A Champion of Open Data, Transparency, Minneapolis CIO Heads to Semi-Retirement

Otto Doll, the city's longtime CIO, will step down at the end of November.

by / September 17, 2018
Minneapolis, Minn., CIO Otto Doll. Government Technology

Minneapolis’ chief information officer of seven-plus years will retire later this fall after more than two decades in state and local government.

Otto Doll, who became the city's IT lead in February 2011 after 15 years as CIO of South Dakota, confirmed to Government Technology that his last day will be Nov. 30. He informed employees during a monthly IT Department all-staff meeting on Sept. 11, Doll said. The process to replace him is unclear.

The former CIO of South Dakota from July 1996 to January 2011, Doll had connected all first responders and even parks personnel in the state on a statewide radio system; and had helped “level the playing field” for lower education, connecting 660 lower education school buildings around the state to the Internet. He learned he wouldn’t be retained under then-new Gov. Dennis Daugaard; but far from an ivory tower experience, the CIO said his work in South Dakota had helped him “get focused on the issues and challenges of the general population as well as, in the case of the state, the various counties and cities.”

“And so, I think ultimately, when you move into a local government, i.e., a municipality whether it’s a city, maybe even a county, you’re even closer to those issues,” said Doll, a recipient of GT's Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers award in 2005. Minneapolis, he noted, was emerging from the Great Recession upon his arrival — having sustained significant cuts to staff, capital outlay and departments — was “having to reset itself on how to proceed with far fewer resources than they had had in previous years.” With his guidance, the city implemented a digital equity strategy aimed at empowering low-income and immigrant families and minority youth with skills and abilities.

One such program, the Fix-It Tech Event, continues today, partnering minority students with IT professionals – empowering the former as IT staff to solve residents’ computer and connectivity problems. Doll called it a “win-win proposition,” pointing out it gave young people some of their first exposure to IT work and let existing staff train the vocation’s next generation of employees.

More globally, in 2014, the city launched its Intelligent Operations Platform; and somewhat later, the analytics hub that enabled data sharing across city, county and state resources. Its analytic tools enabled a closer look for “concentrations of things” and patterns to improve overall decision-making and prioritization.

Initially, Minneapolis used the technology to identify bad landlords — to help them meet legal requirements and regulations — but subsequently turned its focus to affordable housing, scrutinizing poverty levels and other dynamics to create a current picture of the situation.

“These types of tools allow them to craft what the real picture is and so you see these progressions. It doesn’t stay still, because it seems like every time you answer one question you come up with 20 more,” Doll said, adding the platform is “constantly poking at the data to tease out more knowledge.”

In 2015, the city brought its help desk and desk-side support functions back in-house during the transition from one outsourcing provider to another, saving $1.5 million annually in ongoing operational costs but also improving operations “to a level that, No. 1 was noticeable by our user base but also seemed to meet [their] needs,” the CIO said.

Elsewhere in the enterprise, Doll led the push to improve infrastructure upkeep by reducing the percentage of systems deemed beyond their useful life. That number, which hovered around 45 percent when he arrived, is now down below 5 percent. The city enacted an open data policy in December 2014 and implemented bodyworn cameras for police officers and a video evidence maintenance system to accompany it — with officers across all five precincts equipped by early 2017. In 2015, Minneapolis also stood up an enterprise land management system that integrated licensing and permitting processes from four separate departments into “one cohesive information system.”

Asked what challenges his successor will inherit, Doll said one will likely be working with the idea that problems are “not usually defined by some need for a technology but, rather, how do we get some outcome.” But he said he’s not entirely retiring from what is now a 40-plus year career.

“I must admit, I’m not going ‘cold turkey.’ I plan on doing some things still, in coming years,” Doll said.

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.

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