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Boston technology planning and strategy for a new mayor administration

I was there as a resident, not as a technology editor, but as I settled into this past Saturday’s town hall-style forum led by Boston Mayor-elect Marty Walsh, it quickly became apparent that I’d be talking tech on my day off.

The mayor-elect and his staff are gathering feedback on all areas of city life as he prepares to take over the big job in Boston next month, and I chose to attend the breakout session on improving basic city services under the new administration. The session covered everything from providing more recycling bins where needed to improving communications in the business-permitting process.

But much of the conversation revolved around technology. SearchCIO has interviewed Boston CIO Bill Oates several times on such initiatives as the Citizens Connect app, creating mobile and online interfaces, gamification and more. I thought I’d share the relevant information from the session handout, which provides some nice insight into Boston’s technology strategy and planning process in an easy-to-follow keep-implement-dream format.

Citizens Connect:
Keep: Multi-input/multichannel service (not just over the phone). Simple. Integrates with social media.
Implement: Multilingual interfaces. Need more time-sensitive responses and better follow-up. For example, you can report a car parked illegally or a stray animal on the loose. By the time the city responds, the car or animal is gone and the case is closed, saying no problem was found. Need to consider how to truly fix the problem. Maybe there is more signage needed. Create dashboards. How well is the city doing responding to constituent needs? Maybe even get to the level of a neighborhood dashboard.
Dream: Implement 311. Get a technical database person on staff. Coordinate a data-driven deployment of city services. Neighborhood connect: Create Citizens Connect geared for individual neighborhoods. Allow Citizens Connect to be integrated more with commercial services. By opening the city interfaces, users could create more apps, e.g. a Siri interface.

Keep: Motivation toward open data. Good record of engagement with academic institutions and Code for America.
Implement: Website refocus. Should be user driven. Get a panel of end users from across the city to see what is working and what isn’t. Like so many things in the city, departments are siloed and open access to data varies department to department. Needs to be a consensus and a directive to make it known there is a process and this is how you do it.
Dream: City doesn’t have a chief data officer. No one currently has the technical ability. More analytical position than CIO. Compile information that each department is holding. Smart Cities: when build new infrastructure, include sensory devices. Can prevent issues such as power outages.

It was all the buzzwords CIOs are familiar with: data-driven decision making, end-user feedback, open source application development and data analytics. In addition, the discussion itself focused on the potential need not only for a chief data officer, but a chief innovation officer in Boston who would serve as a communications bridge for non-governmental organizations looking to engage with the city.

All in all, Boston’s already doing pretty darn well on the digital strategy front, but there’s always room to grow and serve users — in this case, the city’s constituents. It’s good to see the mayor-elect’s staff thinking ahead on the technology-planning front.

Does your organization have a keep-implement-dream model for technology planning as Boston does? Let me know in the comments.

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