Evanston, Ill.'s Inaugural CIO Focuses on Melding of Technology and Community

As the city's first CIO, Luke Stowe leverages a unified model for one-point access to all city IT services.

There are two approaches to hiring a new CIO. The first is to look for a candidate who has been there and done that — someone with laser focus and a battle-tested pattern of action. The second is to look outside of the normal channels and find someone who brings something new and dynamic to the C-suite — someone who has proven they are worth their salt in different ways.

The latter is the approach that Evanston, Ill., has taken with its Oct. 19 appointment of Luke Stowe, a well-vetted technologist who has spent the better part of the last decade-and-a-half making government work better with cutting-edge tools.

Most recently, the newly minted executive worked to advance the city’s public-facing assets and provide easier access to city services as the municipality’s interim IT division manager. As for his transition from the front end to the back end of city infrastructure, Stowe admits he is facing a significant shift — but it’s one he feels he is more than prepared for.

From his perspective, the time spent working directly with the community will be a great advantage as he transitions to his new charge.

“One thing I am looking to do is make sure that we have better business alignment within the city but also better citizen alignment,” Stowe said, “so that IT is working on projects and delivering services that not only benefits the city internally, but we’re also being responsive to citizens and improving transparency through open data and other means.”

The inner workings of the city's IT structure have also changed with a consolidation that brought the two once-independent sections of technology together. Under this new structure, digital services and information technology live as one cohesive department. 

Rather than relying on disparate teams to meet the needs of the customers, Evanston now leverages a unified model for one-point access to all city IT services. 

“We feel the that there’s a synergy by bringing the two groups together," Stowe said. "It helps, especially internally where we basically now offer a one-stop shop. Whether it's digital services networking infrastructure or service desk activities, it’s all under one roof.”

The general culture of IT at the municipal level is another thing Stowe hopes to challenge in this new leadership role. 

Though he said the city council and city manager are very aware of the importance of technology in 2016, the old stereotypes of information technology often seep through when it comes to how it has been integrated with the rest of the organization. Under Stowe’s leadership, partnerships will be at the forefront.

“I think that one thing that’s really important for us going forward is making sure that we’re being the best possible partners with our internal departments,” he said. “I think sometimes historically IT has either been leading a project or not involved in a project, and I think there is an important middle ground role we can play. And also, I want to double down on what we do best, which is doing things like vendor management, determining business requirements and forecasting future technology.”

As for what he sees as the primary goals of his first 90 days as CIO, Stowe points to creating an action plan to bring the city in line with the National Institute of Standards and Technology cybersecurity framework, aligning business and technology aspects of the city, and adhering to the city’s goals for livability. Another major priority for the CIO is pushing ahead with plans to bolster public safety technology, like the computer-aided dispatch system and in-car cameras.

Some of these efforts have spurred conversations with potential academic partners. Northwestern University and the city of Evanston have been engaged in conversation around how to better utilize and bolster the city’s camera systems. Stowe is hopeful the conversations will evolve into a mutually beneficial relationship.

While he said his own strengths may not fall to heavily technical aspects of the networking and infrastructure of government technology, Stowe noted that the trick will be removing impediments and letting the right subject-matter experts play to their strengths.

And these subject matter experts are not just limited to the local government, Stowe explained. Plans to launch a civic tech advisory council, made up of local businesses, startups and community members, are under development.

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.