What It Takes to Be a No. 1 City

Winners of the 2012 Digital Cities Survey offer glimpses of what it takes to be the very best.

by / January 31, 2013

What does it take to be No. 1? Winners of the Center for Digital Government's 2012 Digital Cities Survey ought to know. And they even shared some of their secrets during a webinar held Wednesday, Jan. 30 that was hosted by Bill Schrier, who is the former CIO of Seattle and current Deputy Director of the Center for Digital Government.

Representatives from the first-place cities -- Beth Niblock, CIO of Louisville, Ky; Bill Haight, CIO of Salt Lake City; Dan Rainey, IT director of Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Carl Drescher, IT director of Marana, Ariz. -- explained some of the key actions their cities have taken to reach the top spot in the survey. And while common themes emerged during the discussion, it was equally surprising that each city placed high value on different strategies. 

But adapting to and leveraging change rang true for every city. 

Digital Cities History

For 12 years, the Center for Digital Government, which also is owned by Government Technology's parent company e.Republic, has surveyed cities in four different categories based on population during its annual Digital Cities Survey. Each year there are a number of cities surveyed that consistently rank in the top 10 – cities such as Riverside, Calif., and Augusta, Ga. 

Survey criteria focuses on results achieved by cities via the use of technology in operating efficiencies and realizing strategic objectives despite current fiscal constraints.

“The single biggest thing we do as a city to be a number one city is embrace change,” said Salt Lake City’s Haight. Marana's Drescher echoed that sentiment, stating that using technology to further organizational change is of paramount importance. 

And the importance of having exceptional employees went a long way toward achieving high marks as well. In fact, Louisville's Niblock cited employees as the primary reason for her city’s survey success. 

“What happens to make a number one city in my case is an incredibly dedicated staff," she said, "and a mayor who has challenged us to be the best." 

Ann Arbor's Rainey agreed. “Having a great staff is vitally important,” he said. 

Perhaps more surprising were some of the strategies mentioned that were not universal.

In Louisville, for instance, Niblock noted the value of open data, mapping and 24/7 service availability. But for Salt Lake City, strong vendor partnerships and executive support, coupled with IT serving as an enabler, has helped drive success.

In Ann Arbor, aligning IT with city priorities – as well as performance metrics and collaboration – is the key. And for Marana, creating a business development center and asset management system helped them excel compared to other small cities surveyed. 

Throughout the webinar, however, the city representatives kept returning to one key theme – citizen engagement, with an undercurrent of social media driving many such efforts. 

Rainey said that transparency, self-service, mobile, social media and performance metrics are all part of an advanced citizen engagement strategy. 

Niblock, meanwhile, cited a ranking from the University of Illinois, Chicago, that put Louisville “in the top 10 cities for social media.”  

But it may be Bill Haight who, in a single word, best summed up how No. 1 cities get to be that way. From executives to city councils to vendors to citizens, the one absolute for a successful city? “Relationships,” he said.

Main image courtesy of Shutterstock

Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.


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