public can submit events directly into the city calendar, and a new 311 mobile app includes a built-in social media page and a city news section, among other improvements. To shore up its cybersecurity posture, Riverside implemented an advanced threat protection system using machine learning, a data loss prevention project and a malicious software protection system. Riverside also launched a disaster recovery project to locate redundant data storage outside of the city hall data center.

7th Wichita, Kan.

For Wichita, the past year in tech and innovation has involved both cost-saving work and exciting new pilot projects, with some overlap between. In the first group, the central IT shop has done a number of things, including outfitting city vehicles with GPS, which has enabled the city to use data to enhance efficiency. This, Wichita estimates, saved $120,000 last year, and will continue to do so annually. IT staff in Wichita also began upgrading existing computers rather than purchasing replacements, which officials estimate saved more than $140,000. It may not be flashy, but this work is at the heart of gov tech for cities.

Wichita also has a list of pilot programs and completed work, including public kiosks that enable easier interactions with the city, gunshot detection tech, law enforcement analytics, online payment consolidation and more. The city brought more of its services online, including an emergency rental assistance form. Collaboration, meanwhile, played a vital role in Wichita, both with government partners as well as the private sector. One example is a fiber-sharing agreement with the Kansas Department of Transportation, which netted Wichita faster Internet. Another example is working with T-Mobile on a partnership around Wi-Fi hot spots to boost digital equity. There is also a growing relationship between the city and the startup community. Wichita has worked to find tech startups that can help with civic challenges. This, so far, has included work on a citizen engagement platform with Citizen Lab, and a project with Qwall to aid women and minority-owned small businesses during the pandemic.

8th Greensboro, N.C.

Greensboro, N.C., has stayed busy with technology advancements in 2021. In May, the city launched a GIS app that lets the public search for building permit information going back 10 years. The app’s tabular and map options give citizens far more flexibility than previous incarnations of the same idea. Another significant data-related accomplishment is Greensboro’s release of a police transparency dashboard. The dashboard allows residents to view and filter data on traffic violations, juvenile and adult crimes, use of force and more, and has also garnered interest from local researchers wanting to utilize the data for their studies.

The municipality successfully amended its acceptable use policy in the summer so that it could hold all employees and contractors to the same ethical standards when they use social media and the city’s network. The same policy update also ensures that equipment will be fully returned or reimbursed when employees leave their posts, which will result in savings in the thousands of dollars. Greensboro also moved away from its paper-wasting system of routing contracts and toward an electronic method that leverages DocuSign. With this change, the city has found a significant reduction in the average amount of time it takes to route contracts. Last, Greensboro recently standardized the equipment and software that its three different drone teams use so that the groups can share technology and best practices.

8th Madison, Wis.

Taking eighth place in this year’s survey, Madison, Wis., is making important progress in a number of critical IT areas. In the wake of COVID-19, the city is implementing software to distribute American Rescue Plan Act funds for rental assistance, online licensing and permitting services, and new public health data dashboards. Going virtual with public meetings has increased public participation as well as the diversity of those participants, and the city will go forward with a hybrid meeting model. Residents can now register their positions on legislative matters online, and that system has been used 34,000 times since April 2020.

Madison’s Data Governance Team comprises staff and managers from multiple city agencies, and the group is currently developing a data governance policy and guide to define data standards, workflows and architecture for the "Results Madison" initiative, which they aim to roll out in 2022. Results Madison is a data-driven, outcome-based budgeting system that defines KPIs for every department and links those to spending. To support resident mental health, Madison is reviewing data for police department call response and determining where the most mental health calls are concentrated; that data then went to a program that will use Fire Department paramedics and mental health professionals to address mental health 911 requests as part of a program called CARES.

As for cybersecurity, the IT department regularly engages with city staff to boost cyber awareness, taking a proactive approach by continuously improving internal processes to align with industry best practices and upgrading key elements of technology infrastructure.

9th Irvine, Calif.

Ninth-place Irvine, southeast of Los Angeles, continued to invest in open government by adding a lot of functionality to its Transparency Portal in the past year. Featuring an ever-growing list of detailed city information, the site offers visually oriented data on development and capital improvement projects, budget and finance, city contracts, amenities and much more. The city recently added the ability for vendors to pay invoices online, as well as track the status of outstanding invoices, both of which used to be manual processes. These two tools were built internally through a partnership between the Financial Management and Strategic Planning Department and the Human Resources and Innovation Department.

Like its transparency efforts, Irvine’s moves to enhance its digital service offerings were well-timed with the public’s need for contactless services during the pandemic. The city launched a new online plan review process, enabling permitting to go entirely virtual. Field inspections went virtual as well, with the help of mobile apps as well as electronic signature capabilities. And Irvine was also able to resume City Council meetings virtually, which include the ability for citizens to comment and participate in deliberations from connected devices.

10th Gilbert, Ariz.

Maintaining services and an effective remote work operation amid a slew of data and cybersecurity projects, Gilbert, Ariz., created an IT road map for moving the town to cloud services, in some cases with private-sector partners who could make information security, business continuity, disaster recovery and customer experience more efficient.

The town consolidated its three data centers down to two, with plans for further consolidation and cloud migration in the future, and established both an information security office and a project management office for the city, including a CISO and security analyst. Also in the interest of security, the town contracted with a partner for an information security assessment and implemented a cyber recovery and resiliency system, with backups for the town network. For data management, the town hired an outside consultant for feedback, has been promoting a data literacy program for staff in all departments, and started training IT staff on server maintenance and cloud technologies.

More externally, the town created a way for members of the public to add comments on vendors who have municipal contracts, so town managers can take those into account when deciding whether to sign or renew with a vendor. Gilbert’s IT department laid the infrastructure for a new $85 million public safety training facility that opened in May, and the town is leading an initiative with other cities and the Arizona Office of the Courts to design a technology solution to make audits quicker and more precise. The town also worked with vendors of mobile IoT and geospatial plotting technologies on a way for citizens to know when government vehicles enter a particular area, and it received a What Works Cities Certification, in part a credit to Gilbert’s designated Office of Digital Government that works with other departments on citizen engagement.