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Austin Commits to Creating a Smart City Roadmap (Pt 1)

The Austin City Council recently passed a resolution directing the city manager to form a Smart Cities Strategic Roadmap to guide the city's next phase of innovation.

It's no secret that Austin is home to a vibrant and innovative tech scene. Forward-thinking projects have been produced in the city for years; it was one of seven finalists for the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Smart City Challenge and just recently released its data dashboard to track sustainability goals.

Despite all the progress, work remains to be done, said City Council Member Ann Kitchen, who proposed crafting a Smart Cities Strategic Roadmap. The reason? To “take the next step and create a comprehensive inventory of initiatives and establish priorities” for smart city technologies, she said.

The resolution (PDF) instructs the city manager to develop a road map that will recognize smart city projects that are already in motion, inform city policymaking on potential initiatives that should be considered, and identify sources of funding both public and private.

Kitchen acknowledged that while Austin is “on the forefront” of transportation, it recently voted down a proposition to repeal fingerprint registration for Uber and Lyft drivers, causing the companies to remove operations. However, the city has been able to combat this departure by offering of an open market for transportation network companies. Much smaller ride-share companies have moved in, including GetMe, Fasten, zTrip, Hailacab, Wingz and RideAustin.

One thing Kitchen said she hopes the road map will do is allow the city to “look at the whole range of opportunities, because there are areas where we’re either not doing anything … or where we could do a whole lot more. We still have hole, for example, in our emergency services.”

The city hopes to better provide emergency medical services to its constituents by more efficiently using data.

“We can use technology in a better way,” said Kitchen. “Its an opportunity to make sure that we are using the best practices, that we’re at the forefront, and that we’re being as efficient and effective as we can be.”

As for this project's long-term success, collaboration is key — as is being able to understand where technology could go and creating a living road map that is anticipatory of unexpected advances.

“With the rapid pace of technological change, Austin needs this Strategic Roadmap as an adaptive and iterative tool,” said Mayor Steve Adler in a release. “It will help us capture resources and funds from outside sources to augment our local contribution.”

And remaining dedicated to technology is crucial to Austin’s rapid population growth. Kitchen, who has experience in health IT management, understands the need for the public sector to embrace innovation.

“I’ve experienced firsthand how technology can really improve effectiveness and improve how services are delivered to people,” she said, noting that by not tapping into smart city technology tools, the city is not performing good governance.

“I think it's a part of our culture,” said Kitchen. “We are a very innovative city.”

And ultimately, it's easier to anticipate changes by diversifying the knowledge base and including members from different city and state agencies, chief information and innovation officers, as well as representatives from city partners.

This road map, which is expected to be complete in May of 2017, will make it clear to all the stakeholders what the city has already done and what it plans to accomplish. And as Kitchen notes, the focus isn't always on flashy projects that garner attention from the press.

“We just need to look across all services including nuts and bolts kinds of things," she said, "like purchasing and code enforcement and compliance."

Ryan McCauley was a staff writer for Government Technology magazine from October 2016 through July 2017, and previously served as the publication's editorial assistant.