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Digital Cities 2022: 250,000 to 499,999 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 our full coverage of winners in all population categories.

1st Long Beach, Calif.

Long Beach claimed first place again this year with well-synced city and IT strategies, a forward-leaning IT strategic plan and road map, and by bringing the government closer to residents. The city’s Technology and Innovation Department (TID) helped develop the Long Beach Strategic Vision 2030, a long-range citywide plan comprised of dozens of city plans and initiatives, plus mayor, council and community input. TID also developed Long Beach’s Smart City Initiative Strategy and Digital Inclusion Roadmap. TID’s Data Privacy Guidelines Implementation Plan activates the Data Privacy Guidelines and sets clear action items aimed at fostering public trust.

TID is engaged across the enterprise to connect city buildings via a fiber network infrastructure — fiber field audits will guide the work and regional planning will leverage investments and target federal and state monies. A new, improved open data portal complements Long Beach’s geospatial data hub. Officials published and trained staff on the Equitable Data Collection toolkit, to shape the ethical use of public information. Public Works and TID digitized the former’s records and made permitting totally paperless. Development Services launched the ServicesLB permit portal, enabling online permitting.

Coming out of its Smart City Initiative Strategy, the city manages two tech pilot programs, Pitch Long Beach! and the Smart City Challenge. Five pilots are underway through the latter; the former, launched in February, has received more than 50 pitches. A new procurement portal, Long Beach Buys, lowers the barriers to submission and enables back-end metrics.

Frequent testing and regular risk assessments are part of city cybersecurity. A comprehensive risk assessment by TID enables the city to address findings; annual cybersecurity training is mandatory and a cybersecurity road map is on the way. Centralized software to enhance backup reliability is in use, the city firewall has been upgraded and a remote backup data domain has been established.

2nd Virginia Beach, Va.

A returning participant in the Digital Cities Survey, Virginia Beach has jumped from third place in its category to second place. This year, Virginia Beach rolled out several projects aimed at enhancing the economic, educational, social and physical quality of the community. One of the most important projects has been the collaboration of the city’s IT department with the Southside Network Authority to create a more than 100-mile-long fiber ring to connect several communities in the region to high-speed Internet.

The city is also upgrading its digital infrastructure in the area of public safety to connect the municipal dispatch center to a regional system connecting Chesapeake, Norfolk and Suffolk. The city is also rolling out a new records management system for police and fire as well as a new case management system for local courts.

Virginia Beach IT is also supporting and participating in a citywide initiative to share information and problem-solving strategies. The department’s data and information management program has been crucial to the initiative, which will help prevent city departments from being siloed in how they strategize and manage resources.

But all of this comes with its own unique challenges, mostly that the city had an outdated model of tech support. While rolling out citywide initiatives, the planning and public works departments and IT worked together to reshape how IT support is handled, shifting to a federated support model with new roles and responsibilities for dedicated tech staff with the necessary expertise to provide effective customer service to businesses and residents. The new model has already brought more than 30 discrete enhancements to the city’s Accela platform.

3rd Durham, N.C.

Durham earned its spot on this year’s list for IT planning efforts aimed at embracing innovation and achieving results by leaning into cloud computing, cybersecurity modernization, smart infrastructure technology, data governance and security and closing the digital divide.

The city has increasingly turned to digital technologies to improve citizen engagement, through mediums such as its website, social media platforms and call centers complete with language support. Residents can also ask questions or raise concerns about government services through the TextMyGov app. Officials are also planning to develop an IT governance program, with the eventual goal of consolidating IT assets into a single portfolio, rather than having them proliferate across different departments. Additionally, the city has implemented a zero-trust model, multifactor authentication and cloud security tools to improve its cybersecurity posture.

Among other areas of focus, the city has increased investments in IT staffing, creating new IT roles such as managed services manager, digital inclusion program manager, enterprise data architect, enterprise IT architect and senior ERP analyst. These additions increased IT staff by 15 percent to better tackle the challenges of facilitating remote work and securing growing networks.

4th Riverside, Calif.

For the city of Riverside, improving cybersecurity was one of several key objectives over the past year. To that end, the city implemented an advanced threat protection tool which uses machine learning technology to protect against ransomware and known and unknown advanced threats. The city conducted a data loss prevention project that identified, classified and reduced the city’s liability around the data it holds. That project led to a significant increase in departmental and individual user awareness about the nature of sensitive data handled by employees. The city also updated its security policy to address data protection and third-party risk management. Riverside now uses OneDrive for secure file sharing and collaboration, taking advantage of encryption and auditing functionality.

Within its Innovation and Technology Department, the city took on a massive infrastructure support project that included GIS modernization, Office 365 migration, citywide network disaster recovery, data warehousing and analytics. This modernization is aimed at enhancing the performance, reliability, availability and accessibility of virtual city services. The city also implemented the latest Esri technology to support its data visualization and mapping needs.

5th Scottsdale, Ariz.

Led by Chief Information Officer Bianca Lochner, Scottsdale, Ariz., went from not appearing on the 2021 list to being ranked No. 5 in their population category this year. Among the priorities in the central Arizona city are cybersecurity, data governance and updating legacy technologies. For cybersecurity, the city used Gartner’s IT Score for Security and Risk Management to find ways to improve and adopted the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Cybersecurity Framework as a way to minimize cyber threats.

Scottsdale recently completed construction of about 20 miles of new fiber conduit for faster and more secure connections. Additionally, the city has created a storage platform within multiple data centers using network virtualization to enable a private cloud, taking advantage of the infrastructure, security and analytics offered by this environment.

The city is also setting itself apart through its smart city efforts. It was recently named a 2022 Readiness Challenge winner by the Smart Cities Council. Scottsdale deployed several wireless network connection options at parks, stadiums and other public areas for people to connect to free Wi-Fi. Scottsdale also set up an Enterprise Document Management System that streamlines digital access to documents, increasing efficiency across departments.

6th Chandler, Ariz.

The city of Chandler, Ariz., is facing the same staffing challenges as everyone else. But in 2021 and 2022 the city significantly ramped up its use of outside contractors for IT, jumping from seven before the pandemic to more than 21 this year. As a result, it delivered some 20 new projects this year, completing work five years ahead of schedule. Some of that work includes text and video-to-911 capabilities, upgrades to the police department’s forensics lab and communications center, adopting a new platform for developing training content, web-based live chat with court clerks, digital transformation of the budgeting process, e-signature expansion across the enterprise, a mobile app for code enforcement and a pilot test of a blockchain voting app for a mock municipal election.

One example of the city’s hustle to get work done can be found in the story of an explosion caused by a natural gas leak at a business in August 2021. The explosion caused significant damage to the public library nearby, resulting in a six-month closure of the building during which IT assisted in setting up checkout kiosks as well as computers for both patrons and staff. Meanwhile, the city also brought back an online reservation system used in the earlier days of the pandemic to maintain access to materials and deployed a new website for the library system offering user ratings and reviews.

The city has pushed the envelope on cybersecurity as well, becoming a local government pioneer in using the StateRAMP process to authorize a cloud services vendor similar to the process agencies use in the federal government. It also standardized a cloud service agreement, which cut the time spent procuring software as a service by half.

6th Madison, Wis.

Madison increased its standing to sixth place this year, demonstrating its continuing commitment to make government better through technology. The city uses its constantly evolving IT Strategic Plan to develop an annual IT Work Plan. This plan outlines the city’s IT priorities for the coming year, allowing IT leadership to ensure that budget programs align with strategic priorities. Another important plan the city developed for 2022 was its 2022 IT Equity Plan, designed to support women, people of color and other underrepresented groups in the IT workforce. Its goals include providing paid internships for women and people of color, engaging in youth apprenticeship programs, and developing and encouraging support of and participation in networks and support groups for women and people of color, among other things.

City IT also looked to improve services for residents by giving them more opportunities to provide feedback and air their concerns. The city started hosting focus groups like the Madison Digital Inclusion Summit, which invited low-income residents to discuss their thoughts and concerns on technology and how the city could help close the digital divide. Madison is also in the midst of preparations for installing a 311 system, which will give residents a single system with which to submit requests and concerns.

Madison also made great strides in cybersecurity in the last year. The city’s annual third-party cybersecurity audit helped identify weaknesses in hardware, software, facilities and social engineering that had previously gone unnoticed. The city also conducted a comprehensive inventory of all software that it uses and established a practice to make sure that it is all reviewed annually to ensure everything is properly updated and patched. This was invaluable in facilitating a quick response when the Log4j vulnerability came to light last December.

7th Irvine, Calif.

Moving up two places from last year’s survey, the city of Irvine is continuing to invest in cybersecurity and broadband. Internally, the city conducts routine cybersecurity training for all employees and requires the use of multifactor authentication. Additionally, Irvine’s IT department implemented endpoint detection and response (EDR) on all city endpoints — which allows security analysts to prioritize security alerts effectively, gain insight into the full scope of a data breach, and take the appropriate response actions to rectify threats. Other tools the city uses to detect malicious threats include an intrusion detection system and a 24/7 security operations center.

Irvine is also prioritizing the delivery of fast and reliable Internet to its residents by committing up to $14 million to support all future broadband initiatives. With the goal of developing a fiber master plan that will outline future infrastructure projects, the city is assessing its current broadband offerings and infrastructure. Once complete, they will have mapped out which areas of fiber in the city need to be replaced. And from a big picture perspective, these efforts will help build a foundation for future connectivity and smart city initiatives.

8th Gilbert, Ariz.

Gilbert, Ariz., has moved up two places from last year’s survey, continuing to build on the six guiding principles of its IT road map. In the past year the city has completed its IT cloud strategy, designed to make Gilbert more agile, create efficiencies and reduce costs. As part of the strategy’s rollout, IT focused on using off-the-shelf solutions with minimal modifications, rather than custom-built tools. They are also taking a “cloud appropriate” approach to moving applications off premises. This move to the cloud has improved Gilbert’s already robust disaster recovery efforts, and the transition from three data centers to two has saved money, streamlined work and created better security for physical systems.

IT leaders report that Gilbert is one of the first cities in Arizona to officially establish a hybrid/remote work policy. In addition to other tools, like Microsoft Office 365 and VPN, the IT department set up a “remote work store” where city staff can order IT equipment and have it shipped directly to their homes.

Based on recommendations from a third-party review of Gilbert’s data management program, the city created a chief performance officer position to oversee citywide performance management. To support that effort, the IT department will develop a dashboard solution to help enable data-driven decision-making.

9th Wichita, Kan.

This year, Wichita, Kan., prioritized engagement by introducing two new citizen-facing platforms and improving connectivity for the city’s police and fire departments’ remote and mobile workforces. Regarding the two new platforms, city staff worked with CitizenLab to create a platform for residents to provide input on different projects. One example is the reimagination of Wichita’s Central Library. So far, 17 proposals have been submitted, including transforming the space into an aviation learning center and museum or a design forum and food hall.

As for the second platform, city staff introduced Qwally to offer integrated and scalable support to small businesses. Using the tool, small business owners can learn how to navigate the city’s procurement process and apply for the emerging business enterprise certification program in just a few minutes online.

Lastly, officials implemented a two-pronged approach to improving connectivity for some of the city’s remote and mobile workforces. The first half focuses on finding no-cost ways to increase existing 5MB circuits at fire stations. The second half focuses on finding low-cost alternatives to increase the throughput on all mobile devices. So far, 10 fire stations have upgraded to 100MB circuits through a partnership with Ideatek, and a contract is in place to upgrade 35 other locations throughout the city in the same way.

10th Tulsa, Okla.

The city of Tulsa took a 10th-place position in its population category in this year’s Digital Cities Survey. The state’s second largest city has been leaning into data-driven decision-making, modernizing its IT infrastructure and defending against the sort of cyber threats that disrupted city systems in May 2021. That attack, coupled with general recovery from the pandemic, disrupted 80 percent of city systems, underscoring the need for a comprehensive strategy. Part of this strategy — in addition to adopting a zero-trust security model and multifactor authentication — is bringing in outside experts to harden systems, identify phishing attacks and train personnel. Contracting is also getting an overhaul. Cooperative purchasing agreements are making it faster and easier for departments to get the tools they need to do their jobs.

Tulsa has also embraced data to solve very pressing real-world issues. The polar vortex of 2021 saw more than 450 water main breaks when temperatures plunged below freezing. The city’s GIS division, in cooperation with the Water and Sewer and Engineering departments, created a dashboard showing real-time breaks and the risks posed to water mains, allowing city staff to quickly respond. Similarly, the recently implemented Real Time Information Center is allowing city staff and first responders access to a trove of tools, like license plate readers, to respond to a range of crises and help reduce crime.