How Innovative Technology Keeps Riverside Reinventing

by Lea Deesing

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The City of Riverside, California, is a tech-savvy metropolis with more than 305,000 residents. The city was recently awarded the Intelligent Community of the Year Award, as well as multiple Best of the Web honors, an Emerald City Award for environmental efficiency and the Helen Putnam Award for technology advances.

Ideas are everywhere in Riverside. City leaders regularly meet with community groups and partners looking for ways to make Riverside a better place. Suggestions come in from every angle, which makes my job a lot easier. And we act on them, which makes my job rewarding.

Riverside articleOf course, Riverside has always been known for change and growth. It started in 1873 when Eliza Tibbets planted a seedless orange tree that helped jump-start the California citrus industry. As years passed, houses cropped up where groves once stood and technology became as prominent as orange blossoms. To remain competitive, Riverside was forced to reinvent itself. And we did—as the City of Arts and Innovation.

Today, we are recognized for the growth of new ideas. In fact, we recently received the Intelligent Community of the Year Award from the Intelligent Community Forum, a think tank focused on the economic and social development of the 21st century community.

The award recognizes communities that use technology to “chart new paths to lasting prosperity for citizens, businesses and institutions.” For Riverside, that means continually reinforcing our reinvention.

Narrowing the Digital Divide
Our core effort is SmartRiverside, a community initiative with four components. The first is free Wi-Fi that covers almost 80% of the developed city. Residents have easy access to the Internet; downtown merchants have a tool for attracting customers.

Second is our Digital Inclusion Program. We’ve given out about seven thousand computers to families earning less than forty-five thousand a year. This narrows our city’s digital divide and enables low-income families to improve their education, communication and quality of life.

We also have an E-Waste Collection Site. We collect computer systems and either refurbish them for distribution through the Inclusion program or deliver them to a third-party who gives us credits toward new equipment that we deploy to the public for free.

Perhaps our most rewarding achievement is our gang deterrence program. Gang members are taught to refurbish computers through city-sponsored internships. In some cases, these young adults are homeless or facing jail time. We’re their last chance. Instead of facing a questionable future, they’re developing new skills, earning a living and giving speeches with our mayor. It’s incredible to watch their progress.

Finally, we have a High Technology Tenant Improvement Program that fosters business relationships by providing grants to emerging technology companies. This enables us to tap into the latest innovations and help drive them.

A Street-Smart Approach to Graffiti and Potholes
We’re passionate about putting mobile advances in our citizens’ hands (literally). For example, we developed a smartphone app that lets residents photograph graffiti and forward the image and GPS location to our 311 call center. The information is sent to Riverside’s public works and police departments, who have already collected more than $200,000 in restitution.

Similar apps are being used to capture potholes, trash and other code violations. We even have an app for exploring Mother Nature. If you’re in one of our parks and come upon a bug or plant you don’t recognize, you can snap a photo, send it to a museum curator and learn what you’re looking at. It’s a great tool for classrooms and individual nature lovers.

Accelerating Innovation with Visionary Partners
Riverside’s innovations wouldn’t be possible without strong technology partners. And here’s the surprising part—we outsource virtually our entire IT department. Of the 50 people in IT, 43 are Xerox employees. By outsourcing a large percentage of our workforce, we gain a whole new level of flexibility.

If we need to temporarily add staff or leverage vanguard systems without development costs, we can. Collaborating with the right partners keeps us agile, cost-efficient and competitive. It also lets us offload nonessential tasks, so we can focus on strategy, mission, and vision, and then gather the resources necessary to deliver on them in innovative new ways.

I also value our partners’ external perspectives. For example, we didn’t realize we were spending over a million dollars a year on printing until a Xerox audit. Once we had empirical evidence of our costs, we could make decisions based on facts, not guesses.

In addition, we implemented print governance measures, providing users with cost-effective default settings and promoting smarter choices. For instance, employees about to print something might receive a message saying that they can save X amount of money by using both sides of the paper (which helps our green initiative).

Through our reinvented print operations, we are saving almost $200,000 a year, the equivalent of two to three full-time employees. Managed Print Services are a critical piece of our outsourcing model—and our success.

We’re All Innovators
When colleagues ask for advice, I tell them that the key to innovation is management buy-in. Get senior leaders excited and on board early, then collaborate on decisions and solutions.

After that, it’s a matter of running the numbers and deciding which partner is the obvious choice. It’s also important to continue drawing on management, employees, constituents and partners. Because everyone has the potential to be an innovator. And that’s what’s so exciting.

Lea Deesing is the Chief Innovation Officer of the City of Riverside, CA


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