One of the longest-serving chief innovation officers in government known for his passion for making Kansas City "smart," Bennett is returning to the private sector as Mayor Sly James nears the end of his second term.
Kansas City, Mo., Chief Innovation Officer Bob Bennett will depart municipal government on April 14, likely heading to the private sector, Bennett said Wednesday.
The move comes as term-limited Mayor Sly James, who appointed Bennett to his role in 2015, prepares to leave office following the June mayoral election. Bennett has overseen tech and innovation in Kansas City for roughly three and a half years, taking a smart city framework that was just coalescing when he arrived and developing it into one of the leading municipal efforts in the country. Bennett said that while his future is almost certainly in the private sector, he is aiming to stay in the smart city space, building upon the work he did with the city.
Bennett went on to describe the progress of smart city technology in Kansas City “as a play in three acts.” The first arc was the most consequential. It saw Kansas City competing for federal money to fund smart cities. To do so, the city convened a team of public servants with a diverse group of regional stakeholders, which included representatives from local transit authorities, universities, community groups and business associations, among others.
Kansas City was named a semi-finalist, before ultimately losing out. The work the group did together, however, went on to be the foundation for smart city efforts in town.
“By the end of the time we submitted that bid in 2016,” Bennett said, “we had 200-some people contributing to that document and strategy, people who had skin in the game here.”
The second act was installing the smart city projects and learning how to use them. These projects were wide-ranging, including public Wi-Fi, comprehensive kiosks for services and a data analytics platform. They went live in March 2016, although Bennett notes it took nearly an entire year to really refine them and get them working.
The third act during Bennett’s time as the city's innovation chief was learning how to expand smart city efforts, developing a plan that would spread tech throughout the entire city.
In terms of the future, Bennett sees the work living on and continuing to develop. The citizens in Kansas City have certainly embraced it — he notes that to date more than 2.5 million devices have engaged with their network, which is more than the 487,000 population of the city — and that six of the nine candidates to be the next mayor serve on the city council, which has supported the smart city work throughout.
“I am a firm believer that there will be continued smart city activity,” Bennett said. “The city will very likely appoint an interim chief innovation officer who will continue this work with a new mayor and our city manager. I’m fully convinced Kansas City will achieve the smart city vision of being the most connected city in the country.”
For his part, Bennett described his departure as a little bittersweet. A former military man turned tech guru, he found working for the city and helping to improve the daily lives of citizens to be both challenging and rewarding.
From his office on the southwest corner of the city hall, he has what he strongly suspects is the best view in all of Kansas City. From his window, he can see the main smart city corridor that he helped create, as well as The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, perhaps the most distinctive building in town. As he contemplates his exit, construction crews are currently building a new convention center hotel right outside, and Bennett can see cranes going up, people working and the local economy expanding.