The winners of this year’s Digital Cities Survey, presented by the Center for Digital Government, are redefining the role of the public-sector technology leader at the city level.

They’re looking beyond the nuts and bolts of IT, exploring creative ways to leverage their technology investments, and building new, more effective coalitions. This year we saw a nonprofit effort to donate used government computers to the needy; a broad interagency push to collaborate on a strategic plan for IT; and an initiative to leverage IoT sensor data in support of economic development, to name just a few of the standouts.

What do these efforts have in common? All take the IT department far beyond the role of a mere service provider. Each winner is elevating the role of the IT leader to make technology a driver of better, smarter, more responsive government.

Here are the California cities that won recognition in their respective population categories. For complete nationwide results across all population categories, including an interactive map, see today’s story in Government Technology.

500,000 OR MORE

LOS ANGELES, 1ST  

America’s second-largest city (population 4 million-plus) prides itself on being a digital municipality run by a data-driven government. The statement is backed by this year’s ranking of Los Angeles as the best Digital City in its population category for the third year in a row. Led by Mayor Eric Garcetti and IT General Manager and CIO Ted Ross, the city has held on to its top ranking with significant achievements. Take, for example, how it is tackling the thorny problem of homelessness with technology tools that support collaboration and communication across agencies and third parties. The city also uses data analytics to identify at-risk individuals before they become homeless and get them additional services. Additionally, the city has provided free Wi-Fi in homeless areas.

IT strategies that have reaped benefits include the city’s exceptional open data platform, which receives data sets from every city department. In addition, Los Angeles has rolled out various data visualizations, dashboards and storytelling tools to ensure data can impact city policies and practices, whether they have to do with sound finances or clean streets. Reinforcing the city’s dedication to data is its Data Science Federation, a partnership between city departments and 18 local universities, engaging hundreds of faculty and students to tackle a wide variety of analytic challenges, including predictive tools aimed at the city’s housing problem.

Los Angeles also sees wireless as the future and is committed to replacing most of its wired infrastructure with wireless. Investments in mobile technology prove that the city is dedicated to providing all of its citizen services anytime and anywhere on a mobile device. Other examples of innovation include third-party data sharing to increase the range and variety of resident services, and the use of new technologies, such as artificially intelligent voice assistants. To reduce its risk as a connected community, the city has implemented a robust cybersecurity framework, which includes an event management system that can monitor 1 billion data records daily from a single platform. The city’s overall security program has been nationally recognized for its exceptional protection of city data, certainly one of its most valuable assets.

SAN DIEGO, 2ND

San Diego’s Department of Information Technology has undertaken a number of initiatives with the overarching goal of improving the quality of life for its residents through technology. And while some of the department’s efforts — like the cybersecurity awareness training for all 11,000 city employees — are more felt than seen, they all tie back to keeping the city running as effectively and efficiently as possible. But this mission is not without challenges: Traffic congestion, homelessness and the commitment to rigorous climate action goals are just some of the areas where technology is being put to the test.

When it comes to accessibility for residents, staff has invested in creating online portals and applications that are both aesthetically pleasing and easy to use. A prime example is the MyWaterEasy app, which allows residents to not only pay their water bill, but also to make donations toward the payment of other residents’ bills. Open data and transparency have also been key priorities, and efforts here have earned the city an ISO 37120 Platinum certification. When it comes to cybersecurity, some 2.5 million attacks per month have pushed the IT staff to move toward single sign-on, awareness training across the board and partnerships with a large cross-section of private, local, state and federal partners.

In efforts to become a smarter, safer place to live, the city is in the process of deploying 3,200 smart streetlights to improve traffic and pedestrian safety, monitor air quality and optimize parking. The savings from this project will be an estimated $2.8 million in energy costs each year. The data pulled from this sensor network will ultimately tie into efforts to refine parking meter rates. A commitment to working smarter not harder is also evident in the city’s efforts to coordinate fiber-optic installation with ongoing water and sewer pipe replacement, so they don’t duplicate digging efforts and unnecessarily disrupt the community.

San Diego has also put substantial energy into building partnerships. One such example is the two-way data-sharing agreement with Waze that is helping the traveling public and the city make better decisions to reduce congestion.

SAN JOSE, 6TH (Tied with Boston)

San Jose advanced two spots this year, moving from eight place up to sixth place in the 500,000 or more population category. Larger cities like San Jose tend to have a great potential for innovation, and San Jose has certainly seemed to make good on that, making great use of initiatives such as the My San Jose website and app, which went live in July 2017; residents can now use them to request and track city services. A wide variety of smart city projects, branded under the mayor’s San Jose Smart City Vision, represent an ambitious drive to become the nation’s most innovative city by 2020. What’s perhaps most impressive, however, is that San Jose has successfully worked to reduce staff vacancies, doing so in what is arguably one of the most competitive regions to recruit and retain tech and innovation talent, with private-sector companies offering big salaries to draw tech workers to nearby Palo Alto and San Francisco.  

San Jose has also undertaken efforts to better equip itself for the future, collaborating with telecommunications companies to prepare for the wide-spread advent of 5G connectivity. Meanwhile, open data trends have recently demanded that cities do more than just release open data, with storytelling also coming into fashion. San Jose is addressing this by converting its open data approach to data journalism, which puts an emphasis on using its open data to tell community stories. This continues to manifest in work such as the San Jose Police Use of Force Data Analysis, among other portals. These efforts seem likely to soon accelerate with an RFP for a new San Jose data portal currently being awarded. San Jose’s AI-driven content search is also a forward-thinking piece of work.

250,000-500,000

LONG BEACH, 4TH

Moving up from sixth place in 2017 to fourth place this year, Long Beach has implemented mySidewalk, an economic insight dashboard that lets the community report neighborhood-level data and allows the city to track, analyze and share progress on citywide economic objectives. Topics cover population, economy, housing, transportation and health.

Long Beach continues to expand its DataLB public data portal, offering more than 125 data sets. Last year, almost 11,000 unique visitors accessed the data. This year, the Technology and Innovation Department launched a crime incident mapping application in DataLB to provide current crime activity information for residents. The entire 2019 Proposed Budget was published on BudgetLB, enabling users to compare expenditures and revenues throughout all city departments.

The Southern California city averages 15,000 unique website visitors daily and has increased mobile views by 51 percent over 2017. The mobile-optimized website is supplemented by the Go Long Beach apps, which let people submit and track service requests, find lost pets and locate polling places, among other things. The city’s video team, LBTV, creates videos to explain and promote each app. These videos are published via TV, the Web and social media. The city’s communications team also launched the InsideLB blog to share articles and creative videos on human interest stories related to the city’s work and highlighting the people that work and live there.

Long Beach’s Justice Lab, launched in January 2018, has several initiatives underway that aim to break the cycle of incarceration. This includes Long Beach GUIDES (Government User Integrated Diversion Enhancement System), a mobile app developed by the police department and the city prosecutor’s office to give first responders needed information to quickly identify the most appropriate services for residents in need. The city’s Data Warehouse, part of the Data Driven Justice Initiative, is a clearinghouse for multiple data sets that let users crosscheck information about police, health, fire, and the city prosecutor’s office services to help coordinate services for residents. The GUIDES app is currently being tested for the Long Beach Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program that aims to divert likely offenders to social services, including stable housing, counseling and rehabilitation. The Justice Lab also collaborated with the California Policy Lab at the University of California, Los Angeles to conduct a city data-driven, randomized control trial to identify likely repeat offenders and reduce recidivism rates.

RIVERSIDE, 7TH

Riverside is battling back from a structural budget shortfall that resulted in three positions being eliminated from the Innovation and Technology Department and tech replacements being tabled for 10 years. IT staff in Riverside now expect an injection of $8 million spread over the next four years from the passage of a ballot measure in 2016. With the additional funding secured, IT is working on 13 priority projects in areas like cybersecurity, system upgrades, hardware and infrastructure. This well-orchestrated recovery is representative of an IT strategy that is well documented and closely aligned with the city’s overall goals. One example of a recent achievement is the deployment in the past year of more than 100 high-speed access points to boost the speeds and coverage of Riverside’s Wi-Fi network. The additions include in-vehicle devices that expedite uploads of body-worn video from law enforcement.

Transparency efforts were bolstered by Riverside’s selection as a What Works Cities jurisdiction, which allowed the city to add a GIS portal to its robust open data site, Engage Riverside. The city’s IT Department has created an Innovation Division to support a culture of modernization, and an Innovation “Lab” is now available for employees to collaborate on challenges that cross departmental lines.

The city’s multifaceted workforce development program includes a career road map tool for IT staff to help set a path for continual learning and growth. In addition, Riverside’s successful internship program converts many interns to permanent staff, like the Client Services division within IT, where almost two-thirds of personnel once served as an intern.

SACRAMENTO, 10TH (Tied with New Orleans)

Sacramento’s primary technical achievement in 2018 was beginning a citywide switch to 5G. Accomplished through a public-private partnership with Verizon in June 2017, Sacramento’s overhaul of high-speed data infrastructure involved more than $100 million of investment in fiber-optic infrastructure, “smart cities” solutions, youth development and public Wi-Fi. By adding small cell towers to more than 200 utility poles, Sacramento plans to make 5G available everywhere and put free Wi-Fi in 27 public parks.

The partnership made Sacramento one of the first markets in the nation to have citywide 5G residential broadband service. The city’s website also describes plans for digital kiosks in various neighborhoods, with touchscreens that offer access to real-time transit information and public transport maps, emergency services, information about events, historical information and neighborhood news.

Complementing its push toward mobile solutions, Sacramento started building a portfolio of useful apps for residents, launched a new search website, made a new Sac311 app its go-to resource for reporting issues or requesting services, and converted a parking map to a GIS-driven interactive map to help people navigate the new Golden 1 Center and elsewhere downtown.

Sacramento is also attempting data-driven improvements to make garbage-collection routes, police citations, water meters, building inspection and invoice payments more efficient. Hoping to attract professionals to support its digital future, the city’s IT department is conducting a study to ensure compensation, classification and staffing levels of its IT professionals are appropriate.

125,000-250,000

PASADENA, 6TH

The city of Pasadena has made the use of data a top priority and has heavily utilized the IT department to execute its plans. The city had one of the first open data sites in southern California and continues to become more transparent, especially around budgeting and city council activities. Pasadena also looks for innovative ways to use data, like leveraging it for performance measurement. In addition, it proactively shares its data with Caltech (The California Institute of Technology) for use in data analytics courses. In return, the city has been able to use the results to gain insights into its operational areas.

To serve citizens better, Pasadena has an active social media program (28,000 Twitter followers and daily posts to serve a population of more than 142,000) and has launched a universal online payment gateway pilot. The city is also testing Alexa as a voice assistant service for its residents. In terms of connectivity, the city runs a 25-mile fiber backbone and has leveraged the network to bring free public Wi-Fi to city parks.

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, 9TH

Responding to shifting demographics, ninth-place Rancho Cucamonga adopted a master plan last year to provide high-speed fiber-based connectivity to residents and businesses in partnership with a local provider. The buildout will include the installation of video analytics technologies, automated license plate readers and smart irrigation devices, demonstrating the city’s commitment to quality-of-life planning that takes advantage of the capabilities of the Internet of Things.

An emphasis on data-driven government is evident in the initiative from the city manager to establish performance metrics for each department, which will be used to fuel budget decisions. Plans are also underway to feed key performance indicators (KPIs) into dashboards using data analytics tools. The city’s mobile app has also been revamped to gather better data on events reported by citizens. Similar effort is going toward citizen engagement and transparency efforts, with recent investments in new tools from Esri and Socrata aimed at advancing detailed financial reporting goals.

In the area of security, the city has upgraded its firewall and reconfigured its network for both device and identity-level security. Core business traffic on the network is separated from public and mobile network activity. A comprehensive cybersecurity training program boasts 90 percent completion for key staff, and IT employees stay current on skills with ongoing training and attendance at vendor educational events.

CORONA, 10TH

After not making last year’s Digital Cities ranking, Corona showed its tech strength this year in open data and citizen-centric services. The city has created a data warehouse in the cloud, allowing for easier use of cross-departmental data, and that feeds an open dashboard as well as performance management and business intelligence software. It also enables a chatbot that helps answer citizens’ common questions. It credits the What Works Cities initiative, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University for helping in those efforts.

Corona also has a “Citizen Tax Receipt” project to show residents how their tax dollars are being spent, a construction projects story map, an open checkbook, a SeeClickFix app and a city app to communicate with residents. In the future it plans on integrating some of these systems — 311 and the chatbot, for example — so they work together. The city has also made good progress on the back end, moving about half of its servers to the cloud, improving its firewalls and anti-malware protection and working to upgrade its network architecture.

Corona’s ongoing work includes an IT department re-organization, phishing training, a 5G deployment plan and creation of a mobile app to help people apply for homeless services — to name just a few projects.

 

75,000-125,000

SAN LEANDRO, 7TH

Many of San Leandro’s goals involve information technology and include: advancing projects and programs to promote sustainable economic development; a smart cities/broadband goal; providing quality public safety service that encompasses using cameras for crime prevention; and an upgraded dispatch building.

The city plans to optimize these goals using its fiber-optic network and develop a smart city that includes digital transformation, or a digital city government experience. That includes digital services; open data; smart buildings and facilities; connecting facilities; and using integrated management systems for climate control and HVAC energy. Additionally, the plan will cover intelligent traffic signal systems that adapt to real-time traffic conditions and the use of intelligent services like cameras, drones, robotics and data for public safety.

The city developed an open data policy that commits the city to implementing practices that allow it to make available useful data in useful format; provide access to free, historical archives of data; and support innovative uses of the city’s publishable data by external agencies, the public, and other partners.

San Leandro’s cybersecurity accomplishments include replacing existing firewalls with redundant Cisco Firepower 2140 Next-Generation firewalls. The agreement calls for the full suite of Next-Gen security functionality and includes identical models, which can be configured for automatic and instantaneous failure to avoid service disruption.