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IT Leaders Define Innovation, Digital Transformation

Los Angeles County's chief information officer and the city's chief data officer spoke in a webinar about the practical meanings and applications of "digital transformation" -- and how vendors can play a role.

IT leaders from Los Angeles city and county governments were among the participants in a virtual “mobility and digital transformation” roundtable conversation last week and, despite their different missions and constituencies, agreed on a couple of key takeaways:

Data and technology are vastly more valuable when their creators and their users are nimble and able to adapt quickly to change. That’s the key to digital transformation, said the city’s new chief data officer, Jeanne Holm.

Government must “redefine its relationship to the IT industry,” said Bill Kehoe, the county’s chief information officer, so the private sector plays a bigger role in devising solutions rather than simply responding to government technologists’ prescribed solutions.

“People often think about mobility as the movement of people and goods,” Holm said.” In cities, that makes a lot of sense. But I actually think that it also includes movement of data and ideas. How do we make that happen? … When we think about digital innovation, it’s really the ability to harness data and technology together to improve the ability for people to thrive in a way that’s ethical and respects data privacy.”

Holm indicated the key to using data in a useful way is “this ability to urgently and very quickly make fundamental changes, and watch the aspects of behavior change from the people who live and work in the city, and really understanding what motivates people and how to communicate with them.” She said sociology also plays a role in the use of technology.

“We do a lot of sentiment analysis on social media to understand what messages are effective with folks, and what people are asking about,” she said, “so we can modify the policies to be as supportive of what people are struggling with as possible.”

Kehoe described the county’s approach as “pragmatic.”

“We have a ‘mobility’ strategic goal here in L.A. County, so we have a very pragmatic understanding of what we’re trying to achieve there,” he said, “from both an internal employee perspective, in terms of giving our employees the ability to work anywhere, anytime, and our residents … . We want to provide our residents the ability to receive services and transact with L.A. County anywhere, anytime, without having to drive into the city and go to an office. We’re trying to make strides in those directions, and we’ve been forced to make quick strides during the (novel coronavirus COVID-19) pandemic.

“As far as the digital transformation,” Kehoe said, “to me, that is transforming our services that we provide the public by infusing technology and innovation, really solving business problems … .

“Data plays a big role in that, and in the future, how we use our data is going to be extremely important. The data aspect … is really important as we’re looking at analyzing COVID testing results and ... making adjustments in our strategies and feeding that to our public health workers and our first responders,” Kehoe said.

“Instead of looking at just what types of services an individual is receiving, (the county is) also then looking at the effectiveness of those services. … During COVID, that’s deep analytics around the testing of those most susceptible, and to take more proactive steps rather than reactive steps. The power of data, the power of linking data, the power of looking at the effectiveness of the services you’re providing and making adjustments to those based on the data – that, to me, is the innovation and the type of digital transformation that can occur if we’re using our data more effectively.”

Added Holm: “People talk about the need to be able to pivot. This idea of digital innovation is sometimes just being able to do things really quickly, and to change to accommodate differences in the environment.”

Thursday's 90-minute webinar is available online. It was put on by New America, a nonprofit focused on “confronting the challenges caused by rapid technological and social change, and seizing the opportunities those changes create.”

Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies including USA Today in Washington, D.C.