The following Q&A with San Leandro Chief Technology Officer Tony Batalla appeared last week on the city website, San Leandro Next. Batalla was the subject of a Techwire story in April, when he was promoted to his current position. This interview was edited lightly for style and brevity.
Earlier this year, San Leandro's former information and technology manager, Tony Batalla, was appointed as the city’s first chief technology officer (CTO). This new position, which combines aspects of the IT manager role and the chief innovation officer position, will help fold innovation into the fabric of the city organization. Under Batalla's leadership, the city’s IT team has been successful in working with city departments to help implement new technologies to make the city’s work more efficient and effective. The creation of this new position will ensure the continuation of that work as well as the enhancement of community-facing innovation projects such as public Wi-Fi, expanded use of the fiber-optic network, and efforts to close the digital divide. Batalla has proven to be adept at both managing day-to-day IT operations and leveraging technology assets to benefit the community.
We sat down with Batalla to learn more about his role as CTO.
SLNext: What are your top technology and innovation goals for the city of San Leandro?
Batalla: My top priorities are to ensure that our IT operations continue to run smoothly and efficiently, and also to explore new areas and opportunities for innovation, such as “smart city” technologies and building digital services that can be delivered through the Internet. This is the really primary goal of moving the Office of Innovation into the IT Division.
SLNext: What do you see as the most unique opportunities in San Leandro?
Batalla: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that San Leandro’s most unique opportunity is our 21 miles of fiber and conduit. This is a fundamental asset, meaning that all of our smart city technologies in one way or another leverage this overarching connectivity network. Also, we have a great team culture of collaboration and being nimble and agile. The continued support of the City Council is an important aspect that gives staff the latitude to be innovative.
SLNext: What are some of the most successful projects you have overseen thus far in San Leandro?
Batalla: Our Public Wi-Fi network has been a hit. Over 16,000 devices connect every month, transmitting nearly 3 terabytes of data. All delivered to the public for free on our fiber network.
Core IT projects aren’t always memorable, but our transition to Office 365 has been hugely successful. We’ve saved money, increased the services available to staff, and all but eliminated email outages and service impacts. We have also deployed several cybersecurity upgrades that have helped us become more resilient to attacks.
SLNext: How do you see the city changing in the next 10 years thanks to technology and innovation?
Batalla: We outlined a Smart City Strategy as part of the Fiber Optics Master Plan, and I think that provides a good road map. We identified areas where technology will play a key role in helping the community to reach its goals: public safety, transportation, broadband service, and energy/environmental sustainability. More broadly, mobility — public transportation along with ride-sharing, scooters, bikes, pedestrian routes and trails, and eventually autonomous vehicles — is likely to dramatically change the experience of getting from Point A to Point B over the next 10 years. And it will all happen in the public right-of-way.
SLNext: What do you see as the biggest challenge as we look to the future?
Batalla: The biggest challenge with technology, I think, is more pragmatic — it’s finding the right balance. Safety vs. privacy; performance vs. risk; the better features of a new system vs. the comfort and proficiency of the old system; stability vs. change. Technology is often perceived to be at the heart of these tensions. So, balancing those — finding a way to achieve the results you desire, while also being mindful of and responsive to the trade-offs, is the probably biggest challenge in any project. You thought I was going to say "budget," didn’t you?
Techwire's feature on Batalla included the following passage: For vendors who want to capitalize on the city’s ongoing innovation, here’s how: “Email’s usually the best way. If they’ve done their homework, (read) the Fiber Optic Master Plan, and can add something of value, send me an email,” Batalla said. “I can read it, click the link, then follow up with them. Identify right up front that there’s a good reason to connect.”