The Center for Digital Government (CDG) today announced the 2016 Digital Cities Survey winners. The annual survey, now in its 15th year, honors cities that use tech to improve citizen services, enhance transparency, and encourage citizen engagement.

“This year’s top digital cities are using technology to ensure citizens can meaningfully interact with city government more easily than in any other time in history,” said Todd Sander, executive director of the Center for Digital Government. “From open data portals to enhanced connectivity and mobile platforms, this year’s top-ranked cities are actively promoting transparency, encouraging citizen participation and making it easier for people to do business with government. Congratulations to the winners!”

Among the winners, common tech goals emerged. On the top of nearly ever winner’s list was becoming more open, with open government, open data, and citizen engagement initiatives. With the push to become more open, cities were also focusing on strengthening their digital infrastructure. Additionally,  bringing in network security measures, often on par with those of the Federal government, was a top focus.

The honored cities are broken up into five population classifications: 500,000 or more; 250,000 to 499,999; 125,000 to 249,999; 75,000 to 124,999; and fewer than 75,000.

This year’s first-place winners are:

Los Angeles 

L.A. is using open data technology to connect with its 4 million residents. Recently, the city debuted an extensive open data portal to help citizens and businesses use city data. The city also recently launched multiple open data-based partnerships and projects, including a partnership involving 11 universities that are helping the city analyze its data and make recommendations on how LA can become a “smarter” city.

“For most residents, city government is not foremost on their mind,” said Ted Ross, general manager and CIO of the city’s Information Technology Agency. “However, city services are often very important to them. For us, digital is the means to engage and serve our community–and we try to do this in a variety of different ways. We believe in promoting openness through open data; we believe in mobile and providing access to citizen services anytime, anywhere; and we want to be focused and energetic in applying technology to make life better for the average Angeleno.”

Virginia Beach, Va.

This past January, Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms declared 2016 the “Year of Connectivity.” That effort includes installing a next-generation fiber optic network to connect nearly 60 government facilities. Additionally, after the completion of the new network, the city will no longer have annual lease line costs that were nearing $500,000 per year.

“As the data consumption rate grows exponentially year after year, it increases our costs year after year,” said Virginia Beach CIO Matthew Arvay. “We therefore put together an approach to invest in our own fiber-optic network to connect facilities at a data rate needed to conduct government business, as well as to avoid what we estimated would be about a half-million dollars a year in increased operational spend.”

Durham, N.C.

The city’s strategic planning leadership team works to align IT and other initiatives to the City Strategic Plan goal of an “Innovative and High Performing Organization.” For example, the city implemented an innovative enterprisewide IT Governance model to provide effective IT portfolio management; and the city’s new website received a Best of the Web award for excellence.

The city has also been focused on open government and open data initiatives. Durham recently implemented new cloud-based platforms that offer mobile access to city services and information, as well as a citizen engagement initiative,“City Hall on the Go.” The new initiative is a Wi-Fi-enabled truck that takes city services to neighborhoods and city events.

Roanoke, Va.

As with its sister city Virginia Beach, Roanoke is focused on improving tech infrastructure. The city recently upgraded its fiber backbone, enabling the city to move data faster and enhance online government services. The city is also expanding fiber to libraries, with an emphasis on those in underserved, socio-economically challenged neighborhoods. This fiber expansion helps provide free community Internet access and helps shrink the digital divide.

“We saw that as an opportunity to expand high-speed services beyond the city campus to our libraries–particularly those in underserved, socio-economically challenged neighborhoods ,” said Roy Mentkow, Roanoke’s director of technology. “I think that is something that is very exciting to be a part of, to help break down that digital divide within our city.”

Roanoke is no stranger to the Digital Cities Survey winners list; it has ranked in the survey’s top 10 every year and has placed first seven times.

Tamarac, Fla.

Tamarac has been ahead of its time since the 1990s, having used fiber to connect city departments since 1997. The city also knows that technology must be updated frequently or else it will become obsolete. Over the last 20 years, the city has upgraded its network to ensure it meets the evolving technology needs of the community. The city also has a top-notch cybersecurity program in place that utilizes Federal standards.

“We want to make all our services available through the city’s website and provide a level of mobility to our workforce so they can accommodate services no matter where they are,” said Levent Sucuoglu, Tamarac’s director of Information Technology. “Everything we do now is geared to moving toward that more mobile environment.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs