A year in review: Building the City of Syracuse’ first Digital Services team
Driving the foundation for digital infrastructure in New York’s Flagship Smart City.
It was nearly a year ago that our Common Council approved a 56% increase in the IT budget, citing one of the largest investments that fiscal year, and a go-forward for me to start building out the inaugural Digital Services team.
Up to that point, I had spent an entire year caucusing and rallying for an approach to technology that was still seen as “disruptive” for local government. My message was pretty clear — let’s focus on building a different type of technology team focused on rapid digital transformation for internal/back-office functions and external City services. And let’s do it with an equitable lens in building a talent pipeline. Government hiring should be equitable and this team needed to be of the community, for the community. Oh — and by the way, we’ll build better digital services because of that.
The rhetoric that followed me varied from excitement and complete buy-in and support to comments that it was “impossible” for government to attract tech talent, “especially people that want to live in the City.” After some time I realized that the doubt from others was merely just a combination of mild confusion, anxiety, and fascination. Like many other times in my life, I finally got to the point where I just quietly laughed to myself and said “ha…okay…watch this.”
By January 2022, I had filled almost every seat on the roster (6, plus myself, and 2 interns in the Spring ’22 Semester) through a combination of recruiting from a local coding bootcamp (Careers in Code), establishing NYS Registered Apprenticeship pathway through MACNY (the first Software Engineering Apprentice in CNY), recruiting recent graduates from Syracuse University, where I taught in both the undergraduate Maxwell and iSchool programs, or simply aggressively asking around, posting on LinkedIn, and reaching out to people directly.
During that time, we have also accomplished the following:
- Established a three-year (FY22-FY24) Digital Services Strategic Plan
- Implemented an electronic scheduling system to enable electronic timecards for nearly 600+ employees at Syracuse Police Department
- Created 9 new application types for online permitting with the leadership of our Central Permits Office
- Deployed enterprise project management and process mapping software
- Facilitated the development and execution of a modern web platform under the vision of the Communications and Marketing Department
- Digitized the hiring requisition process through use of DocuSign for HR
- Facilitated product meetings with vendors to make UI/UX feature improvements to the platform (yes — our recommended features made their way to all cities that use the system)
- Supported the configuration and pilot roll-out of MWBE contract compliance software
- Scoped an approach to enterprise work order and asset management, which will enable cross-functional collaboration for our operations departments (water, DPW, parks)
- Initiated and supported program management for massive, multi-year enterprise transformations (payroll modernization, HR <> finance transformation, and a migration to Office 365)
- Adopted a product management framework for ongoing digital change
- Enabled our most critical workers — administrative aids and support staff — to be the change agents for digital transformation
And we have such a long way to go — but I have the best team, hands down. It’s been an amazing, exhausting, challenging, beautiful ride. I would not change it for the world.