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Digital Cities 2022: 500,000 or More Population Category

Honorees in this year’s Digital Cities Survey from the Center for Digital Government elevated their municipalities’ resilience, while bolstering services and prioritizing engagement with their residents.

Click here for full coverage of winners in all population categories.

1st San Diego, Calif.

San Diego, a perennial achiever in the Digital Cities Survey, shows robust and thoughtful strategies in all areas of municipal technology use, illustrated this year by a series of large projects delivered in innovative and successful ways. One of the largest was the wrapping up of a three-year project to improve the downtown city campus’ network, which increased throughput from 2 GBPS to 10 and paved the way for the introduction of soft phones for the municipality’s 12,000-strong workforce, a critical piece of its ongoing efforts to provide the best remote and hybrid work options possible.

The IT department continues pushing forward to standardize processes and procedures, which at many turns has led to shorter turnarounds, cost savings and the implementation of best practices. This year, for example, a new policy required departments maintaining their own applications to report any legacy apps, give them a risk score and plan for their upgrading or replacement — a move that has led to funding and staff time dedicated to every single one of those legacy apps. Departments now have designated data coordinators to help make the best use of data across the enterprise, and city websites all follow a pattern library and design standards to ensure a consistent high standard when it comes to web presence.

Also of note was the department’s quick six-month move from an existing data center to private and public cloud, an effort hastened by the introduction of a new disk-based backup solution that cut the amount of time it took to move production systems. Meanwhile, IT centralized and standardized the system for tracking managed service providers, reducing staff time. A new cloud-based call center solution made the work of those employees more flexible, while the transformation of more than 200 PDFs into web forms gave the city many more options for providing digital services, including e-signatures.

2nd Los Angeles, Calif.

Los Angeles continues to be a top finisher in the Digital Cities Survey with another impressive second-place performance this year. With a population of more than 4 million, the city obviously has a lot of data to keep secure, so it’s no surprise that they made great strides in cybersecurity. The city established a zero-trust security infrastructure for workers both at home and in the office. It has also fully integrated the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework into daily cybersecurity operations across the Mayor’s Office, IT and key tier one departments.

L.A. also looked to carry its success into the future with the creation of a number of strategic plans. The city’s first-ever Digital Strategy was formed by identifying goals for digitizing the workforce, 13 key technologies to improve how the city serves its residents digitally, and new challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Then there’s enterprise IT leadership’s SmartLA 2028 strategic plan, a 54-page document outlining near- and long-term smart city goals with the 2028 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in mind. And last but certainly not least, the IT department maintains an ITA Strategic Plan for 2022-2023, a succinct outlook on the year’s organizational challenges and goals.

The city expects unprecedented contracting and procurement opportunities in the coming decade, so it implemented a solution to help regional businesses identify and compete for these opportunities. The Regional Alliance Marketplace for Procurement (RAMP) provides a one-stop shop for 60,000-plus local businesses to view procurement opportunities. Among RAMP’s features are the ability for prime contractors to find and pair with subcontractors to meet diversity requirements, and minority- and women-owned and historically disadvantaged businesses can display their certifications.

3rd San Jose, Calif.

This year, digital equity was championed as one of San Jose’s top priorities. With approval from the City Council, improving equity and accountability for underserved communities became a critical project. A new Equity Through Data and Privacy Program will include new data collection processes that will help the city understand gaps and opportunities in areas like broadband and transit. The program also includes community outreach to maintain transparency about the initiative. The program, announced at the end of June 2022, is a joint effort between the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation (MOTI), the Office of Racial Equity and the Information Technology Department.

In a similar vein, the city has prioritized other customer-centric services like San Jose 311 (SJ311), which allows residents to report safety and quality of life concerns online or via mobile app. This year the IT department added enhancements to SJ311 — residents can now also report poor connectivity on the city’s free Wi-Fi networks, locate information on affordable housing in non-English languages like Spanish and Vietnamese, and more.

In the broader cyber landscape, San Jose is an active participant in the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative, which is in the process of implementing a Regional Virtual Security Operations Center. The city is also taking proactive measures for internal staff as seen in the IT department’s implementation of multifactor authentication for all remote access users.

4th San Francisco

Consistently a strong performer in the Digital Cities Survey, San Francisco again has maintained its commitment to user-driven services, prioritizing accessibility, equity, data sharing and cybersecurity. In 2022 Mayor London Breed issued an executive directive making cybersecurity a top city priority, including increased training and endpoint detection, and strengthening the cybersecurity program overall, including officially establishing the Office of Cybersecurity. IT reports that the war on Ukraine greatly impacted city services, including a 53 percent increase in cyber incidents via remote workers’ computers. The city took immediate action by following the federal “shields up” recommendation and requiring all users to immediately change their passwords. They also stood up a geo-shield that blocked the city from activity from outside the U.S. As the city expanded its offerings by acquiring more than 600 new SaaS products in the last fiscal year, to keep up with the new vulnerabilities introduced by those products, the city set up the Third-Party Risk Management Program to evaluate vendors’ products before procurement.

IT prioritizes efforts to serve all San Franciscans and close the digital divide, actively trying to get under-represented groups in the community connected to online services. This year, the ongoing Fiber to Housing project has delivered connectivity to 1,600 more housing units, and a city Internet service provider was created to make service more affordable for low-income residents. Usability is at the heart of work to redesign, including sites for housing, job and permitting services so those pages are universally accessible.

San Francisco continues to build on its mature data program, including projects like One Person, One Record, which through the Department of Public Health brings together data from across the breadth of city services to create better care for residents by integrating data from, for example, the Street Crisis Response Team into the municipal hospital’s electronic health record system.

5th Mesa, Ariz.

Consistently a high-ranking digital city, Mesa again takes fifth place in the large cities category this year. Among its efforts on the engagement front, Mesa continues to add to the roster of departments using its chatbot: the fire and police departments, as well animal control, courts, transportation, licensing and libraries, now use the tool, with plans to add it to the main website as well as to additional public-facing departments. Of the tens of thousands of times it has been used, it has answered two-thirds of inquiries, while directing the remainder to staff for follow-up.

Closing the digital divide is a major priority of the mayor and City Council, and Mesa furthered its connectivity work this year by mapping access deserts and pursuing plans to connect them. They have expanded Wi-Fi in the downtown area, and recently signed license agreements with four providers, including Google, to increase Internet options for Mesa residents. The multi-vendor approach helped mitigate supply chain limitations that have plagued IT shops since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In addition, a partnership with a local recovery company gives the city credits for its end-of-life computers that are turned over to low-income residents in need of devices.

Mesa IT has a mature cybersecurity program for the city’s more distributed workforce, and continues to advance its overall posture, bolstered by federal grant funding. Among its recent initiatives are a staff-designed backup system to harden vulnerabilities identified in a recent tabletop exercise. Traditional law enforcement agencies have also been upgraded with recent projects in which IT played a role: the Real Time Crime Center launched in May 2022 with a host of innovative tech tools aimed at enhancing public safety, and payment kiosks were installed at the municipal court facility that integrate with existing systems to extend resident self-service capabilities.

6th Phoenix, Ariz.

The city of Phoenix, Ariz., took the sixth-place spot in this year’s Digital Cities Survey for the innovative work being done by the Information Technology Services team. Like many U.S. cities, Phoenix has had to fight the economic and operational challenges posed by the pandemic. One of the many problems the pandemic laid bare was the need for consistent employee training; PHXYou was the city’s answer. The enterprise-wide learning management system offers a centralized location for all departments’ personnel training and compliance monitoring needs.

The city has also established the Qualified Vendor List, which allows departments to quickly find approved IT vendors that have accepted the city’s contractual requirements. The new process has dramatically cut down vendor solicitation and purchasing time.

Where cybersecurity is concerned, the city has continued maturing its operations in the face of relentless cyber attacks. ITS has implemented a comprehensive ransomware defense plan, bolstered by the city’s vendor partners, which includes on-premise backups to keep operations running in the event of an attack. Several branches — Cyber Threat Intelligence, Security Architecture and Engineering, Cyber Strategy and Planning, and Privacy and Compliance — were also created to better protect city systems.

The growing trust divide between government and citizens prompted city officials and IT to take on a number of transparency efforts meant to strengthen public trust. For example, the city has established an unmanned aircraft system policy as well as an executive committee to guide its use of drones and protect resident privacy. The Phoenix Fire Department recently launched its drone program, paving the way for other city departments to adopt the technology and best practices. In addition, the City Manager’s Performance Dashboard helps the public track key policy goals, and the Go PHX tool allows residents to submit their own bond measures for consideration.

7th Charlotte, N.C.

Seventh-place Charlotte has been moving forward with implementing a cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which will replace 16 legacy systems. The upgrade enhances security, expands remote access and offers a more robust digital presence. Charlotte has completed a Strategic Business Technology Roadmap to help guide technology investments like this, outlining 44 initiatives over the next four years. Each initiative was assigned to a member of the IT leadership team to shepherd them through additional scoping, planning and resource allocation.

A core component of the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative is Access Charlotte, a public Wi-Fi program to expand broadband access and digital literacy. The effort has become a model for the NC State Broadband and Digital Inclusion Office as it explores options for statewide service.

Residents and businesses served by the municipal water system now have access to a new tool, known as CLTWater, allowing them to receive messages via telephone, text or email when water delivery issues occur. Last year, CLTWater sent more than 1,200 water outage messages via Nextdoor, reaching thousands of customers. The city also worked with Esri to use artificial intelligence to locate water meter lids from high resolution imagery. The machine learning technology could also be used to locate other city assets like water meters, street signs and more.

And a new initiative that looks to data for more decision-making is known as OpEx Academy, short for Operational Excellence. The program is designed to build data literacy and skills while also establishing a community of peer experts. Nearly 200 staff have already received training from 12 instructors in 10 different subjects. Some of the classes include data management, SQL reporting, Python, Tableau, ArcGIS and Excel.

7th Louisville, Ky.

Remote work options, boosted salaries and a significant increase in funding for tech training have helped Louisville’s IT department achieve a low staff turnover rate, compared to the industry average and the average across city agencies. The city also adopted new cybersecurity supports, establishing a deputy CISO position and turning its SOC into a 24/7 operation.

Modernization efforts have been underway, and the city was slated to finish upgrading its 19-year-old financial and payroll systems in October 2022. A new grants management solution is also helping agencies with state and federal funding opportunities. As the IT department spends, it’s also reassessing existing contracts to make them more accessible to minority- and female-owned enterprises, such as by rebidding or separating them.

Louisville also helped 47,000 households enroll in the Affordable Connectivity Program and, in partnership with a private ISP, launched a high-speed public Wi-Fi network in its Russell neighborhood. Another connectivity move saw the department adopt a mobile trailer tower system that can extend private LTE over the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum, acting as a replacement when commercial cellular and FirstNet networks are overloaded or otherwise disrupted. Louisville successfully tested the system at a fireworks and air show known for large crowds.

Louisville put focus on data management as well and established a new board charged with reviewing external data sharing requests to weigh the privacy impacts against expected benefits. It also launched a new open data portal and added 103 languages to the city website. Finally, IT and Emergency Services collaborated on a new 911 dispatch program to direct calls about non-violent mental health issues to mental health practitioners, rather than police.

8th Albuquerque, N.M.

Following last year’s success with Albuquerque’s Real Time Crime Center — an initiative that in part digitized cross-agency law enforcement information sharing within the city — public safety remained a major focus of the city’s tech and innovation work. In fact, in the past year the city has stepped up its funding for some key technologies needed to modernize broader safety efforts. This included updating the relevant record management system, adding an automation component to case updates, and expanding community surveillance. In addition, as efforts to increase interdepartmental cooperation in City Hall continued growing, the central IT shop responded with new continuous training for 311 agents, so they could provide the best possible info and resources around need areas such as housing, mental health, and substance abuse. Finally, a SPIDR Tech pilot program was put in place in late 2021 to help the city manage incident response reports, and it is now in the contract phase.

Albuquerque also made progress outside of public safety tech initiatives. One area of focus was engagement, and to that end, the city was able to increase its social media followers across all channels, averaging about 11,000 new followers per platform. As they are for most cities, cybersecurity and staff retainment were also priorities in Albuquerque. For cybersecurity, the city created a new Information Security Guidance Group that uses cross-section expertise to help advise cybersecurity decisions. An early area of progress here has been with password standards. As far as retention, while no decision has been made as of yet, the city is weighing permanent remote and other flexible work options. It’s also collaborating with local educational institutions in order to help narrow technology skills gaps in Albuquerque.

9th El Paso

Texas Innovation has gone hand in hand with reorganization in El Paso, helping the border town better serve its residents. Officials there have clustered IT programs that are closely aligned in service delivery under a single lead for each group. That has resulted in more progress toward tech goals, as well as new efficiencies, and will enable the city to focus even more on refining its use of technology.

Among the newer areas for tech advancement is public safety — specifically, the use of body cameras by El Paso police officers. The deployment is part of a $6.6 million City Council-approved program that involves 700 cameras and 410 mobile video recorders, plus the money needed for training and storage of hundreds of hours of footage.

The goal is to build public trust and transparency — an example of how tech can potentially strengthen the bonds between residents and their government. Mobile fingerprint checking devices, a gunshot detection system and nearly 1,800 cameras installed in public locations also are part of El Paso’s public safety tech improvements.

The city’s IT operation also is beefing up the citizen feedback process — which includes such tasks as code violation corrections and street and park maintenance — via a centralized CRM platform for residents to reach government officials. The potential is huge, as the city’s website — now updated with improved Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility, a new interface and better navigation — attracts some 473,000 pageviews per month.

10th Dallas, Texas

The city of Dallas is actively working to align strategic priorities with the city’s technology strategy, and data is weaved through nearly every new initiative. CIO Bill Zielinski works with city department heads to help apply new technologies in various programs. Ultimately, the city’s data governance goals are to improve data collection, privacy and interdepartmental sharing. For example, the city has hired its first chief data officer (CDO), which functions outside of the city’s IT department. The city’s Data Analytics and Business Intelligence department, led by the CDO, developed and held a data academy over the last year, which aimed to train city staff on data practices. In addition, the department has helped other city departments standardize dashboard delivery and conducted several business analyses to guide the City Council in policy development. The city has also established a Data Governance Steering Committee, as well as a staff-level data working group.

Other major changes in the city in the past year included the establishment of the Innovation Lab, which in addition to finding new uses of data helps support the deployment of new and emerging technologies. The Lab offers workshops, data hackathons and more. Also, the city created a map-based application, Tolemi BuildingBlocks, which uses artificial intelligence to process data about city properties, providing actionable insights for better land management.

The city is also looking to innovate in public safety following an incident involving the deletion of police department data. The department has explored technology ranging from drones to call location tech. Now, the city’s Fusion Center/Real-Time Crime Center allows a space to monitor camera feeds throughout the city — from fixed devices to body-worn cameras. Moving forward, IT will work with the Dallas Police Department to use artificial intelligence to improve how it processes data.

10th Memphis, Tenn.

Regaining a spot in the top 10 after a one-year hiatus, the city of Memphis IT Division has been focused on cybersecurity and resiliency. Memphis implemented several cybersecurity measures over the past year, including a system to monitor vulnerabilities and regulatory compliance, an intrusion detection and prevention system and an automated security assessment. To monitor users and traffic, the IT Division is in the process of adopting zero-trust technology to require all users, in or out of the city network, to be authenticated and regularly validated in order to access city data and applications. For data security, it also upgraded the firewall for the traffic division and upgraded and moved the city’s Oracle financial data to the cloud.

Among the city’s various infrastructure projects aimed at resiliency were adding a second fiber path to the city’s network, as a redundancy in case of failure; upgrading all the city’s core routers and switches; and moving its data recovery system to a Tier 4 facility, which should shorten the time it would take to restore critical services after an incident. Another thing the city’s IT Division did for resilience: Work with HR to devise a new IT salary pay scale, set to take effect in July 2023, to help recruit and keep top IT talent.

Modernizing other operations besides its network and security posture, the city set up a new time and attendance system for city employees, eliminating paper timesheets and reducing manual work and errors. It also started using Power BI to gather data on high-crime areas to inform law enforcement strategy, and the IT Division is working on adding a data function to the city’s GIS platform whereby the city animal shelter will be able to report lost and found pets and adoption availability. More noticeably to citizens, the city is in the process of switching its 84,000 streetlights to LED bulbs.