Team San Jose

Sam Liccardo, Mayor; Rob Lloyd, CIO; Dolan Beckel, Director of the Office of Civic Innovation; Kip Harkness, Deputy City Manager; Shireen Santosham, Former Chief Innovation Officer

by / March 24, 2020
Left to right: Rob Lloyd, Dolan Beckel, Sam Liccardo, Kipp Harkness. Not pictured: Shireen Santosham. Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology

In the heart of Silicon Valley, there’s an expectation that San Jose be at the forefront of technology and digital service delivery. But the city of more than 1 million has another distinction that presents some challenges: It has the smallest workforce of any big city in the country.

Foremost on Mayor Sam Liccardo’s agenda when he took office in 2015 was to assemble a powerhouse team that could help the city capitalize on existing assets and creatively pursue new innovations. He found that team in now former Chief Innovation Officer Shireen Santosham, Chief Information Officer Rob Lloyd, Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness and Director of the Office of Civic Innovation Dolan Beckel.

“What these four people brought to us was an incessant commitment to find a way to get to yes,” Liccardo said, noting their ability to work through the familiar budget and process constraints of government to form new external partnerships and unleash innovation within the city’s workforce.

Much of the early tech focus was on infrastructure investments to replace decades-old systems. With that foundation laid, the city has turned toward some of the new technology Silicon Valley is famous for. For example, the city is developing a chatbot to answer resident questions posed online and via text message. A digital rent registry is now in place for landlords and tenants to record and verify rent information, supplementing the work of city staff and offering better data to inform policy in San Jose’s notoriously expensive housing market. Also on the horizon is a graffiti-covering drone created by participants in the city’s Unleash Your Geek competition, aimed at addressing civic challenges by engaging citizens and other private- and public-sector stakeholders.

A recent Stanford study found that roughly 100,000 San Jose residents have no broadband at home. In another pioneering effort, officials are starting to chip away at that number through the city’s Digital Inclusion Fund. Focused on providing connectivity, devices and skills, much of the money comes from private sources, including support from telecom companies that got expedited deployment of 5G small cells in exchange for their support of digital equity programs.

These are common challenges faced by many cities, but San Jose is leading the way toward viable solutions. “We’re going to try to ensure that everyone in San Jose has access to the digital economy and can benefit from services online,” Liccardo said.

Noelle Knell Editor

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years 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.

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