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El Paso IT Tackles Human-Centered Design, Cybersecurity

El Paso, Texas, Managing Director of Internal Services Araceli Guerra runs the city's IT operation, and discusses how she's building a local talent pool and navigating the unique challenges of being on the Mexico border.

El Paso, Texas, Managing Director Internal Services Araceli Guerra
Araceli Guerra oversees the IT department for El Paso, Texas, working as managing director of internal services to handle everything from cybersecurity to the tech needs of city departments. Plus, a 2020 restructure also put the human resources department as well as the performance office under Guerra’s purview. That consolidation — along with the city’s location along the Rio Grande just across from Ciudad Juarez — creates an interesting set of circumstances for El Paso.

1. Can you describe the city’s new user design and development adoption program?

We’re always interested in obtaining user feedback and finding out whether what we’re developing and deploying is really working for our customers. After attending some workshops through Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Stanford d.school, we talked a lot about designing for humans in all of our applications, as well as in the software and hardware we deploy throughout the city, but we really didn’t have a set program or division that took care of that. Thankfully, through some restructuring and converting vacancies, we were able to stand up a user experience division.

We like to take the voice of our customer and put that back into development and deployment. We also filled new positions for user experience developers, who work on doing the research and applying the learning aspect to how we’re developing applications. We’ve also reached out to our university, and we have some interns that are in the same user experience program who are able to apply the methodologies to the development of our software. 

2. How important is collaboration for your work?

We have strong partnerships. We participate in Communities of Excellence, and it includes the university, El Paso Community College and many of the school districts. We know we have to tie in to our talent pool and make sure we don’t lose talent that’s growing here with our young people. We also have efforts within our budget office, where every year they have a youth academy and they run through the process of creating a budget alongside the city. They’re able to see how we are using those dollars and present it to the mayor and council with the different ideas that they have. In terms of partnering with the university, we’re currently working to revamp our volunteer program so that the process is seamless. We partner with the county of El Paso as well.

3. How does El Paso’s location make your work unique?

Being a border city, we have partnerships that cross over into Ciudad Juarez and Mexico. With international bridges, it’s making sure that the data they’re collecting — and they do a fantastic job with the tools available to them — is able to provide updates in different council meetings. For example, what does the data show for border crossings? It impacts the economy here and the businesses. 

Additionally, we have pandemic response. How can we help facilitate our brothers and sisters in Ciudad Juarez to get vaccinated, making sure they’re able to come over and do that in order to continue their own business? There are a lot of business owners that live here and commute between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso. I think one of the more open conversations we have because we’re a border city is how we use technology in those ways. 

4. Looking ahead, what are some of your top priorities?

We’re working on a refresh of our strategic plan with our mayor and council, and that will shape our priorities for the coming year. Of course, as the American Rescue Plan funds are being distributed and approved, we’re focusing on broadband expansion, and how we work with our local agencies and partners to provide Internet service. With the user experience division, we’re looking at how we can continue to innovate and pivot with what’s new in technology for our customer base, internally and externally. Then, of course, cybersecurity will always remain a top priority. We just recently received a risk assessment and we’re working on making sure we’re able to implement the recommendations. 
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine