Year in Review 2015: Smart, Digital Cities Reign Supreme

In the fourth quarter of 2015, San Francisco announced the biggest Internet of Things project in the U.S. to date, the most digital cities in the nation were named and the FAA announced that it will require drone owners to register devices with aviation authorities.


Plans are on track to staff the federal government’s U.S. Digital Services and 18F with 500 employees by the end of the year, White House Senior Adviser and former U.S. CTO Todd Park, pictured below, confirmed in early October. The substantial staffing increase — up from 220 people at the time of the announcement — highlights the feds’ continuing commitment to improving IT development and project management.


Likely to be watched closely by other states and lawmaking bodies, a new bill in California requires law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before looking at digital communications like email, text messages and GPS data. The bill, which was supported by numerous tech companies, is an attempt to reconcile outdated privacy laws with relatively new technology.

Sounding Off

Justin Herman, General Services Administration SocialGov Lead.
On citizen engagement:
“The key services that agencies can deliver through citizen engagement are all of them. Whether it’s emergency management, access to better student loan information, veteran’s health. You run down the gamut of public services and there are none that can’t be improved with better engagement." -- Justin Herman, SocialGov Lead, U.S. General Services Administration

Although broadband Internet service has expanded over the past few years, there are still millions of Americans for whom a fast connection to the Web remains unavailable or unaffordable. Earlier this year the FCC reported that 17 percent of the U.S. population — 55 million people — lacks access to advanced broadband, which the agency defines as providing download speeds of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps. And this isn’t just a rural issue. Los Angeles CIO Ted Ross said almost a third of residents in the nation’s second-largest metropolis don’t have broadband Internet in their homes.

Oct. 1 marked the official shift in liability for credit card fraud from banks to merchants not meeting the standards set by Europay, MasterCard and Visa, and that includes governments accepting debit and credit card transactions. Operators must either replace magnetic payment terminals with more secure chip-enabled systems or risk being held responsible in the event a card is used fraudulently. Some say the risk of fraud is lower for government transactions, casting doubt on whether the public sector will be quick to invest in newer card processing technology.


Image via Flickr/tales of a wandering youkai

The biggest Internet of Things project in the U.S. to date will call San Francisco home. Working with SIGFOX, which plans to add networks in nine other American cities, the San Francisco Department of Technology will attach sensors to public libraries and other municipal properties. While no specific plans to use the network were announced, the city views it as another valuable amenity for residents and businesses.


It’s predicted that 700,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be sold this holiday season, and all those drone owners will have a new protocol to follow. In response to several near-misses between UAVs and regular air traffic, the FAA announced that it will require drone owners to register devices with aviation authorities. The FAA said pilot sightings of UAVs have doubled since 2014 and there have been issues with private drones interfering with response to wildfires.

Faced with a steady stream of cybersecurity breaches, IT professionals are participating more in threat intelligence exchanges, according to the Ponemon Institute. Its report found that 47 percent of the 692 IT professionals surveyed had experienced a material cybersecurity breach in the past two years. To help mitigate those attacks, the majority of respondents, 81 percent, are enlisting threat intelligence. In addition, more IT professionals are sharing details about cyberthreats — the exchange of intel through peer-to-peer networks grew from 57 percent in 2014 to 65 percent this year.

Sounding Off

Oakland Chief Information Officer Bryan Sastokas
On millennials:
“The millennial workforce that is coming up needs to be challenged. They’re looking for new approaches and the technologies that they bring. Municipal IT will no longer be focused just on internal support. We’re becoming more cloud, more virtual, more open source. We’re reaching out into the community more often. " -- Bryan Sastokas, CIO, Long Beach, Calif.

Twitter announces plans to roll out a public polling feature, saying the anonymized voting system would let users weigh in on the topics that matter most to them. The tool provides the public sector with a new means of directly connecting with citizens, especially for agencies that have already amassed a large social media following.


The Digital Cities Survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government, recognized dozens of U.S. cities as the most strategic, efficient and innovative users of public-sector tech. This year’s top winners have developed a mature infrastructure that lets city leaders experiment with projects that are molded in the image of the average citizen’s lifestyle. Divided into four population categories, the first-place winners were Philadelphia; Alexandria, Va.; Avondale, Ariz.; and Shawnee, Kan.


As part of Boston’s effort to change its reputation with citizens, numerous updates have been made to the city’s permits and licensing platform including new functionality that allows users to apply for multiple permits simultaneously, and build a team of project partners, homeowners and contractors needed to advance the process more quickly. Incremental improvements have been made to the system over the last year, said CIO Jascha Franklin-Hodge, and new features will continue to be rolled out in 2016.

Return to the 2015 Year in Review


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.
Special Projects
Sponsored Articles