How cities build for technological excellence and innovation
A look back at the last decade
Governments have taken various approaches to reorganization for the digital age. The particular names and focus areas of the leadership teams/positions in each jurisdiction varies; however, these models suggest a common theme:
- elevate the position of the IT department — not merging it with others, but instead emphasizing its unique cross-cutting value;
- build out the data and analytics capability within the IT organization;
- create Mayor’s Office tech capacity & policy expertise to advance mayoral priorities through tech and innovation city-wide.
This approach has shown to lead to visible policy advancements, operational efficiencies, and long-term, significant cost-savings.
(Note: These descriptions are somewhat reliant on commentary provided by previous holders of these offices, so some exact details may have changed of late. Current and past leaders from many of these cities have been contacted and are available for discussion/collaboration with City of Chicago representatives if that would be helpful.)
Government Leadership Structure Models
- Boston & Philadelphia created Mayor’s Offices of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) to drive technological innovation — specifically public-facing tools and services — in parallel with the IT Department. In both cases, MONUM advanced mayoral priorities through projects that highlighted the opportunity for tech-driven innovation, leading to a more competent and modern IT department: more talent, greater collaboration, and better online service delivery. (See Boston.gov, Philadelphia.gov.)
- San Francisco appointed a Chief Innovation Officer in the Mayor’s Office and a Chief Data Officer (CDO) within the IT organization (under the Chief Technology Officer, CTO). The CIO advances city-wide innovations such as procurement reform and digital transformation per the mayor’s agenda relying on grant funding, fellowships, and partnerships. The CDO has developed a data management infrastructure and team within IT that brings together city information for transparency and business intelligence/analytics.
- Austin created an Office of Innovation to drive culture and process change across city government. Housed outside of any particular department, the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) has leveraged grant support (eg Bloomberg Philanthropies) to address cross-cutting policy issues such as homelessness through workshops, consulting, and challenges, and created fellowship programs to recruit new tech talent into city hall, eventually leading to a modern and competent digital services team (“Design & Delivery”) within the IT department.
- Los Angeles initially created various innovation (Director of Innovation), technology (Chief Innovative Technology Officer) and data (Chief Data Officer) roles within the Mayor’s Office; however, given the budgetary and hiring restraints within the Mayor’s Office, the CDO and CITO were effectively transitioned into the IT department (under the CTO). Remaining in the Mayor’s Office, the CIO drew upon grant funding to advance strategic city-wide initiatives, including equitable economic development and hiring, by building a cross-functional team in technology, policy, and operations.
- St. Louis, upon election of its new mayor two years ago, elevated its IT Director to Chief Information Officer with a city-wide operational mandate of greater centralization and collaboration, providing increased visibility and awareness of the role IT plays. Additionally, the Mayor’s Office appointed a CTO with a specific policy (not administrative) agenda — economic development — serving as a liaison between the elected administration and the various relevant agencies, including IT.
- In Albuquerque, Kansas City, and Sacramento, the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) took on specific Mayoral priorities such as urban mobility, housing, or economic development relying on partnerships, philanthropy, or new budget approvals to advance the administration’s agenda city-wide, through the lens of technology and innovation.
(Also of note is the state of California: California created a Chief Data Officer (CDO) position within the IT organization, reporting into the state Chief Technology Officer (CTO), who works closely with administrative departments, The past year, the new governor augmented these roles with a “Chief Economic and Business Advisor” — effectively a Chief Innovation Officer — housed within the Governor’s Office to push forward administrative priorities such as homelessness and digital transformation.)
- Mayor’s Tech and Innovation Councils: many cities — including Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Kansas City — have created advisory councils to inform administrative decision-making on the structure, focus, and management of their technology operations. These councils bring private and public sector expertise, offering a sounding board for Mayoral staff, and — with their own networks — can be useful recruiting new talent to fill whatever new positions are created as well as evangelizing the city’s efforts in technology and innovation. (For example, in both Sacramento and Los Angeles, the Mayor’s Tech Council voiced their support for relevant organization and policy reforms to City Council, helping pass the Mayors’ proposed budgets.)
- Chief Data Officers have transitioned out of Mayor’s Offices increasingly because of limited hiring and purchasing ability. As an operational function, the data team requires unique software and skill sets, both of which demand resourcing. The legal and budgetary constraints of the Mayor’s Office make this difficult. The more effective CDOs in recent years — San Francisco, San Diego, Kansas City, and indeed Chicago, to name a few — have been positioned within the IT organization, reporting to either the CIO or CTO, with a strong relationship to the Mayor’s Office, particularly for analytics and performance management insights.
- To reduce budgetary impact, most innovation/design/digital teams begin with grant funding to illustrate value and find cost-savings that can eventually pay for budgeted, full-time city positions. This process of “incubation” through design labs/fellowships (eg Austin) or partnerships/philanthropy (eg Los Angeles, Boston) has led to persistent structural reforms that better position the city for ongoing benefits from modern technology.
A summary of the outcomes for these modern approaches to technology from cities across the country — along with general descriptions of the various roles — is available here: https://bit.ly/21stCities