Long ago, the private sector figured out that data was a valuable resource. Presented with big data, enterprises put it to work, using it to better understand their customers, improve marketing precision and designing compelling products and services. The public sector, while having made significant progress in the past ten years, is still lagging behind in leveraging one of the only resources it has in abundance. Cities are using data, but they’re not yet exploring its true value.
The sudden emergence of Covid-19 in all our communities has put pressure on local governments and city CIOs to respond in meaningful ways. In a recent report, the National League of Cities, an advocacy organization that represents the U.S.’s 19,495 cities, highlights the need for better data gathering to help manage everything from safe social distancing on public transportation to the risk of evictions triggered by economic hardship. Unfortunately, few cities are well-prepared to be able to meet this challenge with high-quality data.
To rise to the challenge, tech leaders will need to up their game. While not ultimately responsible for data’s use—that’s the role of data owners—city CIOs must deliver solutions for data collection, storage, security, and appropriate distribution. Data must be made available at the right time, on the right devices and kept up to date. This means working with stakeholders across government, local communities and beyond to leverage data more effectively.
CIOs as change agents
None of this will be easy for those cities that lag behind in terms of governance and data-management skills. Today, a city CIO must be both a strategist and an agent-of-change. In an era of Covid-19, the role is critical to delivering uninterrupted services and the adoption of digital tools. Ensuring that data is leveraged must be high on the agenda and be acted upon.
To do so, city CIOs will need to convince other stakeholders that change—and, quite possibly, additional spending—is necessary at a time when organizations and budgets are under significant pressure because of the pandemic. That will not be easy, but timely and accurate sources of data from cities are going to be essential if we are to collectively conquer Covid-19.