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Q&A: Chicago’s New CIO, Danielle DuMerer

Brenna Berman stepped down in May from her role as Chicago’s CIO, after serving in the position for more than six years. Last week Chicago’s City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s appointment of Danielle DuMerer as CIO.

Danielle DuMerer serves as Chicago’s CIO. (Photo: Smart Chicago)

DuMerer has been with the City of Chicago for nearly 10 years and most recently served as its chief technology officer. Throughout her time with the city, DuMerer has worked to make the city government government more effective, efficient, and innovative.

“Brenna’s contributions moved the city forward and established Chicago as a leading Smart City,” said Emanuel. “I am confident that Danielle will continue Chicago’s leadership in government technology while improving the lives of residents.”

In an interview with 21st Century State & Local, DuMerer discussed her work with the city of Chicago and her vision for its future.

21st Century State & Local: Can you tell us a little bit about the day-to-day of your job?

Danielle DuMerer: Every Monday morning our leadership team kicks off the week together discussing our top three priorities for the week and what assistance we might need from one another. We check in again on Wednesday and Friday mornings.

I regularly have meetings with staff, vendors, and leadership from other departments. Some of these are at a regular cadence to ensure that our team is in sync with other service delivery departments like procurement, law, and budget; as well as departments that have a lot of active IT projects and programs. In all cases, these check-ins are important to ensuring that we are working together to accomplish mayoral and departmental priorities, and so we can allocate our limited resources appropriately.

On Thursday afternoons, I have drop-in office hours with an open invitation to everyone on our team.

I also regularly engage with community members and other governments to better understand the needs of our residents, share the work we are doing in Chicago, or learn from great work being done elsewhere.

21C: Of the projects and initiatives that you have worked on, which are you most proud of?

DD: I started with the city in 2008, so there are several. I have been actively engaged in digital inclusion efforts from the time I joined the city, and I was fortunate to lead the city’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant-funded programs, which invested $21 million to expand public access to broadband and digital skills training both citywide and in several Smart Communities. The latter program was designed to leverage technology to achieve community goals while also addressing multiple barriers to technology access and use, including cost, skills, and relevance.

I have my master’s degree in library and information sciences. I was drawn to that profession because I feel it’s imperative that we preserve and provide easy access to records. So I am particularly proud of being the city’s first open data program manager from the portal’s launch and until late 2012. We released over 400 data sets on data.cityofchicago.org during that time frame, and implemented automated processes to ensure program sustainability.

21C: What projects is your office currently working on?

DD: I’m excited to continue to work on a number of Smart Cities initiatives–both with the University of Chicago and Argonne National Lab to deploy the Array of Things (AoT) throughout the city–and with City Digital at UI LABS. AoT is an urban sensing project, funded by the National Science Foundation, which is deploying a network of interactive, modular sensor boxes around Chicago to collect real-time data on the city’s environment, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use. AoT serves as a “fitness tracker” or “Fitbit” for the city, measuring factors that impact livability in Chicago, including temperature, barometric pressure, light, vibration, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, noise, pedestrian and vehicle traffic, and surface temperature. Data collected will be posted on the city’s data portal and researchers, policymakers, developers and residents can all use this information to support urban policy, planning, and design.

We are also getting ready to kick off the modernization of Chicago’s 311 system. Our goal is to improve our residents’ experience interacting with government, including by providing multiple channels to access services and information–text, social media, and mobile applications. We will work directly with users–residents, city staff, City Council, and other stakeholders–to ensure that the system is accessible and easy to use. Further, by integrating 311 with connected, sensing technologies, we can create a responsive and transparent system that improves our residents’ interactions and experience with government. For example, thanks to the deployment of a citywide lighting management system through the Chicago Smart Lighting project, we will be able to automatically identify a street light outage, create a ticket in 311, and allow residents to track that issue through to resolution through multiple avenues.

21C: Digital equity is a key concern for Chicago. What is your team doing to address digital inequality across Chicago residents?

DD: Chicago has a long history of working across sectors to address issues related to digital equity.  The Smart Chicago Collaborative manages the Connect Chicago program, which has supported the expansion of citywide training initiatives like the Library’s CyberNavigator program.

Companies like Google, Cisco, and Everywhere Wireless have also provided free wireless services in Chicago parks and beaches.

The city has also implemented new programs as the costs of solutions have come down. For example, at the Chicago Public Library, the Internet to Go program allows residents to check out laptops and hot spots and take them home. Paired with one-on-one CyberNavigator digital skills training, this approach provides the resident with more flexibility and allows them to keep practicing their skills outside of the library’s walls and hours.

21C: What is the greatest tech challenge facing cities today?

DD: Cities’ greatest challenges are related to sustainability and quality of life. Technology can be a tool to help address some of these challenges. However, we have to balance investments in new technologies with investments in human and physical infrastructure. To help us strike that balance, the city pilots many new technologies before thinking about bringing them to scale. We are the test bed for research and development for UI LABS’s City Digital–working with their cross-partners to co-develop solutions to urban infrastructure challenges.

21C: Chicago has become a tech hub in the last few years, from the 1871 incubator to Groupon and Uber maintaining offices in the city. How does your office work with the local tech community?

DD: Our staff regularly attend chihacknight, which is Chicago’s weekly civic technology meetup where technologists, community members, and government come together to learn and work on developing solutions that address community needs or concerns.

We also participate in ChicagoNext, World Business Chicago’s initiative to drive growth and opportunity in Chicago’s technology community, governed by a council of industry leaders.

Finally, we attend and speak at many local technology-related events, speaking about our work at the city and learning from others in the community.

21C: Any advice for city CIOs in less tech-focused cities?

DD: Focus on your users—how do residents want to interact with government? What would make it easier for city employees to deliver services? Use the data you already collect to improve performance or proactively deliver services. You can also often address several needs with only a few open and flexible platforms.

Look for partners in and out of government with whom you can collaborate. By publishing the City’s Tech Plan, we found that many organizations and individuals were interested in helping to achieve the mayor’s vision of Chicago as a city where technology fuels opportunity, inclusion, engagement, and innovation.

Also, leverage what others have done before you, and then build where your strengths and interests lie. Chicago has a Github site where we share code for a number of projects. We also identify opportunities to implement projects from other cities as well.

Kate DeNardi
About Kate DeNardi
Kate DeNardi is 21st Century State & Local's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs
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