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San Antonio Pushes for Human-Centered Design, Smart Cities

Chief Information Officer Craig Hopkins on what drew him to government work, reshaping San Antonio’s IT culture and how he works strategically with the chief innovation officer to align the city’s goals.

Craig Hopkins assumed the role of the chief information officer in the country’s seventh largest city in summer 2017, following nearly 20 years with military-focused insurance giant USAA. He wasn’t looking to get into government per se, but seized an opportunity to become San Antonio’s first CIO (the position was being converted from a CTO), won over by the culture and commitment of city leaders and rank-and-file employees alike. “I was incredibly excited about how I could bring my customer experience knowledge and all the things I learned on the private side to city government,” he said. 

1. What are you working on since becoming CIO?

I was asked to reset the relationship between IT and the 42 departments — to get us to be consultants and partners, to help departments solve their business problems, that was probably the No. 1 thing. And the No. 2 thing was to shape the culture in IT to be focused on innovation and teamwork, and then to let that culture overlap out into the departments. 

2. How is your smart city program taking shape?

We reached out to seven agencies across the city and asked them to come to the table under a Smart San Antonio umbrella to solve our smart city program together. We’ve built collaboration, governance and data-sharing across those agencies through a common vision for smart cities in San Antonio.

We all have assets — fiber, towers, right-of-way, data — and we should share those assets with each other for the greater good. We’re good at sharing physical assets — we already had some agreements in place — but we didn’t have anything that allowed us to do point-to-point data sharing between agencies. Every time we wanted to do a project like that, it required a standalone contract. You had to build the terms and conditions from the top, and it could take anywhere from four weeks to six months to sometimes a year depending on the complexity of the project. So the first thing we wanted to solve for was one common data-sharing agreement and then each individual project will be a one-page addendum. Now we don’t have to negotiate that every time.

3. You said the city focuses on citizen engagement and designing services from the outside in. Where have you used human-centered design?

We’re rolling out 30 kiosks across the city. They’re standard in the sense that they have a lot of content on each one, but they’re tailored to each individual location. So we went out and pretended the clipboard was a kiosk and asked people what type of information would be pertinent to them about where we’re standing at this very moment. And then we were able to collect different pieces of information and find out the No. 1 content request: If you’re downtown, that might be a place to eat, but when you’re at a park, you want to know when yoga classes are. By using that technique before you ever build a kiosk and start coding for content, you get a sense of what that specialized content should be for that location.

4. San Antonio has an active innovation team. How do you work with the chief innovation officer?

I believe that the innovation team should be separate from the technology team, but they should absolutely be joined at the hip. The agreement that was made was the two CIOs would work together, but we needed to staff that shop so half was process engineering and half was focused on real innovation: research and development and smart cities. Now there are four people focused on each side. I still am responsible for anything technology — the definitions, governance and implementation — but we do that hand in hand with the innovation team.

Noelle Knell has been the editor of Government Technology magazine for e.Republic since 2015. She has more than two decades of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.