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Digital Cities 2021: Up to 75,000 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 Shawnee, Kan.

Last year, Shawnee kicked off two sizable initiatives aimed at strategic planning and revising the city’s comprehensive plan. To support these efforts, the IT department provided communications, mapping, business applications and other technologies. The COVID-19 pandemic hastened the city’s move to remote work and altered operations for city meetings and municipal courts, shifting these to web-based teleconferencing platforms. The CitizenServe platform, launched in 2019, an e-portal to support online business licenses and other applications, is being expanded to include land management software to be used by the Planning Department. Shawnee’s Maps and Open Data Portal site is a resource for city data. To improve internal operations, the IT development team, in partnership with Human Resources, redesigned a new employee intranet site to integrate calendars, social networks, policies and manuals and more.

As part of Shawnee’s cybersecurity protection, the city deployed a managed detection and response solution, a security operations center as a service that provides continuous network inspections, analysis, threat detection and cloud security. City GIS data and services were migrated to ArcGIS Enterprise with Portal. A part of this project was the deployment of the Maps and Open Data Portal, an open data site, which will make GIS software and geospatial technology available to staff and residents.

2nd Danville, Va.

Danville is using technology not only to create the future, but also to bring the past to life. One recent IT initiative involves a collaboration with the city’s Old West End District to boost the profile of more than 60 historic homes via online images, histories and links focused on those structures — a digital storytelling effort that illustrates how the best public agency tech programs often require cooperation from various stakeholders and community interest groups.

The city has also improved the technology experience for its own employees. Danville created a single sign-on system in spring 2021 for city employees to use for such tasks as training, security compliance, policy review and documentation. The tool, which the city describes as “low cost,” enables workers to access documents without network authentication, which has reduced help desk requests for password resets, according to the city.

Danville also has turned to technology in service of the city’s top priority, education. IT employees during the pandemic worked with public schools to establish “virtual learning centers,” a push that lasted into 2021 and included such tasks as technical support, MiFi devices and upgrading the city’s 1GB Internet circuit to 5GB. The city provided renovated iPads as well. Beyond that, Danville worked with the local public school system to get a fuller picture of the problems that families and their school-aged children face by analyzing data about delinquent utility payments. Such information, the city says, has proven crucial for the sustainability of virtual learning.

3rd Tamarac, Fla.

Tamarac, Fla., climbed to third place in this year’s survey thanks to strong alignment of IT work with the city’s strategic goals, including modernizations to major systems and a big push for smart city projects. The city is migrating to a new enterprise resource planning system that will make it easier to do business with the government, and has also installed a new enterprise content management system that will integrate with that ERP. An e-procurement system allows agencies to easily connect with vendors, and in 2021 Tamarac expanded its vendor pool by working with procurement platform UrbanLeap. An active member of the Multistate Information Sharing and Analysis Center, IT also installed a new firewall from Palo Alto Networks, as well as endpoint security software that uses machine learning to detect breaches and send updates across the network.

In keeping with the mayor’s policy initiative to become a smart city, Tamarac is developing a Smart City and Technology Strategic plan. New fire stations are highly integrated with the city network for 24/7 systems monitoring, and smart parks are powered by an expansion of the city’s underground fiber network that was completed in fall 2020. The fiber also makes the city better able to withstand disasters like hurricanes.

When city staff moved to remote work in 2020, IT migrated 4TB of data to the cloud via Microsoft Teams and SharePoint. To better connect with residents, Tamarac considers its website to be a virtual city hall that supports all walk-up services, and the city installed “HappyOrNot” kiosks at its building department and community center to gauge customer satisfaction. Plus, by connecting resident sentiment-monitoring software Zencity with the NextDoor social network, Tamarac is able to use AI to scan posts for valuable resident feedback they can then use to facilitate improvements in government.

4th Schaumburg, Ill.

2021 was the year of big cyber attacks, but the city of Schaumburg was prepared. The city maintains a Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan, which came in handy earlier this year during the massive SolarWinds supply chain hack. Schaumburg initially had reason to believe that it had been affected, so it leveraged that plan to coordinate an immediate response. While it turned out that the city had not been breached, the incident showed that that plan is thorough and effective. The city also implemented end-user cybersecurity training from KnowBe4 in June of this year. The system includes mock phishing attempts and individual tracking of employees’ responses, so that more susceptible employees can receive more training and education.

Schaumburg also looked to technology in the last year to ensure physical security with an operational awareness security system in the heart of its retail sector. The IT department established a network of city-owned street-level and license plate-reading cameras along with select privately owned cameras in the area. All the footage feeds to a real-time information center within the police department, where they are integrated into the emergency dispatch and public radio systems to ensure a quick response in case of an incident.

Another thing Schaumburg focused on in the last year was using technology to make it easier to access city services. The IT department helped two other city departments, Community Development and the Liquor Commissioner’s Office, migrate one application process each from paper to digital. The Business License and Certificate of Occupancy application and the liquor license application can now both be completed 100 percent online.

5th Marana, Ariz.

Marana, Ariz., continues to evolve its approach to IT. In 2021, the town started an annual survey of executive leaders about their satisfaction with IT services and a monthly meeting where IT meets with other departments to identify processes that can move the municipality forward. Moreover, the IT department also recognized that certain disruptions to key systems, such as ERP and VPN, were due to lackluster management on the department’s part, so a new standard operating procedure was implemented to reduce such instances. It’s this willingness to look in the mirror that has made Marana a perennial Digital Cities contender for many years.

The Arizona town has made a slew of noteworthy tech innovations over the last year. To increase public transparency about the fruits of taxpayer dollars, IT partnered with the Public Works Department to create a website that allows citizens to see ongoing progress on road improvements. In response to the pandemic, Marana also moved its permitting procedure to an email-based system that is now the permanent standard, even after staff moved back to offices. Other recent endeavors include an initiative that tightened cybersecurity for the town’s water utility and the introduction of AI and machine learning into the municipality’s overall security system, which quickly reaped benefits by preventing two devices from being attack points.

6th Punta Gorda, Fla.

The goal of the city of Punta Gorda, Fla.’s IT Strategic Plan, according to city leaders, is to develop solutions centering on cybersecurity, citizen engagement, device management, departmental collaboration, disaster response protocol and data governance. As part of this plan, city leaders are looking to IT to maintain consistency across departmental networks, as well as to strengthen security protocols. Toward that end, officials have incorporated new network and data encryption protocols.

The city has focused on training IT personnel to get the most possible benefit from current technologies, to maintain a centralized helpdesk system, and to manage the city’s information and voice systems and technologies, among other needs. Punta Gorda has also demonstrated strides in citizen engagement, regularly hosting online town halls, surveys and forums for community members to provide input for city leaders.

Much of this has been possible due to the city’s IT budget, which now focuses on recurrent investments in staffing, device management and technology required for security and general network needs. The city has so far met most of its IT budgeting goals and plans to finalize IT budget planning within the next 18 months with the aim of providing the funding needed to purchase and maintain emerging technologies for IT operational needs.

7th North Port, Fla.

On a core level, North Port, Fla., did well last year ensuring that the mission and value for its IT office lined up to clearly support broader work in the city: creating a better quality of life for residents through government service. One way that North Port accomplished this was by using tech and innovation to facilitate more interactions between residents and the city, even during the pandemic. These measures included a resident comment portal, an online city budget survey, multiple city mobile apps to interact with local government and more. Underneath it all was an ongoing effort to improve Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility throughout the city’s web presence.

Modernization of legacy systems also remained a priority in North Port, specifically as it applied to the city’s Neighborhood Development Services, which includes foundational government work such as the code enforcement, planning and building departments. A key step in this process was hiring an applications systems administrator, which has led to a number of different modernization projects, many of which will continue into next year. Once completed, this work will result in streamlining and automation for several different processes, which has long been a crucial part of gov tech. This — and several other ongoing projects — portend a bright future for tech and innovation in North Port.

8th Lancaster, Pa.

Lancaster is taking the reins of its IT and cybersecurity. The city has traditionally looked to its county to supply much of these services and resources, but now believes it can better support residents if it has more independent control. The city is in the process of building out its own IT department and shifting over operations — efforts that, in part, include physically moving hardware into city buildings. Lancaster recently hired its first-ever chief data and technology officer to oversee this work.

During this transition, the city will review the county-provided hardware, software and networking solutions it currently uses to see if they’re still the best fit for city needs. Building an IT department also takes staff, and the city is working to train up and hire personnel. This comes as part of larger hiring efforts, as the city works to both fill new posts and replace retiring employees. Lancaster has turned to a remote recruitment service to help expand its searches nationwide — something particularly helpful when looking for applicants with highly specialized skill sets.

Lancaster is working to boost engagement with residents and plans to continue publishing more data sets online. Residents who are prospective renters might use some of these offerings to evaluate potential properties for unresolved code violations or check their proximity to parks, for example. The city is also seeking some public feedback about which other public records and data would be helpful to publish.

9th Tinley Park, Ill.

The village of Tinley Park, Ill., took ninth place in its population category, demonstrating its commitment to delivering quality service to constituents. Despite facing staffing challenges, the village’s IT team persevered and filled the role of IT manager earlier this year. Under new IT leadership, the department made progress toward a new collaborative and open culture. For example, the IT team recognized the importance of streamlining services and worked with the community development department to eliminate most paper processes for permitting. This resulted in a public portal that will allow residents to submit online applications for building permits.

When the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the communication gap with the senior citizen population, the village enabled the cloud-based emergency notification app CodeRED, which sends mass SMS and phone notifications to users under emergency circumstances. To obtain phone numbers, the village pulled information from the customer database in its ERP system. Low opt-out rates demonstrate the success of this public safety initiative.

In June 2021, Tinley Park began to use drone technology across several departments. With several certified drone pilots under its belt, the village intends to use drones for building inspections. In emergency events, drones will also provide vital information for police and/or fire departments using infrared cameras and real-time streaming capabilities.

10th Miami Springs, Fla.

Miami Springs, Fla., a city with a population of 15,000 residents, has a comparably small IT team, but significant strides have nonetheless been made in modernizing IT infrastructure. Namely, the city completed a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone system migration. The new Yealink system includes cameras, touchscreens and Internet capabilities. Another significant effort in this area is the shift of over 50 percent of systems and applications to the cloud. Throughout this modernization, the IT department has continually provided technical support to city staff. The city manager, in turn, supports the IT director with things like necessary upgrades and an annual assessment of needs for each fiscal year.

Safety is also a priority for the city, both in terms of cyber and physical security. A recently discovered cyber threat was successfully removed without any documents harmed. In terms of physical security, the police department is in the process of significant tech upgrades. The city’s No. 1 priority is to add Wi-Fi to all police vehicles, and they are also looking to implement drone technology to supplement public safety efforts. Already, the city has added video cameras for increased security on Westward Drive Circle, where City Hall is located. Finally, traffic signals and sensors, and the accompanying data they provide, have become important contributors to city safety efforts.