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Raleigh and The Cloud: Iterative Progress

By D. Darnell Smith, CIO, City of Raleigh, North Carolina

D. Darnell Smith, CIO, City of Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina, is a modern city that sits at a crucial technological crossroads. We anchor the Research Triangle region and are North Carolina’s capital. We’re booming in many ways; residents from all walks of life readily offer the statistic that roughly 66 people per day move to this area and claim it as their home.

As with many local governments, even those larger than Raleigh, we are making huge strides toward moving functions to a cloud environment. But we’re not finished yet.

Citizens expect the latest technologies and the infrastructure that supports those advancements. In a tech-forward region such as ours, these demands cross boundaries, industries and demographics. And, in this era when new cyberthreats emerge daily, we need to head off vulnerabilities when possible, and address them quickly when it becomes necessary.

"Putting into place our new multifaceted and focused IT strategy enables us to move more services to the cloud with intention."

We also need to be the bedrock for services that our communities demand. This can take the form of sophisticated tech needs, such as an app that makes finding and paying for parking easier, or something as basic as access to the internet from a community center.

When I started with the City in 2016, about 27 percent of City business was conducted digitally. We’d thought that 33 percent of our business would be digitized by next year. Instead, we’re closer to half of our enterprise-wide business functions modernized right now—47 percent—and we think we can get to 55 percent in 2019. That’s well ahead of where we thought we’d be.

Putting Our House in Order

We needed to do some internal work first. We started by assessing and building our own capabilities and boosting efficiency and automation citywide through technology. We made certain that everyone in our shop is ITIL® Foundations certified, to move our whole organization to a customer service mentality and have adopted COBIT for overall IT Governance. We improved engagement by communicating with our end users better, letting them know what changes meant to them and their daily lives at work. We’ve defined a better process for building business relationships. Measurement became critical, so benchmarking became more common—and embraced.

Putting into place our new multifaceted and focused IT strategy enables us to move more services to the cloud with intention. Our IT shop serves everyone from field workers to the Mayor. Our customers have diverse needs, but require fast, safe and secure IT around the clock. Cloud-based services allow us to meet these “always on” demands more effectively and efficiently. In our daily lives outside of work, we’ve all reached a comfort level with cloud-based services—we just don’t call them that! Our goal is to provide IT that doesn’t make people think about IT and meets them where they are.

Enabling the Modern City

Our team needed to take many functions from paper to digital—in some cases updating legacy and on-prem systems that were several iterations out of date. We have also enabled cloud technologies that are already mature, such as Microsoft’s Office 365, ServiceNow and Esri’s ArcGIS Online which are cloud-based and constantly evolving. Moving to the cloud has to happen iteratively, not overnight.

Our internal customers need support from us for their own fast-moving initiatives. We have strong GIS capabilities throughout the City, in departments ranging from Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources to Public Utilities. We’ve partnered with them on advancements such as developing an Alexa skill for citizens to learn more about City services, plus we’ve relaunched our Open Raleigh open data site and increased its offerings, based on our recent adoption of cloud-based Power BI as our enterprise-wide analytics tool.

We have many opportunities to provide a better digital experience to a wide variety of customers. Raleigh citizens who want to know when their trash will be picked up can now use technology that they’re already familiar with for a seamless customer service experience. For the business community, we’re working on tools to improve workflows in the developer community by enabling cloud-based capabilities to streamline the construction and permitting process. The goals are the same: A seamless, secure, customer-centric digital experience.

The ability to cull and interpret a wide variety of data points is helping to drive us toward a more data-driven organization. The cloud helps us empower our end users with actionable, shareable, and fresh information to make data-driven decision-making real.

And, we’ve recently provided a robust fiber network and storage capabilities for our police department’s high-profile body-worn camera initiative and utilize cloud-based Microsoft Azure for video storage.

Smart Cities on the Horizon

Layered on top of all this is our drive to distinguish ourselves in the Smart City movement. Smart Cities are not just a desired future state, they are currently all around us. Foundational to our newly adopted Smart Raleigh Strategy is the idea that technological advancement is not merely about adopting technology for technology’s sake, but making change to serve citizens better. Smart City enablement involves providing actionable information when it is needed, in a useful format and with an appropriate level of detail. Cloud infrastructure will help facilitate this. Community engagement is key—informed citizens can use the information that we provide or enable more effectively, so bringing stakeholders into our Smart City enablement helps us get it right the first time.

And, much of this enablement relies on the cloud.

We’re not there yet, but with focus and resolve, we have mapped our future. That future involves secure and efficient cloud-based services, built in partnership with the people who will use and benefit from them—our City staff and our citizens. Smart home technologies enable our citizens to become very sophisticated consumers of technology, and City services should seamlessly integrate into that.

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