Aug 02 2016

San Jose, Calif., Is Building a Culture of Innovation

In an effort to provide better services to citizens and stay ahead of the curve, the city is dedicating resources to fueling its perpetual innovation.

When people think of the heart of Silicon Valley-style innovation and technology leadership, most are inclined to look toward San Francisco. But San Jose, Calif., which is part of the Bay Area and this pocket of tech innovation in Northern California and is in fact the largest city in the region, is blazing a trail that other cities may want to follow.

Namely, San Jose has dedicated significant resources and effort to building a culture that continually uses processes and technologies to drive innovation in its city.

In a recent guest column on Governing, Shireen Santosham, San Jose’s chief innovation officer, detailed the city’s perspective on innovation as she described its efforts to close the Digital Divide — the lack of access to technology for low-income populations.

“Using technology to improve services is imperative to the future of San Jose and other cities. As a gateway for immigrants to an American middle class — nearly 40 percent of our adult residents were born in another country — San Jose has an opportunity to pilot the technologies that will ensure that all of our residents benefit from internet access while simultaneously serving as a model for other cities,” she said.

Santosham isn’t the only leader in the city focused on using tech to drive efficiencies and excellence. At the end of June, the city named a new CIO, Rob Lloyd, who previously served as CIO of Avondale, Ariz. As he steps into the role, he’ll manage a “$21 million budget and 83 employees,” according to Government Technology.

Achieving a Smart City Vision

Like many cities, San Jose has bought into the Smart City ideal. As the pitch goes, in a world where technology helps to better connect citizens and communities, everyone’s lives can be greatly improved.

San Jose has actually taken the time to plot out its Smart City Vision, which includes building a safer, more inclusive city. And in July the city took its efforts in innovation even further by announcing it was building an entire department, called the Office of Civic Innovation, dedicated to innovating services, processes and technologies for the city. Why set up an entirely separate department for innovation? Because innovation has to be someone’s full-time job, not just a part-time hobby.

"We'll never have enough resources to do everything our community wants and deserves so that means we must create and support an organizational culture that thrives on innovation and data that can help us find better ways to get the job done," said San Jose City Manager Norberto Duenas in the announcement.

Two hires are leading this newly formed office: Kip Harkness, deputy city manager, and Steven DiNoto, director of civic innovation and digital strategies. The department will work closely with Rob Lloyd on using technology “to enhance the quality and efficiency of city operations,” reports Government Technology.

If San Jose’s model and approach to innovation prove successful, the blueprint is definitely one that other cities may want to adopt. As for DiNoto, he believes the city is stronger and better poised to achieve its goals with the Office of Civic Innovation in place.

“I'm impressed by San Jose's strong commitment to innovation and new ideas, and I am looking forward to rejoining the city in this new role,” DiNoto said. “The city's long-term focus on quality, strategy and continuous improvement is clearly strengthened by the creation of the Office of Civic Innovation.”


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