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Digital Cities 2023: 500,000 or More 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 Los Angeles, Calif.

Los Angeles took the top spot in this year’s survey for efforts that include some high-profile IT work helping new Mayor Karen Bass’ push to address the housing crisis. IT built the Data Analysis Solutions for Homelessness (DASH) platform, which helped inform the mayor and others through accurate data, dashboards and other tools. In addition, IT helped by putting Wi-Fi in homeless housing as well as getting devices for workers in the field. As a result, the city reported housing 14,000 people faster than expected while moving toward a goal of ending encampments on the streets by 2026.

Another major project for IT was making some of the changes forced by the pandemic permanent. For example, the City Council moved to codify a preference for remote and digital interactions that save residents time and money. So IT undertook a major effort to inventory department software, looking at modernized versus legacy systems. The work resulted in both the publication of a comprehensive new modernization strategy and resource, as well as the actual modernization of 113 applications in the city.

In terms of customer-facing work, Los Angeles human-translated its MyLA311 mobile app into five different languages — English, Spanish, Armenian, Korean and Chinese — making it the only U.S. city to have done that. Another outward-facing project was Los Angeles’ commitment to human-centric design. IT randomly selected about 5 percent of users of city web services to collect information about their experience.

Finally, in cybersecurity, Los Angeles implemented a new cyber-risk score to help bring more attention to cyber safety, specifically evaluating how secure city executives are and also working in tandem with the IT staff’s own cyber-risk portal.

2nd San Diego, Calif.

Bridging the digital divide is a major priority for San Diego, which is why the city has partnered with Cox Communications and AT&T to provide expansive Wi-Fi access from over 350 locations used by more than 210,000 unique users. San Diego also made thousands of Wi-Fi hot spots available for checkout at local libraries, allowing residents a three-month checkout period, bringing Internet connectivity into thousands of homes. Those same libraries made more than 2,000 Chromebooks also available for checkout.

Some 50 digital interactive kiosks are in the process of being deployed across San Diego, offering real-time transit, wayfinding, weather, safety and other types of information. The kiosks, supported by advertising, could provide nearly $25 million in revenue for the city. Other tech projects to serve residents are being led by departments like Development Services and Environmental Services, which have launched several features to improve resident engagement. Development Services now has Microsoft Bookings for online scheduling of in-person or virtual appointments. Environmental Services has a chat feature that puts residents in touch with live agents during business hours. The service is under review for a more widespread deployment. Meanwhile, the San Diego Police Department and Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department websites were redesigned with a focus on being more user-centric and engaging.

The Enhanced Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Dashboard is a tool used for managing the city’s cybersecurity functions, aggregating hundreds of gigabytes of security logs, system health and other details and giving IT officials a view of cybersecurity health and analysis. San Diego has less than 1 percent of cybersecurity incidents per 10,000 users and blocks 667 million cyber attacks annually. The city uses Nexthink to track and monitor in real time the operational efficiencies of its 16,000 endpoint devices, otherwise known as laptops and other computers used by the city’s 12,900 employees.

Analyzing the condition of the city’s streets has taken a high-tech, data-rich turn: San Diego uses digital technology to assess the condition of some 2,800 miles of streets. Previous street condition surveys were accomplished through manual visual surveys. And earlier this year, San Diego implemented an ordinance regulating the city’s use of surveillance technology, which established policies ensuring transparency, protection of civil rights, uses by third parties and more.

2nd San Jose, Calif.

San Jose elections replaced the mayor and most city councilors in the past year, and the new administration looked to tech to help tackle priorities like homelessness and public safety.

COVID-19 resulted in more residents living in vehicles or otherwise homeless, also driving a related spike in 311 complaints about vehicle blight and parking. IT formed a cross-department team to gather and analyze data about vehicle-related concerns, helping the city better consider its responses. San Jose additionally created a public-facing online map charting efforts to address abandoned vehicles, and it aims to improve its abandoned vehicle system this year. The city also plans to adopt a new homeless encampment system and launched a portal to simplify and accelerate affordable rental housing searches and applications.

San Jose has also looked to support safety with surveillance tech like automated license plate readers, cameras to catch red-light runners and gunshot detection systems. Before introducing the tools, city officials connected with residents in impacted areas, and resident feedback informed protocols around using the gathered data. The city also set metrics for assessing the accuracy, bias and effectiveness of these AI systems and established processes for monitoring the tools’ use. San Jose says the approach reduced traffic fatalities while preserving resident trust.

Cybersecurity and disaster recovery are key to safety, too. San Jose established a cross-department steering committee to oversee all risk management activities and is building an Emergency Operations Center that could run critical city services during a disaster. The city also continues to enhance its omnichannel 311 services, including adding a resident assistant chatbot. After analysis showed fewer 311 service requests being made in underprivileged communities, the city promoted the 311 platform there to raise awareness.

In emerging tech, the city released generative AI draft guidelines and encourages IT staff to spend 20 percent of their time testing innovative new ideas. San Jose also created a data charter and a program to upskill staff from any department on using data analytics to support their agencies.

3rd Louisville, Ky.

Louisville, Ky., once again ranked in the top 10 in its population category, moving up the ranks from seventh to third place for its digital transformation work, a robust cybersecurity program and innovation in IT.

In recent years, the city migrated legacy enterprise systems to the cloud and SaaS platforms, which has enhanced security of enterprise data and reduced the need for data center capacity. Systems 17 years old and older have been migrated to new platforms over the last two years.

In the way of improved security, Louisville’s Metro Cyber Security Team aims to reduce risk through enhanced security and response. The city’s cybersecurity program has grown and operations have become more complex since its creation, so the city has completed a comprehensive operational review to address redundancies. The team will also increase automation through SOAR (security orchestration, automation, and response) and other integrations.

The Metro Technology Services (MTS) Video Team has worked this year to test Gigabit Passive Optical Networking (GPON), which aims to improve connectivity. GPON deployment beyond the pilot is expected to be completed by the end of this year. In other digital government work, the city has completed a comprehensive review of its website content and made improvements as needed.

Finally, as MTS grows and changes, Louisville is proactively addressing staffing needs. Through a comprehensive analysis that concluded in June, the city has compared its wages and benefits with other local employers and made adjustments to be competitive.

4th Albuquerque, N.M.

Albuquerque jumped to fourth place in this year’s survey with a continued push toward supporting the city’s overall goal of improved public safety. The Department of Technology and Innovation (DTI) provides the police department with crime fighting technologies like license plate readers and gunshot detection. The Real-Time Crime Center expanded and moved to a new facility where it’s co-located with 911 services, and the city is nearing the end of a project, managed by DTI, that will allow most public safety and emergency management agencies in the state to communicate in real time, vastly improving coverage for the Albuquerque police. Last year a Data Analytics Division was established within the police department and is in the process of standardizing the data it holds. The first phase of the data analytics and modernization process concluded in June 2023, including moving to AWS cloud and creating Tableau models for the most commonly used data sources.

Other strong data work has continued in Albuquerque’s 311 contact center, where a newly created business analyst position leads data collection and assessment to improve operations and better serve residents. 311 receives about 80,000 resident requests each month, so the city is exploring conversation AI solutions to cut down on the time staff spend on responses. The three-person Digital Engagement Team oversees content creators from across all 33 city agencies and provides regular support for social media, marketing, equity and inclusion, as well as maintenance of brand guidelines. Major work on Albuquerque’s website has brought it into compliance with standard web accessibility guidelines.

A new agreement with two broadband providers will give the option to all homes and businesses in Albuquerque to connect to fiber Internet. DTI is working on a digital twin of the city to help promote the state as a tech hub and build careers in the region around smart cities and technology, among other industries.

4th El Paso, Texas

El Paso, Texas, has been consistently lauded for its innovative approach to citizen services and workforce. The unique municipality with nearly 884,000 residents sits at an international crossing with Mexico, and the Information Technology Department draws talent from across the region, including interns and part-time workers from the University of Texas at El Paso. The university talent pool helped redesign the city web interface in recent years.

El Paso is noted for two best practices: its internal project requests review process for IT and the data-driven City Goals application. The project requests documentation features a ticket submission for city departments, and after submission IT conducts a user interview to decide how the request aligns with strategic planning. Once the project is validated, planning commences. Requested work may include software or application development; webpage development; or software licensing, customization or upgrades. There is a separate ticket request for built infrastructure requiring hardware, networking or cabling, among other tech.

The City Goals application was developed in-house to track key performance indicators across the city’s 26 departments. Here, data is brought together to link KPIs to strategic planning, and they are in turn reported to the City Council. The goals app also tracks individual departments’ KPIs, including metrics like online payment increases, social media engagement, telephone hold times, program attendance and wireless Internet.

Overall, IT priorities most closely matching city priorities include crisis response, closing the digital divide, increasing resident data privacy, transparency and improving constituent engagement.

5th Dallas, Texas

The city of Dallas has advanced to the No. 5 spot in this year’s survey in part thanks to a new Technology Accountability Report (TAR) put together by the IT department and issued monthly to the City Council. TAR provides updates and performance metrics across key areas of IT delivery and management, tracking timelines, budgets and successes of IT projects and programs. It also provides status updates for the city’s cybersecurity programs, including results of phishing campaigns, malware remediation, data backups and other targeted security programs.

Dallas Secure, a free mobile security app available to the public on Apple iOS and Android platforms, was created to help users navigate cybersecurity threats targeting the data and information within financial, health, business, shopping and messaging apps on mobile devices.

To further bridge the digital divide, Dallas launched the Red Cloud Neighborhood Smart Cities Pilot project. The pilot created the city’s first smart community by granting free city Wi-Fi to 190 homes in a neighborhood with a reputation for drug and crime problems and in need of support based on the city’s racial equity plan. The pilot also outfitted the community with 52 technology devices to monitor air quality, provide AI-enabled situational awareness and create an LED-controlled lighting network.

A few years after the launch of the Office of Data Analytics and Business Intelligence (DBI), the team has grown to 50 people, serving more than 40 agencies across the city to develop 50 data-driven dashboards, apps, interactive maps and more. DBI recently released a Domestic Violence Crimes dashboard that provides updated data that is used to analyze and assess domestic violence factors and patterns across the city, allowing officials to make recommendations to improve services, provide training and create interventions.

6th Boston, Mass.

Boston claimed the No. 6 spot in this year’s survey by focusing on enhanced constituent services, improved cybersecurity measures, increased bandwidth across multiple departments and new policies for employee use of generative AI.

The locations of trash bins, street signs, utility poles and street crossings were digitally mapped so city crews can address non-emergency 311 requests for maintenance faster. In addition, the 311 mobile app was upgraded to provide support in 10 additional languages. The city also secured a $3 million state grant to update its call system management capabilities to include more functions in various languages regardless of whether the inquiries came in via telephone, email, text or social media. In addition, the city increased public Wi-Fi access in locations with sizeable low-income populations, largely for the purpose of helping residents check the schedules of public buses and trains.

The city received a $1.5 million federal grant to secure more than 8,700 devices from cyber threats over a two-year period. It also moved payroll capabilities affecting more than 18,000 employees to a $4.2 billion cloud-based system that can additionally manage purchasing, budgeting and financial management functions. More than 150 employees so far have been trained in the risks and benefits of generative AI, and that information will be shared throughout the city’s workforce. Boston also laid the foundation for a longer-term citywide bandwidth expansion project by investing in next-generation firewalls. Internet speeds across the city will be bolstered on a massive scale over the course of a decade.

7th Sacramento, Calif.

After finding that employees were leaving city employment for better-paying jobs, putting a strain on tech operations, Sacramento addressed the problem via salary equity increases for certain IT classifications and crafted a hiring and retention strategy. As a result, turnover has been reduced and operations stabilized — an example of what it can take in this job market to keep a municipal tech machine running smoothly.

Sacramento also created a digital equity response program in the aftermath of the pandemic and the economic problems left in its wake. The goal? Provide better Internet and digital services access to communities that have historically been left behind, an effort that includes computer equipment and training. A partnership with the United Way California Capital Region helped to deliver on the goal thanks to hot spot devices, among other forms of assistance. The work helped more Sacramento residents connect to community, educational, medical and government services.

Meanwhile, city officials set a digital strategy that aligned IT priorities with those set by the city manager, mayor and City Council. The IT department works across all city agencies to coordinate technology initiatives and changes, which are vetted against the larger set of citywide priorities. IT plans that officials deem fully justified and that meet a business need then compete for budget funding.

8th Atlanta, Ga.

Atlanta made great strides in technology in the last year, with a focus on cybersecurity and public safety initiatives, as well as improving services for residents. The city drafted a cyber incident response plan as well as an organizationwide information security program plan. In the process of creating and implementing these strategies, the city found itself instituting valuable tabletop exercises, penetration tests, phishing campaigns and cyber-awareness trainings that aligned with its core principle of securing Atlanta’s information.

Also in the realm of security, the city implemented a number of technology initiatives designed to improve public safety. A new integrated camera network with more than 16,000 cameras is equipped with analytics and AI to better assess and respond to incidents, resulting in faster crime-solving. And a new housing dashboard combines crime, code violations and other data sets to help identify properties that may need additional resources and support. Additionally, 911 callers now have the ability to share their camera feed with dispatchers, giving first responders better insight into a situation before they arrive on the scene.

Another way Atlanta sought to improve its services for residents was through enhancements to the 311 system. It is now equipped with self-service capabilities and voice recognition through an interactive voice response system, as well as an AI chatbot. Users can now check the status of their requests, as well as upload images and pinpoint the precise spot of the issue using the geolocation services. Thanks to these improvements, 40 percent of issues have been resolved without requiring a live agent.

9th Denver, Colo.

Denver is embracing a forward-thinking strategic vision to usher in a sustainable future focused on innovation. This strategy revolves around the establishment of unified technology standards that serve as critical guidelines for every member of the IT agency. Before implementing any new technologies, Denver IT officials take a detailed approach to policymaking. This includes crafting policies to govern the use of facial recognition, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies prior to integration.

Over the past year, the city has intensified its commitment to robust data governance and management tools. By harnessing the power of data dashboards, city IT officials can assess and quantify the impact of various initiatives, directing resources toward addressing critical issues such as immigration concerns and homelessness. Additionally, guided by the mantra of “allowing robots to be transactional and employees to be transformational,” the city established an Automation Center of Excellence. This center is dedicated to the deployment and regulation of intelligent automation tools, achieved through detailed process improvement training that covers various areas, including how to regulate technical automation within call centers, security services, customer experience and other core business processes.

Looking ahead, Denver officials are poised to leverage modeling technology that integrates drones with the power of digital twins to enable placement of future EV charging stations, catalyzing a host of sustainability initiatives aimed at promoting cleaner air and advancing strategies to address climate change.

10th Memphis, Tenn.

The Memphis IT Division has put serious effort into collaborating with peer offices across the city and engaging them in strategic planning. The process has birthed such documents as the Smart Memphis Plan, which has pushed the city toward continuous evaluation of emerging technology. That includes notable work in transportation, including state-city information sharing on incident response and traffic flow monitoring and optimization. Memphis is also using AI for road condition inspection, in data work to predict high-risk patients in the EMS system and in 911 call answer time reduction, which this year earned it a gold medal from the What Works Cities program.

The city has also emphasized business process engineering with the creation of a standing group that has automated manual processes such as direct deposit forms, bids and contracts, and business engagement. A re-engineered citywide process for negotiated contracts has automated document uploads and submissions and reduced contract approval requirements, leading to a faster procurement process. Other significant projects include a new timekeeping system with better support for remote work, improved network bandwidth, new layers to the network security system and better disaster recovery systems.

Click here to view winners in all population categories.