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Denver’s New CIO Takes Human-Centered Approach to Tech

Suma Nallapati, who was appointed to serve as CIO for the city and county of Denver earlier this fall, plans to take a human-centered approach to IT to help actualize the mayor’s vision for a vibrant region.

Headshot of Suma Nallapati, who is wearing black clothing over gradient gray background.
Suma Nallapati plans to take a human-centered approach to IT work in her new role as CIO for the city and county of Denver.

Nallapati’s first day in the role was Sept. 13, taking the reins from the city-county’s former CIO, David Edinger. Edinger led Denver through a time of historic population growth, and under his leadership, the city and county bolstered staffing for data and cybersecurity work.

For Nallapati, the move to Denver follows several private-sector IT leadership roles, but this is not her first public-sector role. From 2014 to 2018, Nallapati served as CIO for the state of Colorado.

The experience in state government gave her an opportunity to help the most vulnerable populations in the state, improving access to government services ranging from health care to unemployment by leveraging tools like cloud, AI and data. In addition, she said that her private-sector experiences helped shape her perspective on the importance of human-centered design within digital transformation work.

“I’m very excited and honored to rejoin the public sector — and energized by Mayor [Mike] Johnston’s vision around reducing homelessness in the city,” she said.

Nallapati was referring to the mayor’s House1000 initiative, which aims to get 1,000 unsheltered individuals into houses by the end of 2023. A big part of the initiative is transparency with the public about progress, in which data plays a major role. Nallapati’s goal is to align tech tools like generative AI to the mayor’s mission to help unhoused people in the community.

Her overarching goal is to align IT work with Johnston’s vision: to ensure an affordable, safe and vibrant Denver. On the IT side, this includes improving the self-service experience for residents by increasing data transparency.

“I feel technology is a power that will empower residents to have a better experience,” she said, underlining that this mindset has guided her work in both the public and private sectors. The approach helps ensure organizations are building technology not only for the sake of building technology, but for the direct or indirect impact that tech will have on customers.

AI is one trend Nallapati expects to see impact Denver. As she explained, this is an ongoing conversation and a trend she has been watching since before it became a national conversation with the November 2022 launch of ChatGPT.

As she explained it, the advances in AI are part of a mutual evolution process, through which AI is learning from people and people are learning from AI. She noted that there is a lot of curiosity among Denver agencies in pursuing generative AI in a responsible way.

This includes engaging with other experts in the space, such as the Office of Responsible AI at Microsoft, to ensure that the city and county implements AI policy in a responsible way — reducing bias and increasing transparency. These types of conversations are very important in helping Denver leverage generative AI to improve the government experience and increase efficiency to address the limited resources of a public-sector workforce, she said.

Denver is in the process of establishing an AI policy, which Nallapati said is in its final stages and going to be released “very soon.”

Nallapati also expects quantum computing and cloud to accelerate and evolve, especially as agencies move away from legacy technologies. Following the White House designation of tech hubs for quantum computing, Nallapati said this action has created a collaborative opportunity to bring together experts in academia, business and more to help Denver transform.

In addition, Nallapati aims to help ensure the city and county government keeps security and privacy at the center of efforts to adopt emerging technologies.

She said that as CIO, it is important to balance digital transformation and innovation in order to keep the lights on while improving service delivery. Service delivery should be measurable and high quality; at the same time, innovation allows the city-county to use resources more efficiently and improve the quality and efficiency of services provided.

Edinger has worked with Nallapati to ensure a smooth transition; she said he has been available to help answer her questions, guide strategy and support ongoing transition needs.

“But my main goal is to help Mayor Johnston's cabinet be successful,” she stated.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.