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Digital Cities 2022: 75,000 to 124,999 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 Avondale, Ariz.

Avondale rose from fifth to first place in this year’s survey, with a list of projects that includes launching its online strategic plan performance dashboard, conducting an IT risk assessment to examine policies and implementing data vaults for extra security. Avondale’s new online dashboard allows residents to follow the progress of the city’s five-year goals along with its capital and operational projects, programs and services. The dashboard also showcases 29 metrics related to seven outcome areas chosen by the Avondale City Council. These areas include innovative program and service delivery, public health and safety, natural resources and open spaces, community-oriented lifelong learning opportunities, connected community, creative and sustainable community development, and diverse recreation and entertainment opportunities.

As for conducting an IT risk assessment, the city’s Information Technology Department and city auditor examined seven different policies. Based on this review, Avondale has now implemented changes such as improved internal password procedures; updated maintenance and security of the city’s data centers; increased training, methods of training delivery and reporting for citywide security awareness training; and establishing uniform and standard processes for non-employee access to city technology resources.

Lastly, to further reinforce the city’s cybersecurity, IT officials have implemented air-gapped data vaults both on premises and in the cloud to serve as a second form of data archiving and security. In this case, these vaults achieve this by creating a copy of sensitive data offline that is disconnected and inaccessible from the Internet, creating an additional layer of protection against ransomware, malware and other cyber threats.

2nd Westminster, Colo.

Westminster, a frequent high achiever in the Digital Cities Survey, went through a challenging series of events in 2021 where many municipal leaders — both elected officials and department heads — were replaced. Despite that, the IT department has much to show for its efforts. A lengthy list of projects completed or nearly completed in the last year includes a new open data portal, a new system for sharing 911 dispatch information between jurisdictions, a new utility billing and account management portal, a new procurement system, a new sales tax system and the digitization of expense management for municipal employees.

The city continues to push toward more rigorous use of standards and best practices in IT and everything it touches. Amid a structural reshuffling, the department has created a new role to help agencies use video streaming — council meetings are no longer completely virtual, but a homemade tool still allows for virtual public participation — and a new process and software for handling public information requests has dramatically improved Westminster’s capacity for complying with the state’s open records law.

Particular attention should be paid to the city’s cybersecurity work. Aside from pushing toward enterprisewide multifactor authentication next year, and increasing its MS-ISAC assessment score, Westminster successfully collaborated with eight other jurisdictions to secure funding for a shared managed security service. The service immediately paid dividends, revealing problems the city didn’t know it had, subsequently allowing it to respond.

3rd Allen, Texas

Citizen engagement was a priority for Allen in the last year. When the city engaged in a downtown redevelopment planning effort, the IT department built a website to help residents get involved. Among its features was an idea board where residents could post their thoughts and ideas for city officials to engage with. Allen IT also revamped the MyAllen app, powered by Rock Solid Technologies. Users can submit feedback and requests for service, and the app lets them view back-end asset management and work order systems for their requests. They can also access GIS maps and get information on city news and events.

Allen also doubled down on its cybersecurity efforts in the last year. With assistance from a third-party IT advisory firm, IT staff have been taking the temperature of the city’s cybersecurity posture and best practices through internal surveys. As a result, in the last year Allen adopted an incident response plan and an emergency communications policy. The city also engaged a third-party entity to conduct an assessment of the security of its SCADA water utility network. Allen’s IT team and the third-party SCADA network management company are now working together to implement the recommended changes.

Another major undertaking in Allen in the past year was the development of a citywide IT strategic plan. The City Council and more than 60 city employees representing the different departments sat down with a vendor, BerryDunn, to hash out the city’s IT needs for the next five years. The resulting plan coincided with not only the City Council’s organizational strategy road map released a few months later, but also the larger city strategic plan overall.

4th Lynchburg, Va.

This year, Lynchburg moved up one spot to fourth place. Among the city’s accomplishments in 2022, the most notable was the strides made in cybersecurity. Decision-making processes for the city’s cybersecurity are always backed by research and collaboration. The IT department leverages the Center for Internet Security’s (CIS) Security Controls version eight framework as a guideline, and the IT security manager performs research and collaborates with the city’s information security team, which consists of several IT staff and the city’s CIO. After reviewing proposed cyber strategies, an implementation plan is discussed. This process has allowed the city to maintain a strong cybersecurity posture.

Lynchburg has also established rogue alerting via their network access control platform for the IT department and critical infrastructure networks. This project, completed in June, allows IT to be alerted immediately if an unauthorized device connects to any internal networks hosting critical infrastructure. Another cyber initiative includes implementing two-factor authentication for access to all internal systems. Additionally, the IT department has enhanced their ability to monitor cyber threats through open source security information and event management system. The city has also increased the frequency of security tabletop threat simulations.

Lynchburg goes above and beyond to engage its residents and provide services that cater to their needs, too. The city’s subscription-based Lynchburg Alerts system allows residents to sign up for notifications about specific services. It also serves as a resource for mass public communication amid major events. During business hours, customers can use a Zendesk chat tool that allows users to contact city employees directly on the Lynchburg website. Residents can also send service requests and work orders to the city through the Lynchburg My Civic mobile app. All the city’s websites and apps leverage Google Analytics to monitor usage and feedback on the sites’ usage.

5th Independence, Mo.

Independence moved up to fifth in its population category this year following continued work to rethink IT operations and become more efficient and standardized in service delivery. The city has embarked on the process of centralizing IT, starting with moving GIS and app administration for the Parks, Recreation and Tourism agency under the Technology Services Department (TSD). In other strong GIS efforts, Independence has implemented a GIS-driven approach to maintenance and mowing of public spaces, making it easier to maintain those spaces to the high standard the city enjoys. The Health Department also used GIS in fall 2021 to make sure COVID-19 vaccination efforts were reaching vulnerable populations.

In June, Independence completed migration to a new redesigned data center that took servers from 14 racks down to two while expanding storage and computing capacity by 60 percent. TSD has also consolidated technology vendors so that 95 percent of purchases come from just two vendors rather than 40, which has created efficiencies around budgeting and support.

Cybersecurity remains Independence’s top priority, and TSD is currently in year three of a seven-year cybersecurity strategic plan. The city is now expanding its cyber workforce, having already hired two full-time cyber analysts, and is now in the process of hiring a cyber engineer. IT has rolled out multifactor authentication (MFA) to all employees, 99.9 percent of whom confirm their identity using their personal smartphones. As all MFA activity is in the cloud, security of city systems can also be maintained during a disaster. Citing people as the most important defense against cyber attacks, Independence now requires regular formal security training for all city staff, and an acceptable use policy instituted in November 2021 provides a framework for how staff should use IT equipment and software for accessing the Internet, filesharing, etc.

6th Columbia, Mo.

Sixth-place Columbia has for some time been laying the foundation for a solid technology operation that effectively advances the city’s broader goals. Several IT projects are a part of the Transforming Government program, including implementing the time and attendance section of their ERP system, which officials estimate will save 400 hours of labor each year. The city continues to refine internal processes as well, evidenced in part by Columbia’s focus on ensuring the way it delivers services is up to ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) standards. Columbia IT recently transitioned to agile methodologies, using two-week sprints to encourage collaboration and scope refinement along the way.

Among their citizen-facing work is a focus on online accessibility, employing a third-party auditor to assess where upgrades are needed. A digital engagement platform from Bang The Table, called BeHeardCoMo, launched in February 2022, and has become an important avenue for getting resident feedback on things like ARPA funding.

Cybersecurity advances, to name a few, include beginning to deploy multifactor authentication to vital applications, as well as enhanced cyber training and a program that rewards sharp-eyed employees with cleverly named initiatives like Phish Finder and Cyber Defender. Columbia has also adapted disaster recovery protocols to reflect today’s reality of remote work and is working on setting up a security operations center.

7th Roanoke, Va.

Coming in at seventh place in its population category is the city of Roanoke and the Department of Technology. In the wake of the pandemic, the city has finalized its remote work policy, upgraded its technology to support document sharing and virtual meetings, and made virtual accessibility a priority for non-English speakers. Cybersecurity and resilience are obvious priorities for any government, and Roanoke has given them the attention they deserve. The city’s disaster recovery system has been moved to a strategically advantageous location, and at-risk legacy systems are being retired in favor of new tech.

The Information Technology Committee, made up of advisers from across departments, helps to shape city policy and make budget requests to the City Council. Among the recent budget approvals are annual penetration tests and virtual chief information security officer services. Another innovation from this committee is the “Small Dollar” project category, which allows departments to pursue projects under $30,000 without having to compete for priority with larger, more costly undertakings. The use of cooperative contracts is helping to control the costs associated with the purchasing process.

Finally, the city’s Emergency Services Department recently upgraded its mass notification system, and DoT is using GIS data to create gun violence maps to support outreach and messaging where it’s most needed.

8th Gastonia, N.C.

Federal funding from the COVID-19 relief packages allowed Gastonia to update and strengthen its cybersecurity posture, doing so through better network equipment, security information and event management technology and updated security appliances. In late 2021 the city also hired two new staffers to aid in the rollout of these new features and technology. The result was improved security this year, which meant that constituent data gathered from utility services, inspections and public safety records are all more secure and have fewer vulnerabilities. Seeing as Gastonia is the largest city in Gaston County, it provides IT support for five surrounding municipalities as well, and the jurisdiction has folded these communities into Gastonia’s cybersecurity oversight. These mutual aid agreements help to keep costs down, and they also ensure that all of the cities have the same level of cybersecurity fortifications.

In terms of outward-facing work, the city replaced its notifications system with a more updated CodeRED system, which is being used by other local governments across the state. Residents sign up for the type of events they would like to receive information about and how they would like to receive the information. To improve community communications, the city installed a translator tool onto the city’s website and transitioned over to a new content management system.

Finally, Technology Services took the lead on a project to install improved wireless communications, fiber infrastructure and video sensor technology downtown with the goal of improving network connectivity. A similar project was also deployed at Honey Hunters Baseball Stadium. Also, outdated water meters in Gastonia were replaced with smart meters.

9th Carlsbad, Calif.

Carlsbad is emphasizing planning with a high-level innovation road map, “Connected Carlsbad,” as well as its Strategic Digital Transformation Investment Program that sees the city plan investments annually and create five-year plans for spending on digital transformations. Carlsbad is also evaluating all technology services to ensure they are reliable, cyber secure, cost-effective and capable both of integrating with other city solutions as well as scaling with growth. Technology services also need to meet certain data governance and analysis goals.

Carlsbad is working to break down agencies’ data silos and flow information into a shared data lake, while still attending to privacy and security. A new data policy and Data Governance Committee are guiding the approach, while a recently appointed chief data officer will handle annual data censuses to classify data and designate sensitive data.

The city also pushed cybersecurity and is progressing on a five-year plan to implement key areas of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. Carlsbad is sharing information and lessons learned with nearby jurisdictions while looking to adopt a 24/7 SOC as a service and contract a virtual CISO. The city traditionally treated cybersecurity as part of different employees’ shared responsibilities but is shifting strategies by hiring dedicated cyber staff, including an information security manager.

To better serve residents, Carlsbad redesigned its website to improve public records search functionalities and make it easy to find council agendas or watch council meetings. Other efforts to improve resident experiences include an initiative in which people who report or suffer crimes automatically receive follow-up texts and emails. The messages provide information on case progress. It also surveys recipients about experiences with police, to inform changes in practices and training. A new partnership is also expected to bring faster Internet to all municipal buildings by 2023 and could position the city to offer more public Wi-Fi.

10th Kalamazoo, Mich.

A major focus of the tech and innovation work in Kalamazoo this past year was working with other city departments to identify opportunities for innovation, with IT acting as service provider. This manifested itself in a number of ways. For example, Kalamazoo IT partnered with the Department of Public Safety to collect and analyze data related to safety. The work didn't stop there though. IT also took the lead on a new citywide security camera system and implemented video conferencing for public safety to help with daily shift calls. IT is also assisting the public services department with ongoing work to overhaul Kalamazoo’s physical infrastructure. This has specifically taken the form of mapping current infrastructure and overlaying it with planned improvements. In addition, IT has outfitted the necessary city personnel with tablets for the field while also helping to update the department’s asset management and work order system, all of which has made it easier for that department to conduct field work without having to return to the office.

As is the case for basically every city IT shop in the country, cybersecurity also remained a priority for Kalamazoo. Currently, the IT Department is helping with major remediation steps for the overall security policy as well as for network segmentation, both of which are expected to be completed by the end of this year. A full network redesign is also slated to be finished in 2023. Finally, perhaps the biggest outward-facing project for Kalamazoo was transitioning to a new website platform in May, going to OpenCities. This enabled the addition of location services, simple mapping, improved search, content subscriptions and more. The city also took the transition as an opportunity to add or revisit nearly 500 pages of content.