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Pittsburgh CIO on Data Governance, Growing Local Partnerships

Heidi Norman explains Pittsburgh’s agency-level data coordinator system and how they’re modernizing the city’s legacy IT infrastructure and learning from academic and nonprofit partners.

Heidi Norman was named Pittsburgh’s acting CIO in 2020, and the city made her position permanent this year. Pittsburgh has long been a city that punches above its weight in government tech and innovation work, doing so in part by collaborating with many partners, from nearby academic institutions like Carnegie Mellon University to local startups. Norman recently talked to GovTech about priorities for her department, the benefits of partnerships and plans for the future.

1. What’s on your priority list?

On the technical side, our priorities are fourfold: data governance, modernization of our IT infrastructure, updating our communications technologies and ensuring that the software applications our 19 departments use are of the highest quality. It used to be in government that there was an IT department and that that was the tech department. Today that’s not true. In Pittsburgh, every department is a tech department.

2. Pittsburgh has a Silver Certification from What Works Cities. How are you working toward Gold?

We’ve established a data governance committee composed of data coordinators from every department in the city. This summer those data coordinators are going through training camp to learn what it takes to identify data that their departments create and to create data dictionaries so we know what data is available, where it’s available and how often it’s updated. Ultimately, we will be able to train all of them on how to access our data rivers — which is our name in Pittsburgh for our data warehouse — and also how to use the analytics tools available to them to support the leaders in their departments with understanding how their departments are performing, setting targets and making decisions about how they might want to do things differently as a result.

Pittsburgh CIO Heidi Norman

3. How do you engage with local and regional partners?

Our collaborations are very important. In Pittsburgh, we are very fortunate. Within the city limits we have 10 colleges, maybe more. The big two are Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. We’re fortunate to work very closely with both. Their professors love to test new ideas and technology on the city, with really interesting results, where we learn things we didn’t know or discover a new way of doing things that didn’t seem possible. We also partner with a lot of nonprofit and for-profit organizations in the region. A good example is our collaboration with the RAND Corp. They do a lot of work with public data and government innovation. We also partner with startups that want to test products or services in the public market or in some type of government organization. We have an incubator in our department called PGH Lab, and it’s been so successful that other cities have copied the program and established innovation incubators for startups in their own communities. We’re constantly learning and absorbing the “best of” that other organizations have to offer.

4. What are you looking to next?

Broadband and closing the digital divide. That for me is a huge focus, and it is a challenge because in Pennsylvania we are not legally allowed to charge residents or businesses for Internet services, so I cannot create a public municipal network to provide those services to my residents. Therefore, within my IT department, I haven’t had anyone who is dedicated to those types of policies and thinking about what the needs of residents are. So, it’s going to be me. I’ve got a strategy, and I know the mayor and administration are excited about it. I hope that I’m able to be a leader within the Pittsburgh community to not only bring excellent broadband services to all of our residents, but to ensure they are affordable, that our people have access to devices, and that they have the knowledge to use those devices on the Internet well and safely for their jobs, for their children’s education and for accessing health care.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.