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Arvada, Colo., CIO on Smart City Innovation and What's Next

Plus, Chief Information Officer Craig Poley explains how Arvada is approaching a major overhaul to its ERP system and why storytelling is key to getting enterprise-wide buy-in on IT projects.

Arvada, Colo., CIO Craig Poley
Chief Information Officer Craig Poley has led tech work in Arvada, Colo., for two years. Poley took the role after a stint as an IT director with Denver, which was an easy move geographically, given that Arvada is a Denver suburb. Poley talked with Government Technology about Arvada’s tech priorities, balancing core IT work with innovation and what’s ahead.

1. What are your top priorities?

Cybersecurity is always at the top. Another big initiative is replacing our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which is vintage. It was implemented in 1998 and is holding us back. An integration with a 1990s software platform is flat files, and integrations in the modern world are transactional and real time. We’ve got this cornerstone piece of tech that is the center of our integration world and it’s 20 years old. We’re trying to modernize that. 

2. How are you prepping to replace the ERP system?

One skill a CIO needs is storytelling. We have really complicated technical challenges to overcome, but we can’t go talking about them without getting into the complex realities of IT. As I work on this ERP story, I use what I call the Johnny Appleseed Approach, which is I walk around with an idea that I plant, and then I come back with my watering can to re-enforce it until eventually there are apples. 

With the ERP, I start talking to HR and ask if they’re happy with it. They say, not really. Then I ask finance, and they say, we’re not unhappy. So, I have to change the narrative a little. It’s a pain to manage, it’s a pain to patch, and we have great risk and exposure. We have two resources that manage the system, and if they move on, I can’t go out to hire these skills. They don’t exist. So, I said, listen, this spacecraft we’re on, the time horizon is eight years. In eight years, this spacecraft explodes. We need to not be on it. That’s what jolted the leadership team.

3. How do you balance core IT work with innovation?

I had to unpack our Smart City Committee. Ideas were being proposed, but those ideas weren’t backed by funding or execution. It was a work stream off to the side, and what it was trying to deliver was the same as our regular work stream. Everything we’re doing is smart. If you’re in Italy, you don’t call it Italian food. You just call it food. If everything you’re doing is smart, you don’t call it smart, you just call it work. We’re looking at cyber tools, for example. When a vendor is pitching, I ask, “When you detect, do you have an automated response?” If the answer is no, thank you for your time. I’m not interested in tools that require humans to exclusively do things. Humans can automate. Humans can improve it, but basic and repetitive tasks need to be undertaken by automation.

4. What’s next for Arvada IT?

We’ve spun up a data analytics team. When I got here, I sat down with the city manager and said, “What do we want to be when we grow up when it comes to data?” We are experts at collecting data, but we are not experts at consuming data in ways that expand capabilities. We have data sets for traffic and water lines. Does traffic shorten the lifespans of water lines? We have both data sets, and if we put some effort in, we can see if there’s a correlation. Now we have a team, and we’re just starting to ramp up. The long-term play is we want to take Boston’s idea. They have a city score where they take the different metrics from their departments and they use an algorithm to weigh them, so every department will have a score. I want to put a monitor outside the city manager’s office with an Arvada score on it. When he or she walks out, they can see each department and that department’s score, so we know if that department needs help. 
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.