Honesty and trust are the keys to mobilizing smart cities, according to chief technology officers (CTOs) from around the country.

Overpromising vendors and vague government agencies result in unsatisfactory relationships, according to Archana Vemulapalli, chief technology officer of the District of Columbia, who spoke at the Smart Cities Week panel on Sept. 28. She said that vendors frequently paint a picture of success that does not align with what a government agency needs. Making goals clear from the outset of discussions is the way to avoid unfulfilled deals, Vemulapalli said.

“On the government side, it’s really important we define our problems. We have an ownership and responsibility of making sure we police our requirements well,” Vemulapalli said. “On the vendor side, honesty is required. Please do not walk into any of our offices and tell us you’re doing this out of the goodness of your heart, because if you are, you’d all be out of business. You are in business to make money and that’s a good thing. Our requirements for success are completely different. My goal is to connect the unconnected.”

CTOs also stressed the importance of seeking partnerships with a variety of entities. Seattle hosts 55 lines of business, according to Michael Mattmiller, the city’s CTO. Mattmiller said the population of his city increased by 50,000 people in the past five years, and will grow by another 120,000 in the next 20 years. He said that 75 percent of the people moving to Seattle for work have taken jobs in the technology sector, and that the city is using smart tech to brace for the influx of people.

Technological innovation is often a matter of partnerships among academia, local government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, according to Mattmilller. One such tech project is RainWatch, a partnership between the University of Washington and Seattle Public Utilities that provides hyperlocal weather alerts for the area, which is famous for its rain.

“The public has to trust tech projects,” Mattmiller said. “We can find ways to get them engaged.  We can come up with really robust ideas at the platform level. If a solution does a really great job for Seattle, we have ways to work together and help everyone be successful.”


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