The CIO's Role in a Smart City

New Technologies

The author says in this article that transforming a city into smart city is not only a technological change but also a strategic change. Experienced in preparing plans for smart cities and working with CIOs in various countries, Ben-Ari considers that a good Chief Information Officer is basic for the future of an intelligent city.

My experience in preparing plans for smart cities and working with CIOs in various countries has taught me an important lesson about the key role played by municipal CIOs. (CIO – Chief Information Officer).

Until a decade ago, the main role of a municipality’s CIO was purchasing computers, taking care of Internet connections, purchasing software and communication systems for each department, and dealing with the operation and maintenance of computers, software and communication systems. Each department had its own internal system that connected (or did not connect) with other departments. With the arrival of smartphones, the CIO was asked also to take care of purchasing mobile phones and assure that the systems, including the e-mail account of every municipality employee, remained accessible and operated over smartphones as well.


The status of the CIO in most business organizations worldwide was upgraded, but not for the municipal ones


With the development of technology and the increasing use of information systems and smartphones, cyber threats and information security also increased. The CIO's role also evolved, and his/her responsibility expanded to include information security, including protection against intrusion threats and data theft.

In recent years, the level of a CIO’s professional responsibility has increased. The CIO is responsible for collecting and storing all of the city’s information, analyzing it and making it available to decision-makers, as well as to residents and the city’s business partners. Despite this, the status of municipal CIOs has not increased much at all. In most authorities, the CIO is, at best, a department manager who is subordinate to an administration manager; he/she does not participate in the municipality’s management meetings.

However, during the last decade, with the development of technology in business organizations and the introduction of intelligent information systems such as ERP, CRM, BI and other smart operating systems –the status of the CIO in most business organizations in Israel and worldwide was upgraded. An increasing number of CIOs have become members of the senior team around those CEOs who understand the great importance of a professional CIO, one who is familiar with the organization's strategy and is a partner in all decisions.

In today’s competitive business world, an organization that does not use advanced information systems, that is unable to translate information into knowledge quickly and make decisions in real time, loses its chances to persist over time, and would probably disappear within a few years. Competition among organizations for consumers is enormous. The more sophisticated an organization is, the more wisely it uses information and operates technology in production systems and for strengthening customer relationships, while conserving resources (such as energy and labor) – the greater its chances of beating competitors and surviving.


For an optimal use of information technology, the status of municipal CIOs should be enhanced: be a member of the management, subordinate to the CEO


Cities as business 

Smart cities compete on residents and businesses. On the one hand, a smart city wants to bring and preserve more businesses, to increase business activity and the municipality’s income, to improve services for residents and their quality of life. On the other hand, a smart city wants to attract new residents, while helping current residents to grow and sustain living systems in the city. Each city competes for businesses and residents, and each must take advantage of its knowledge resources and technology to create a competitive advantage vis-a-vis other cities, just like in the business world.


Smart city

Transforming a city into smart city is not only a technological change but also a strategic change. It means changing the thinking of the city's leadership regarding the use of ICT technologies for efficient use of resources, energy and cost savings, and improving services. In addition, ICT technology enables reducing damage to the environment, while increasing innovation, economic activity and employment among local residents.

In order to enable optimal use of information technology, the status of municipal CIOs should be upgraded – he/she should be a member of the municipal management, subordinate to the municipality CEO. As a result, the CIOs professional status will receive better professional recognition. Participation by the CIO in the ongoing running of the city, together with other members of the municipality management, will improve the city's management and will connect all the management’s members to the technology, information, needs and opportunities that exist in the city. This will boost the city's progress toward becoming a smarter city.


The many benefits of using technologies and the existing information should lead to a process of upgrading the status of municipal CIOs


In order to attract good professionals in the technology sphere to municipalities, they should be given good pay and appropriate status, because good technology people are highly sought after by the private sector, and municipalities generally cannot match the benefits and status that corporations provide to their CIOs.

For the sake of smarter cities and of a smarter country, I hope that mayors, the ministers responsible for the structural and organizational processes within the municipalities, and members of the leadership of the local government, will internalize the technological revolution that is taking place among us. I hope they will realize the opportunities for transforming cities into smarter cities. I also hope that the many benefits of using technologies and the existing information will lead to a process of upgrading the status of municipal CIOs, and to promoting these essential officials to becoming part of municipal management. Good luck!

By Uri Ben-Ari *


*Uri Ben-Ari is a senior consultant in the field of smart cities, and is leading several cities in Israel in their transformation into becoming smarter cities. He is also a member of the smart cities team at the Israel Ministry of Defense, which was established to transform new military bases into smarter cities. Ben-Ari previously served as a senior manager at Ness Technologies and Internet Gold Group, and he participated in two NASDAQ IPOs. Ben-Ari is also a social entrepreneur, and he is the founder and president of the Athena Fund and the Laptop for Every Teacher in Israel program.



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