Digital transformation is more than just a buzzword, and it's got some real-life enterprise support. A report by Tech Pro Research found that 70 percent of companies either have a digital transformation strategy in place or are working on one. Further, IT digital transformation budgets increased from 2016 to 2017 for 53 percent of survey respondents.

Digital transformation projects that succeed are usually an enterprise-wide effort “best served by a leader with broad organizational purview,” according to the latest “State of Digital Transformation” report by Altimeter, a Prophet company. CIOs mostly own or sponsor digital transformation initiatives (28 percent), with CEOs increasingly playing a leadership role (23 percent). Why are companies transforming digitally? Growth opportunities (51 percent) and increased competitive pressure (41 percent) are the top reasons, according to recent Altimeter research.

Governments Want to Get Smart

Government entities are also under pressure to innovate digitally. It can be seen all the way up to the highest office in the United States, with presidential candidates also capitalizing. The same applies for cities across the country. 

Kansas City, Mo. launched its smart city initiative 3 years ago, a $15 million public-private partnership that includes collaboration with tech companies Cisco, Sprint and Think Big Partners. The city has called a 2-mile stretch of road the Kansas City Smart City Corridor. It gives residents access to free public Wi-Fi, smart street lights, smart traffic signals and interactive kiosks.

Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer (CIO) for Kansas City, told ZDNet at the CES 2018 that the city has one of the largest test fleets of connected vehicles in the country. Our Q&A with Bennett (below) is the first in a series of stories talking to technology leaders in government entities about how they serve their constituents as they embark on their digital transformations.

Related Article: 4 Digital Transformation Hacks

Artificial Intelligence in the Digital Workplace

Headshot of Kansas City Chief Innovation Officer Bob Bennett
Bob Bennett

CMSWire: What technologies are you looking to learn more about/potentially infuse into the digital workplace in your role? 

Bennett: We released an RFP detailing five projects that we want to accomplish. These projects involve several technologies from public Wi-Fi to analysis platforms to a modification of existing Advanced Metering Infrastructure use cases. It’s more important to me that we focus on people problems that the city faces; in our case the priority for solving those is articulated in our annual five-year business plan.

CMSWire: Do you see artificial intelligence (AI) being implemented into your digital workplace, and, if yes, how so? Or is it already being implemented?

Bennett: Yes. We currently use AI on our Xaqt data analysis platform, which has completed several analyses for city staff since we first brought the firm on board in 2017. Right now, they are working on bot technology that will be integrated into our 311 Center to better track, manage and predict future citizen issues that require city action. 

A slide showing examples of Kansas City's data analytics use cases with the xaqt platform.

Related Article: Adit Moskovitch: Use Analytics in a More Meaningful Way Throughout the Digital Workplace 

Focusing on ‘People Problems’

CMSWire: What would you say is your No. 1 technical challenge internally for your organization, and how do you plan to address it on in 2019? 

Bennett: Our challenge is not technological. We continue to focus on “people problems.” As part of our Smart City initiatives, we simply use technologically advanced tools to solve those problems. As per both the RFP and our business plan, we are focusing a great deal of effort in 2019 in storm-water management.

CMSWire: What are some cool things your organization is doing for citizens?

Learning Opportunities

Young boy interacting with a kiosk provided by the city of Kansas City.
A young boy interacting with a kiosk provided by the city of Kansas City.

Bennett: The public Wi-Fi is considered cool by many of our citizens. To that end, we are working with the KC Area Transit Authority to continue to grow the number of blocks that have public Wi-Fi available. They are updating their bus shelters and integrating our information kiosks (Smart City Media is the provider) into the structure of the shelter itself. These kiosks will have a Wi-Fi access point included internally; this will expand our footprint of connected space from the 54 blocks along the streetcar line to about another 180 blocks along Main Street, Troost Avenue and Prospect Avenue. This effort will take about two years to complete. 

CMSWire: In my role as CIO/chief tech executive, I would like to have more ...

Bennett: ... National policy/departmental support of the Smart City expansion. When the federal government built the interstate system in the '50s, the states and national government collaborated. Our citizens expect connectivity now, and the federal government is making things more difficult through the actions of the FCC or simply expecting us to develop coherent policy that transcends our city boundaries by consensus and goodwill among city CIOs. The federal government seems to have forgotten how to do a project that was revolutionary and successful.

CMSWire: In my role as CIO/chief tech executive, I would like to have less ... 

Bennett: … unsolicited sales calls that focus only on technology. If a company wants to sell something to a city, do the research, understand our problems and help us solve them. Don’t try to sell me a widget I don’t need; the sales person that does that is wasting both our time.

CMSWire: How would you say the role of CIO has changed from  years ago to today? 

Bennett: Things are more focused on partnership experiences vs. transactional deals.

CMSWire: What's one past achievement in IT you're particularly proud of and why? 

Bennett: When we lost the Department of Transportation Smart City Challenge (Kansas City was a top-seven finalist for the “Smart City Challenge” grant offered by the US Department of Transportation), we rebounded by identifying the potential power of integrated data analysis, funding the work and deploying it. As a result, we now better understand our community. 

Our partnership with Avis is a good example of how we integrated data across platforms. We are excited to partner with Avis to explore how data will impact ground transportation in the 21st Century. We are learning how cars will function with respect to autonomy or connectivity in society by virtue of this test. Avis will learn how their potential customer base functions in an increasingly connected environment. Both of us gain from the partnership.