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Chicago Announces New CIO

As Chicago's new CIO and commissioner of the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology, Brenna Berman aims to keep the city "nimble and innovative."

by / June 26, 2013

The city of Chicago has hired a new CIO to replace Brett Goldstein, who announced his departure in May.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel nominated Brenna Berman, who will assume the roles of CIO and commissioner of the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT). Berman has worked for DoIT for more than 10 years, working most recently as acting commissioner for the agency. The skill sets and goals of DoIT have changed in recent years, Berman said, and in her new position, she will continue with those changes as she looks to make Chicago a city that meets the high expectations of its citizens.

“Throughout her career, Brenna has been a champion for leveraging data and technology to ensure that governments provide the best service possible for their residents, and I am proud to nominate her to lead our Department of Innovation and Technology,” Emanuel said in a statement. “Under her leadership, we will continue to be a leader in innovation and become an even more data-driven and nimble city, making Chicago a better place live.”

Berman, pictured at left, also used the word “nimble” to characterize the city’s overall technology goal, while highlighting the importance of leveraging data to serve Chicago’s citizens.

“For the past year, the biggest changes have been the transition in the skillset here within DoIT,” she said. “We’ve had a real focus on enhancing our software engineering skills and our data engineering skills. To complement that, we’ve really blown up the model we have in engaging with external partners so we create an ecosystem where we can partner with whoever makes the most sense for the residents in the city.”

Whether it’s forming partnerships with academic institutions or small companies with as few as one employee, the city’s aim is to find the right solution for each goal, she said, all while staying “nimble and innovative.”

As the city's new CIO, Berman will also oversee the continued deployment of the city’s spatial analytics platform, WindyGrid. The city’s analytics capabilities continue to develop, she said, coming from a basic system two years ago and moving toward “a fully established analytics program that works with every department in the city to drive data-driven decision making.”

In March, the city of Chicago was one of five organizations awarded a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to continue development of their analytics platform. For Berman, getting that funding and being able to continue development of the city’s analytics capabilities is one of the most exciting things she will get to do for Chicago.

“The smart data platform," she said, "is the open source platform that we’re building to crack the challenge of harnessing big data -- billions and billions of rows of big data in a spatial format -- to address problems like how do we target very, very specific locations within the city to target specific public health programs down to small neighborhood levels,” she said.

Berman says one of her hopes is that the city's achievements extend beyond Chicago and benefit cities nationwide; it’s important for Chicago to share its technology with other big cities that have similar problems and smaller cities that lack the resources to do what they do.

“It’s important because the problems we struggle with are problems that other big cities like New York and Houston and Philly have, and they’re all investing limited resources, so we form a community,” she said. “They’ll think of ways to use our tools that we haven’t, and we’ll be able to build on their experiences, and everyone will benefit from the work we do together -- kind of that team approach at a national level.”

Because Chicago residents expect a lot from the administration where technology is concerned, Berman said has a lot to live up to -- and DoIT is guided by the mantra of “do it once, do it right.”

“We want to spend the time figuring out the right way to do something up front," she said, "so we only have to do it once for the whole city to make the most of our resources."

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Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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