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Bolstering the Public through Smart Technology

Jennifer Gallagher, Director, Department of Public Service, City of Columbus
Jennifer Gallagher, Director, Department of Public Service, City of Columbus

Jennifer Gallagher, Director, Department of Public Service, City of Columbus

I’m not a CIO, at least not in the traditional sense. My official title is Director of Public Service, but I am definitely a “Chief Infrastructure Officer.” Hundreds of thousands of drivers, riders, rollers, and pedestrians use our city’s transportation infrastructure every day. As the director responsible for mobility infrastructure in the country’s 14th largest city, my team and I are constantly working to serve our city’s nearly one million residents. We are responsible for addressing safety issues and responding to residents and businesses infrastructure needs. And as America’s Smart City, we are called upon to incorporate intelligence into our business operations.

We’ve watched data management transition from a static asset management position to managing new mobility like scooters and providing trip planning services through applications like the Smart Columbus Pivot application. We all have information pushed to us in near real-time. Our customers–our residents, businesses, and visitors–are seeking the same type of information to travel, to park, to understand what project will happen when and where. Technology and data are transforming how, and how frequently, we communicate with our residents and stakeholders.

 With our “push” news culture, our department is seeking to empower residents to find the information they need in accessible and transparent ways 

The Department of Public Service provides a diverse portfolio of services. We collect refuse from more than 340,000 households weekly, manage traffic and parking as well as maintain roadway assets for the millions of people who travel to and through our city every year–all services visible to our residents. We are also Snow Warriors, standing ready throughout winter to ensure our streets are treated for snow and ice and can be safely traveled throughout our city.

As we continue to grow as a region and adapt to change during this pandemic, we are leveraging finite resources to do the work we have always done. With our “push” news culture, our department is seeking to empower residents to find the information they need in accessible and transparent ways.

One of our department’s first forays into using technology to provide visibility into our operations was Warrior Watch. We developed the system to share on our website the progress our Snow Warriors make as they service city streets during a winter weather event. Warrior Watch is an example of the transparency that government continues to strive toward so our residents can easily see how we serve them.

While the impacts of COVID-19 have not been the singular driver for innovation in our department, they have created a sense of urgency to improve processes, update or improve systems, and manage our assets. We are implementing a performance-based asset management program to support our decision making, collecting more data on our physical assets as well as using data analytics to be more targeted in our investments. It is my view that post COVID will look very different from pre COVID, in our reliance on technology and data. It is my goal that our City, utilizing Asset Management Principles and supported by good data, will become more intelligent about our infrastructure so that we can become smarter with our resources.

Part of being America’s Smart City is looking at all facets of transportation in a new way.Today, our department recognizes that municipal parking operations are no longer just about providing parking spaces and collecting meter revenue. These operations now include critical curb management. A multitude of new mobility solutions as well as traditional needs are vying for limited curb lane space in our urban neighborhoods. The advent and expansion of on-demand delivery and ride share, along with traditional freight and parcel delivery, has made us rethink how we manage the curb. This demand is compounded by the parking needs generated in our mixed-use neighborhoods where residents, visitors and employees search for limited parking.

To mitigate this demand and increase options for our customers, we’ve turned to asset-light and contactless payment and permit solutions. And as our transportation system moves to an electric future, we are partnering with the private sector to implement highly visible and accessible electric vehicle charging stations. Harnessing the value of our curb lane and rights of way will position Columbus well for the future of parking and mobility.

During the pandemic, we have been called upon to continue to deliver essential services, innovate and think about doing our work with even greater efficiency of resources. As I think about the future, I think a bit about my past. I have had a long career in public service, and I have learned from those before me how to do the job. As a public servant, it’s my responsibility to continuously evaluate our operations and assess how technology can play a useful role. It should work for those who use it and serve as a tool to deliver the necessary services, evaluate performance, manage budgets, and provide insights and transparency for city leaders and residents.

As I reflect on how my role–and the role of other public servants–has evolved over the course of my career, I see more leaders who must incorporate the traits of a traditional CIO into their thinking. As we manage our service delivery, technology and data have become critical to effective operations. As I execute my Chief Infrastructure Officer role, I am perpetually challenged to ensure that the “I” in CIO also reflects innovation.

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