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City of Albuquerque Technology and Innovation Roadmap Journey

By Peter Ambs, CIO, City of Albuquerque

Peter Ambs, CIO, City of Albuquerque

The City of Albuquerque has been named a Center for Digital Government top ten Digital City for the last two years running, 2013 and 2014.  How we got here has been no accident and this is the story of how we have moved from a ‘worst to first’ standing amongst our peers.

“We adopted the attitude of ‘two-speed’ IT, where one IT area focuses on the running of the business, keeping the lights on, and the other area focuses on innovation and disruptive technologies” 

How Do You Implement Twenty Years’ Worth of Innovative Technology in Record Time?

Start with a Mayor that has the vision and drive to upgrade an imbroglio of archaic business systems and processes while simultaneously creating an innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem that spurs community economic development. Shortly after taking office, Mayor Richard Berry of the City of Albuquerque, recognized the need to modernize and create efficiencies in how the city works internally and provides services to its citizens. From that point, Albuquerque became an early innovator of the Smart City movement, establishing one of the world's first open data policies and portals as well as promoting unique purchasing processes which spurred departmental adoption of new technologies and made it easier to collaborate with startups and innovators in civic technology.

We are now seeing these efforts pay off with significant savings to the city, better processes for addressing the needs of citizens, and greater transparency. These efforts have created broader community-government interaction and are part of the change catalyst for the city's entrepreneurial community. It has resulted in commitments and collaboration with organizations like Living Cities, the Kauffman Foundation, Bloomberg Cities, and Code for America (City of Albuquerque, 2015 CFA city).

Getting Started

In December of 2009, Mayor Richard J. Berry took office and provided the leadership for innovative change within City government. The transformational process began by developing a strategic, step-wise process of executing the following steps:

• Mayoral transition team assessed the current state of IT and it wasn’t pretty. The biggest point of pain was the ERP program and its lack of effectiveness within the organization.

• Plan to remediate the City's ERP program took shape.

Bond referendum to perform $9m ERP remediation was successfully passed.

• Mayor’s team launched ABQ-VIEW, City's transparency site.

   ○ Salaries, contracts, spend data, audits, etc.

• Began to centralize and consolidate IT resources within the City.

• Set off to reengineer IT (established through goal setting and prioritization).

   ○ Modernize and Stabilize the Infrastructure.

   ○ Promote and leverage Shared systems.

   ○ Upgrade the Line of Business applications and provide integration where appropriate.

   ○ Provide online services to match the built environment.

   ○ Promote mobile apps and mobile workforce enablement.

At the very start, Mayor Berry made it clear that we were to embark upon a mission of improving and optimizing the inefficient and obsolete business systems that were in place and creating a drag on the organization. We were also to create an atmosphere and culture of innovation that would radically transform the government/citizen relationship-we needed to better connect our citizens to City government. Given this direction, the City of Albuquerque became an early leader in promoting open data and transparency and continues to drive innovation.   

Lofty goals are important places to start-but turning goals into completed milestones is no easy task. To do this, we put digital processes at the core of how we do business and provide city services.

By upgrading the PeopleSoft ERP system and implementing functionality (that was previously dormant) within the City’s business systems, we have been able to digitally streamline the Financial, Human Resources, and Procurement processes to achieve fully automated workflow processes; i.e., Procure  to Pay, Req. to Check, Record to Report.

But it wasn’t just about upgrading; it was also about bringing in innovation. We performed the process improvements while innovating at the same time.  We needed to radically innovate while optimizing operations.  Again, Mayor Berry was central to this as we stood up the transparency and open data portals to match his vision of openness and accountability in government. By publishing ‘open data’, we spawned the dawning of ‘civic tech’. We moved data that had traditionally been stored behind city firewalls and made it available to the public. By making this data available, citizens and civic tech developers can take this data and synthesize it into meaningful information which helps create a smarter and more livable city.

The City plays a role in promoting civic tech. The City partnered with local civic tech company, APPCityLife (who has been at the forefront of this movement) by creating a portfolio of civic apps for Albuquerque. One example is ABQ RIDE, which provides real-time bus location and route schedule information and has transformed how our citizens receive information about our public transportation system.

The City worked with other civic tech startups as they explored new avenues of innovation, including See Click Fix, who collaborated with the city to deliver 311 services to citizens via a mobile app. The ABQ311 app is another example of how we have digitally connected citizens to City services. Early on, Mayor Berry wanted an app that could take a picture of a situation that needed a City service-like a pot hole or graffiti-and have that ticket entered and assigned to the City Department responsible for remediation.  We now have that app and many more that provide information and access to City services and amenities.

Some of the citizen centric, Government as a Platform type apps include:

• 311 Mobile App and Online Reporting: Over 2000 monthly (on avg) 311 service tickets now are reported through the mobile and online 311 applications.

• AbqRide: Real-time bus location, route information, and trip planning.

• Online Services:.Over 30 online city services to compliment the built environment (with a growing portfolio of offerings).  Online business registrations and construction permitting being added in November 2015.

• Mobile Payments: Piloting solution now for transit and parking, smart parking and bus ridership, pay with a smartphone.

Executing our long-term plan has allowed the city to move quickly. We adopted the attitude of ‘two-speed’ IT, where one IT area focuses on the running of the business, keeping the lights on, and the other area focuses on innovation and disruptive technologies.  By bifurcating IT this way, we have the ability to go fast (innovative) while not jeopardizing the business of running the City.  We also tend to get the buy-in and sponsorship much better when the business owners (the Departments) own and sponsor their innovation projects; IT becomes more of a facilitator.  A good example of this is our Planning Department, running and owning the new application to allow for online permitting, licensing, and business registrations.

In closing, by taking the assess-align-transform methodology of innovation and applying it within the two-speed IT architecture, the City of Albuquerque has been able to reduce service costs and provide innovative citizen-centric digital solutions to make our City a more livable place to be.

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