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Oakland CIO to Tackle Agile, Take Advantage of Civic Tech Opportunities

Andrew "Pete" Peterson is moving fast as the new CIO for Oakland, Calif., just the way he wants to.

“Coming from private industry, we’re used to doing things a certain way,” said Andrew "Pete" Peterson, who was recently named CIO of Oakland, Calif. One thing he sees as an early improvement he can make is to shake up the typical project model.

“We can change our methodology, what we’ve been doing for a while [on the private side] is agile,” said Peterson. “Projects shouldn’t take two years.” Agile project management has been a growing trend for cities and states including several California state agencies, Ohio and Pittsburgh.

Agility is just one of the strategies on Peterson’s mind that he believes will help deliver better services for Oakland residents. “One of our particular focuses is providing digital access to our community.”

Ultimately the goal is always to deliver something that residents want, he said, adding that Oakland is in the position to “provide our community to access all city services via the tools or vehicles they use everywhere else.” Whether it is through smartphones or tablets, city services must be accessible online.

One way of delivering the best product possible is to take advantage of all tools at your disposal. The civic tech community has had strong ties in Oakland; think the Code for America (CfA) brigade and Open Oakland, which has run an annual City Camp program for the last four years. “I hope to involve them as much as possible,” said Peterson, who added that he will speak briefly at the 2017 event later this month.

“That is a resource, ready and willing to help us,” he said. “To me that is just another tool in the tool box.”

At the end of the day, he said, all that matters is delivering the best product to Oakland residents.

“Good ideas come from everywhere,” said Peterson, who applies this theory in his own life, as well to his staff of 70. “I don’t care if you're the oldest or the youngest, I want to hear from you … I believe the best ideas win out and the cream rises to the top.”

This thinking is a bit of a departure from what has been happening in the city as of late. Although the private tech scene had begun to blossom in Oakland, the city has been without a permanent CIO since Bryan Sastokas accepted a position as director of technology and innovation with the city of Long Beach, Calif. — two years ago.

Peterson is hoping to get moving on the ground quick. “What we have to do and what we will do is show confidence and get some early wins.” Peterson said he understand that the department does not have the best reputation, but due to a fair amount of turnover within the city’s leadership, Peterson is hoping to reverse that stigma. “We are a service organization, not just IT, but the entire city.”

This week, the city released an online tool for resident renters to fight against illegal price hikes. The Rent Adjustment Program (RAP) Ordinance, established in 1980, was meant to help keep residents in their homes. Due to the recent tech surge, there has been an increased focus on gentrification and pushing traditional residents out of their homes. The new portal helps residents understand their rights and file a petition against eviction or unfair rent increases.

“Now our residents can get online and file complaints and talk about unfairness — both landlords and tenants,” Peterson told 21st Century State & Local. “I think it’s just a step toward tech equity in our various communities and it just makes the process easier.”

On March 15, the city also announced that it would be spearheading an “Equity Intelligence Platform” (EIP) pilot program brought together by Bloomberg Associates, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and PolicyLink, three entities that have worked with mayors across the United States to tackle population disparities.

The EIP will help ease the burden of collecting, organizing and presenting local administrative data. The platform will create a standardized process, in order to connect information across agencies and make a city’s data come alive. “The EIP project seeks to integrate broad baseline data, including citywide population-level information, and initiative-specific data that reflect outcomes of specific programs,” according to a release.

Along with his “partner in crime,” Kiran Jain, the city’s chief resilience officer, Peterson is hoping to show a lot to the city he has lived in for more than 15 years. Jain, who helps run the city’s civic design lab, will be instrumental in the city’s progress going forward, said Peterson.

Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.