Six Ways CIOs Can Be Smart Community Leaders (Contributed)

From Barcelona to New York, cities have figured out how to leverage technology and solve some of today’s most formidable socio-economic challenges. CIOs can now adopt these lessons learned for their own municipalities.

by / August 22, 2019
The city of Singapore, a global smart community. (Shutterstock)

Municipalities worldwide are implementing ecosystems of interconnected devices, sensors, data and systems at increasing speed. According to Statista, cities are more than doubling their spend in these technologies in just five years. These systems are helping improve public safety, provide new and better services, reduce costs, and improve efficiencies. We call these smart communities. 

From the government perspective, the smart community represents an opportunity to more smoothly run a municipality and save money in the process. It improves workflows for government employees and serves as a response to the data deluge that governments are experiencing in this moment of digital transformation. 

But to achieve these goals of smart communities, government organizations must more quickly and intelligently transform by modernizing their IT environments. Digital transformation requires municipalities to support more edge devices, advanced analytics and cloud environments, all while minimizing the risk of security breaches.

The good news is there are resources available to help, and a number of best practices are emerging to guide CIOs on their path to smart communities. It’s important to recognize that although the digital transformation journey will be specific to region or municipality, the following six best practices should equip them with the right tools to overcome familiar roadblocks and move forward with a smart community initiative:

  • Talk about the benefits, not the paradigm. To keep people and government colleagues focused on success, CIOs should frame the smart community in terms of citizen-facing benefits and improvements to governance. The smart cities concept is good for building a vision, but it’s secondary in relevance to the real impact on the community. Citizens will respond best to a message about improvements to emergency services, for example, rather than the implementation of new solutions.
  • Commit to the financial side of going smart. Implementing smart technologies requires resources. There will be an up-front outlay of funds required. Expect this, and plan accordingly. CIOs will need to demonstrate a financial payback plan. This may take the form of increases in tax revenues, decreases in necessary spending, or stimulus to the local economy. For instance, improving parking downtown could bring more people to the area, thus increasing spending and hiring at local businesses. Leverage the success of previous projects as you seek funding for your own initiative. 
  • Focus on community. Going smart should address issues that matter to citizens. One practice that works is to engage in “visioning” with communities to discover what they care about and find ways that smart technologies can address those concerns. If a neighborhood is concerned about safety, then smart streetlights can be used to promote security. Any viable smart community project needs to show value to the community. It could be a financial, community-focused and/or political benefit. For instance, if smart community technologies could reduce citizens’ sewer bills, city leaders will have their full attention. 
  • Consider security first, last, and always. With more devices deployed and more data collected, IT and community leaders have to be all the more vigilant in cyberdefense and ensure that all potential attack vectors are protected. Experts agree that cybersecurity with respect to IoT and smart communities needs to be a consideration from the outset, especially given the potential domino effect of a breach in an IoT environment. According to a recent Deloitte article, the potential effects of an attack go well beyond just data loss, financial ramifications and damage to reputation. The authors warn of how an attack on a smart community has the capacity to bring down critical public services and infrastructure across a broad range of domains including health care, transportation, law enforcement, power and utilities, and residential services.
  • Modernize infrastructure. It’s an investment of resources, but one that will pay off. The process will require rethinking legacy infrastructure to avoid data silos, improve efficiencies and reduce security risks. Leaders should consider solutions such as converged and hyperconverged infrastructures that are scalable, resilient and integrated. Automating processes and routine IT operations to simplify management tasks also helps. 
  • Embrace predecessors. Neighboring municipalities or fellow state government agencies with smart city initiatives in place can provide guidance. Technology partners who have worked with governments to deploy smart community programs can also help determine what is required in terms of IT modernization requirements, data management, budget, and deployment strategies.

When taking the next step toward implementing smart community initiatives, do so with these best practices in mind and be encouraged by the progress being made. We only need to look at the examples set forth from leading smart cities like Barcelona, Singapore and New York to see the potential to improve our quality of life. Programs in operation today within these cities are proving their worth — including LED-based lighting systems to improve energy usage, smart trash bins using vacuums and underground storage to minimize smell and noise pollution, and data-driven emergency response using drones to improve public safety. 

These successes have set in motion a much bigger, smarter initiative: our collective ability to solve some of today’s most formidable socio-economic challenges. Government CIOs wondering where to begin needn’t start from scratch, but rather, leverage these successes as a stepping stone for your own municipalities. Some might call that being smart.

Paul Brandenburg

Paul Brandenburg is the state and local government strategist for Dell Technologies. Prior to joining Dell, Paul served in city government for 26 years, including city manager and city administrator roles for six different cities including Georgetown, Texas; and Germantown, Waunakee, and Wauwatosa in Wisconsin.

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