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Innovation Office Working to Make SA a ‘Smart City’

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Did you know San Antonio has had an innovation office since 2007? Innovation is defined as the process of implementing new ideas to create value.

A project spearheaded by City Manager Sheryl Sculley, San Antonio’s Office of Innovation was created in 2007, one of the first in the nation that continues today.

“In 2007, I created the Office of Innovation with existing positions to identify opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our city organization,” Sculley said. “Over the past decade we have streamlined business processes and reorganized city departments, resulting in more than $20 million in cost-savings. We are now concentrating on our Smart City initiatives to bridge the gap between everyday life and technology within our community.”The City has taken on a larger charter, appointing its first chief innovation officer (CIO), Jose De La Cruz, in March 2016. As CIO, De La Cruz leads San Antonio’s Office of Innovation in its efforts to improve City processes, manage major initiatives, and foster a culture of innovation within the City’s organization.De La Cruz started working for the City in 2012 when San Antonio’s innovation focus was on providing more efficient City processes. In addition, the City implemented innovations such as municipal court kiosks (with video streaming capabilities so a municipal court judge can work with a resident on their traffic violations without the resident coming down to the downtown location), LED streetlights, and a transparency-promoting Open Gov website where users can find the city’s budget online.

What is a Smart City?

Just what exactly is a “smart city,” and how does it impact the residents of San Antonio?The broad concept of what constitutes a smart city is an urban development vision that integrates information and communication technology (ICT) and the internet of things (IoT) technology in a secure manner to manage a city’s assets more effectively. A smart city essentially leverages data and technology to improve the efficiency of its services and, thus, the quality of life for its residents.

To deliver better services for its residents as well as help create a city that is attractive for incoming talent, Mayor Ivy Taylor has embraced a smart city approach with a strategy leading to smart cities projects being developed and included in the City’s 2017 budget. The Innovation Office reports directly to Assistant City Manager María Villagómez.

Since De La Cruz became CIO, San Antonio has been reaching out to other smart cities to learn more about how they implement innovative solutions to improve the quality of life for their residents.

The City recently collaborated with the Smart Cities Council in a March 2017 workshop to develop a shared vision for how San Antonio should deploy smart city technology to address community issues. The workshop, held at the Henry B. González Convention Center, included more than 100 key stakeholders representing more than 30 organizations, with focus areas such as transportation, e-government and data, water, energy, workforce development, digital inclusion, and sustainability.

Three cross-cutting themes emerged to provide a road map for a “smart” San Antonio: collaboration and partnerships among organizations, data sharing and communication, and more convenient access to public services.

Within these broad themes, the City has focused its innovative efforts on three priorities as it incorporates smart city technologies. Implemented solutions will focus on enhancing the City’s sustainability, improving transportation, and bridging the digital divide among residents with improved connected access.In September 2016, City Council approved several smart city projects in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget. The next steps for the Innovation Office as it develops a comprehensive vision for a smarter San Antonio includes collaborating with public and private stakeholders in working groups dedicated to specific priorities. Continued communications with updates on San Antonio’s smart city initiatives and key performance indicators will assist in tracking overall progress.“It was fundamental for our office to support the entire community,” De La Cruz said. “We reached out to other cities to see what their programs looked like. We’re actively engaging with many stakeholders across the entire city.”

The Fiscal Year 2017 budget includes smart city projects aligned along the three priorities and include the projects listed below.

Bridging the Digital Divide with More Connected Living

The total amount allocated for initiatives that help bridge the digital divide ranges from $1.6-$2.5 million.

The City will introduce a new mobile app for 311 services in July, and a new Parks and Recreation Department app will roll out in November. Both apps are projected to cost a combined total of $166,000.

Local technology company Cityflag, housed at San Antonio’s downtown technology incubator Geekdom, developed the mobile app which allows users to “flag” issues such as potholes, street lights, graffiti, and public property deterioration with a geographic “tag.” The Parks app will provide users navigation tools for City parks as well as information on park events.Starting in June, the City also will implement in phases free WiFi at 10 different city parks and solar-powered benches at a projected cost of $1.45 million, depending on advertising revenue from digital kiosks. This will increase the public’s access to free WiFi service at places such as pavilions, community centers, and playgrounds. Solar benches will be equipped with sensors that collect data or provide information on pedestrian traffic, all without gathering personal data.

The pilot digital kiosks program will allow residents to access information on City services, current events, local business information, local history, and entertainment at a cost that ranges from zero to $875,000. The final cost depends on the portion of revenue the City will collect, with the City receiving more revenue in exchange for a higher upfront City investment. Once it receives proposals, the City will conduct a cost-benefit analysis. The kiosks, projected for installment in late 2017, also can serve as WiFi hot spots and collect data on user travel patterns to help drive City decisions on lighting, directions, and traffic patterns.

Transportation

The pilot San Antonio Traveler Real-Time Information Portal (SATRIP) project, budgeted at $2.8 million, will implement integrated transportation technologies that gather real-time traffic data and include a pedestrian detection system in pedestrian crosswalks and notifications of low water crossings. The integrated set of technologies will be implemented starting in August and completed by April 2018.

Sustainability

The $1 million LED streetlights will increase public safety in District 5, with the addition of more than 1,100 streetlights that also save energy and reduce costs, to be installed by the end of September.

The $100,000 drones for the San Antonio Fire Department will enhance fire and EMS rescue operations with better visibility when responding to calls for service as well as improving safety for first responders. They are slated for implementation by August.

Solar-powered, Bluetooth-enabled cameras (for $100,000) to be installed by early summer at 10 chronic illegal dumping sites across San Antonio will be used to deter the illegal practice.

The smart city innovations should have immediate impact on the lives of San Antonio residents once they are in place.

The benefits go far beyond the immediate for city residents. San Antonio is actively engaged with Envision America, a new nationwide nonprofit that challenges U.S. cities to become smarter with the accelerated deployment of innovative technologies. The City also is working with other cities in Texas as part of the Smart Texas Revolution Summit, a partnership with cities, state entities, and other stakeholders to develop San Antonio priorities as part of a statewide “smart cities” innovation strategy.

“Smart cities is about using technology to serve our San Antonio residents better by making government more accessible and convenient,” De La Cruz said. “Additionally, part of our strategy is to be a part of the national and regional conversations on smart cities. Taking part in programs like Envision America and the Smart Texas Revolution Summit allows us to promote the collaborative work happening in our city and be an industry leader for smart cities.”

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