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Digital Cities 2023: 250,000 to 499,999 Population Category

The 56 winning cities in this year’s awards from the Center for Digital Government focused their efforts on technology projects that impacts residents communitywide.

Click here to view winners in all population categories.

1st Long Beach, Calif.

Topping its population category for the third year in a row, the city of Long Beach focused much of its innovation on the crises of homelessness and staffing. The Technology and Innovation Department (TID) had a 25 percent vacancy rate while dedicating more than 20 staff members to setting up an incident command center and assisting work groups focused on homelessness. This included the provision of infrastructure and equipment for the city’s tiny homes and safe-parking sites for people living in vehicles; helping set up call centers to connect residents with Section 8 housing; building a texting app to connect homeless people with services; and improving online permitting and scheduling for housing developers. The department also created an online dashboard of information and services related to homelessness, including a map of affordable housing and a homelessness survey. And to meet the staffing crisis, TID worked with other departments on a six-month pilot to proactively fill jobs with LinkedIn Talent and recruiter licenses. To save staff time, the department also built a speech-recognition tool to understand and automatically route nonemergency calls to the city to the appropriate staff.

Long Beach’s proposed budget for 2024 includes a $4.5 million increase for TID operations, which will cover several projects: structural and security improvements, an innovation fund for TID to help other departments explore emerging technology solutions, beginning to develop a citywide fiber network between city buildings, and upgrading the city’s 700-megahertz radio system. TID also secured funding from the 2022 Urban Area Security Initiative program for upgrades to endpoint detection and response, cloud security, email fraud defense, access management, and hiring a joint regional cybersecurity analyst to be shared with other local governments.

For citizens, the city took aim at privacy, equity and health. To allay fears about privacy in an environment increasingly rife with smart city technology, Long Beach pioneered what may be a first-of-its-kind digital rights platform to make those technologies more visible, and the city’s privacy policies more known, to residents. City staff also installed physical signs downtown with icons that explain what technologies are collecting what data. To ensure that innovation is going toward actual community needs, the city started a Long Beach Collaboratory program that gathers 30 people from under-resourced neighborhoods to conceive and implement a technology infrastructure project, with participants given a $1,000 stipend and professional skills training in tech development, service design and leadership. Working with the Office of Sustainability, several neighborhood associations and, TID also built an interactive tree map to visualize where trees are and could be planted and which neighborhoods should be prioritized.

2nd Wichita, Kan.

Taking a second-place spot in its population category, the city of Wichita has set a focus on more strategic operations and innovative partnerships to deliver IT services. Faced with the limited resources of a local government, the city has leaned on public-private partnerships and grant funding opportunities to close the budget gaps.

Unsurprisingly, cybersecurity is a substantial focus for the city’s IT shop; strong security protocols, employee education and risk assessments make up Wichita’s defense backbone. In-person training – in collaboration with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – has helped to engage city staff and will become a quarterly occurrence. The agency also completes regular penetration testing of the city’s critical infrastructure. To make 24/7/365 security an affordable option, Wichita has contracted with an as-a-service cybersecurity vendor. This approach has not only saved money but has also prevented significant threats. The IT department is also engaging in tabletop exercises with the fire department to prepare for any disruptions that might occur because of a ransomware attack.

Technology is doing more than just protecting critical city systems — it’s also at play serving the community. The city’s housing and police departments are using tablets to enter real-time information about homeless individuals into the Homeless Management Information System to better connect them with valuable resources. This work earned the police department national recognition. New 5G-capable tablets have also been added to fire apparatus to provide connectivity and better intel on emergency scenes. At City Hall, streamlined access to services has also been made a priority. Digital kiosks are now available to residents for services like paying bills, unemployment benefits, child support, Social Security, legal aid services and more.

3rd Durham, N.C.

Durham, N.C., recently reorganized its reporting structure so that the CIO now has a direct connection with the city manager, putting IT leadership in a stronger position and better able to navigate the city’s technology needs and challenges. IT’s top priority is to uphold its IT strong governance policy, which ensures city agencies follow proper processes and policies for adopting new technologies that follow the IT strategic plan. This will be especially key as Durham implements a new ERP solution that will rely on automation for what the city calls its “mega-processes” like financial, HR and budgeting needs. A data center refresh will migrate all unstructured data enterprisewide to the cloud, allowing for better data classification and analysis that will ultimately improve services citywide.

When private Internet service providers could no longer expand their networks in the Durham region, the city worked with the county as well as Duke University to improve broadband across jurisdictions. The city and university together invested $8 million toward the project, making the work more cost-effective for both parties, and IT now manages the citywide broadband fiber network. Also in collaboration with Duke, as well as the Durham Housing Authority, the city offers free high-speed Wi-Fi to residents of housing authority properties where public-school students live.

Other recent technology efforts in Durham include a service called TextMyGov that uses keyword recognition so that residents can send a text message to the city and receive a quick response 24/7 without engaging directly with a city employee, freeing up staff time. In public safety, Durham IT worked with other city agencies to implement ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology, resulting in police response to reports of gunshots in under five minutes.

4th Virginia Beach, Va.

Virginia Beach is transforming its digital landscape to support residents' needs, including implementing a chatbot on its website. The bot is equipped with automated responses for basic city information. A recent effort to improve user experience resulted in website redesign as well as a new citizen portal. The city merged its open data site with its GIS open data site, establishing a one-stop hub for citizen needs. To provide greater transparency and accountability, Virginia Beach’s latest open data initiative aims to empower its residents to view and access city data.

Public safety remains a top priority for the city. The IT department teamed up with city police to install new security cameras in public areas and integrate them with their Genetec management system, which provides live and recorded camera feeds. The team also implemented ShotSpotter technology, which allows first responders to act even faster than before if shots are fired in a crowded area. Other significant technology projects underway include a regional computer-aided dispatch system. This would allow cases and calls that began in one city to transition to another locality in real time if crimes are committed in multiple jurisdictions.

On the cybersecurity front, the city’s Information Security Office is fortifying its systems with improved threat detection, intelligence and mitigation controls for its new data centers. Virginia Beach’s new data centers are no longer limited to physical hardware, but instead leverage software-defined networking. The redesign allows for greater visibility of activity within the data center as well as the ability to automate threat intelligence and alerting functions. Protecting all city and resident data continues to be a critical part of Virginia Beach’s mission.

5th Henderson, Nev.

The Henderson Innovative Program (HIP) has led the way in rewarding innovative ideas that support the city’s vision. Savings achieved by the HIP in 2023 reached $1.2 million. Innovation has come in the form of improved communications, enterprise data and transportation. This initiative helped to finalize a plan to introduce public Wi-Fi and security cameras in 10 city parks. Another project, led by the parks department, uses drones to better understand urban heat island effects following turf replacement projects. One new technology pilot is helping Henderson better predict traffic created by new developments, while another uses AI to refine visitor data.

Henderson follows cybersecurity procedures established in the city’s Information Security Directive, while the City Cybersecurity Incident Response Plan guides the corrective actions to be taken when a cybersecurity incident occurs. City servers are held in a tier IV data center, secured by armed guards. Meanwhile, critical applications and data are in cloud storage with enhanced security, which can be activated quickly in an emergency. In the last 18 months Henderson has increased its phishing-testing program, bringing the click rate from 27 percent of employees down to just 7 percent.

A relatively small smart streetlight project in Henderson’s Water Street Innovation District has evolved into a citywide project, to replace some 25,000 streetlights, enabling an entire network of connected lighting, providing maintenance alerts to the Public Works Department and lowering the energy load due to more efficient lighting. And since the city’s IT staff can largely work remotely, the department’s office space has been allocated to other departments, including police, human resources and utilities. This office space rearrangement, and expansion, came without the need for new construction.

6th Chandler, Ariz.

Sixth-place Chandler, Ariz., is in the enviable position of having a budget that’s on the upswing. City leaders approved a Fiscal Year 2023-2024 budget of $1.66 billion, which is an increase of more than 22 percent from the prior year. As for the city’s IT department, they are careful to closely nest their plans within the city’s overall strategic framework. The Information Technology executive leadership team gained two new members since the last Digital Cities Survey, adding a chief infrastructure officer and a chief applications officer. A steadily increasing number of contractors and managed services are also helping IT exceed expectations on various transformational projects. Chandler is also fostering the next generation of IT leaders through mentoring and internship programs.

Chandler is in the early stages of a multiyear ERP replacement project to modernize many core city functions, upgrading a legacy application to improve the customer experience with more modern financial and human resources tools. Among the examples of its focus on data-driven government is a recent campaign to gather resident input during the budget process. A multilingual digital campaign that spanned six weeks resulted in impressive engagement, including website traffic, ad click-throughs and poll participation across multiple social media platforms.

IT partnered with the Neighborhood Services team to create a real-time data tool that uses predictive data modeling honed over the past five years to better guide housing strategies and combat housing instability. Validating billions of records, the Building Blocks solution empowers city staff to identify residents in need of housing-related support, helping more than 300 households avoid eviction.

7th Riverside, Calif.

Riverside, Calif., earned the seventh spot on the list this year for its noteworthy cybersecurity strategy, connected infrastructure and implementation of best practices using technology to best serve the community. The city identifies connectivity as one of its core values and has recently launched a public-private partnership with SiFi Networks to invest more than $300 million to design, construct and maintain high-speed fiber to every home and business over a four-year period. To answer their constituents’ call to better address homelessness, the GIS Division of the IT Department provides maps that evaluate changes in homeless distribution based on 311 Call Center reports of homeless debris and encampments.

Riverside implemented an advanced threat protection system that uses machine learning to protect against ransomware. With the launch of the new system and heightened attention on protecting sensitive data, the city created an annual cybersecurity awareness training and has already reached more than 2,000 employees.

The city has completed several citizen-centric technology projects, including the launch of PulsePoint, a public safety mobile app that notifies off-duty medical professionals of nearby cardiac arrest events with a goal of improving outcomes for people in distress before emergency services arrive. To best understand how constituents feel about the city services, they collect data about in-person customer satisfaction through a cloud-based HappyOrNot customer service kiosk that prompts visitors to rate the services they received.

8th Irvine, Calif.

A consistent winner in its population category, Irvine earned eighth place this year with a focus on IT must-haves like tech investment and strong cybersecurity — but an eye on innovation as well. Officials utilize National Institute of Standards and Technology frameworks on cybersecurity and risk management and have deployed endpoint detection and response, as well as a disk encryption policy on all city endpoints. Unsecure protocols and basic authentication have been decommissioned, while legacy addresses have been migrated to https and multifactor authentication is mandatory. Irvine’s chief information security officer is active in Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center events and in biweekly county-level cybersecurity discussions.

Irvine promotes a culture of perpetual advancement. The Information Technology Division works with city departments to map strategic priorities and with vendors on the emerging technologies that align with set goals. The Strategic Technology Plan, a five-year technical and financial plan adopted by the City Council, forecasts IT investments, supporting Irvine’s tech needs and defining its strategic priorities. Recent work includes leveraging lidar on iPad Pros to create a 3D model of City Hall wall and floor plans, driving better asset management. Modeling of other facilities is now underway.

The city Transparency Portal features financial data that lets visitors see how funds are invested and use rich GIS data to enable visualizations and interpretations. In place less than a year, the Mobile Tech Team of support staff delivers IT aid to more than 30 city sites a week. Irvine prioritizes a seamless user experience for residents and businesses through consistent navigation, and design and user interface principles. Implementing ServiceNow helped Irvine improve service request management and track incidents via a dynamic dashboard.

9th Madison, Wis.

Madison recently hired its first full-time cybersecurity officer and adopted new defense and mitigation strategies after facing off against swatting, disinformation campaigns, spam and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. The city is replacing its DDoS security solution and partnering with local law enforcement on social media threat monitoring. Madison also collaborates on election security, including tabletop exercises with the Wisconsin Election Commission, and city IT regularly discusses the matter with the offices of the city clerk, mayor and attorney.

Madison sought to maximize limited budgets, including by reducing duplicative IT purchasing and emphasizing enterprise-wide technology projects; a new Project-Portfolio Management Team is helping here. Additionally, a new IT Service Center hub enables city staff to find self-help information and submit requests. Transitioning major IT systems from on-premise to cloud-based software-as-a-service solutions is also expected to provide resilience and save money by shifting update and maintenance responsibilities onto vendors.

To improve access, inclusion and digital equity for residents, Madison hired its first digital inclusion coordinator. Madison is also creating more hybrid-capable spaces and improving bandwidth to both support constituent demand for hybrid public meetings and staff working remotely. Videoconferencing is also giving court participants flexibility and letting non-emergency 911 callers consult remotely, but still face-to-face, with officers. The latter option lets residents seek support resolving disputes without bringing police into their neighborhood. The approach saves police travel time too. Madison also tested responding to mental health 911 calls with a community alternative response team rather than police. Data analytics helped target the pilot to areas and times of most need, and success here led to a citywide expansion.

10th Gilbert, Ariz.

Gilbert, Ariz., has once again been recognized in its population category, primarily for its workforce approach and IT cloud strategy. In the way of an evolving workforce, the city has realigned the IT organization structure with the new position of deputy CTO as the city works to better position itself to build capacity. In addition, the city hired a new IT Security Analyst and several other positions to address staffing transitions. Gilbert IT also worked with town leadership to develop a remote work policy as well as associated services and technologies; and in the way of remote services, several town venues have had their audio-visual infrastructure modernized to support remote and hybrid work and hybrid meeting offerings.

Gilbert has finalized and delivered its IT cloud strategy, focusing on the use of cloud-based technologies to improve outcomes and drive transformation. As part of the cloud services strategy, Gilbert has procured and completed a two-year Tyler ERP implementation. The city also started moving older files to cloud-hosted service providers. Other new technology advances for Gilbert include the city’s negotiation of licensing from Microsoft G5, VMware and Tyler, which has saved the town $2.1 million. With a new IT web page, the city is better positioned to inform stakeholders — internally and externally — about IT strategies and services.

Click here to view winners in all population categories.