Heidi Norman was named interim CIO of Pittsburgh in 2020, and the city made her position permanent this year. Pittsburgh has long been a city that punches above its weight in government work on technology and innovation, doing so in part by collaborating with numerous partners, from nearby academic institutions like Carnegie Mellon University to local startups. Norman recently spoke to GovTech about his department’s priorities, the benefits of partnerships and plans for the future.
1. What’s on your priority list?
On the technical side, our priorities are fourfold: data governance, modernizing our IT infrastructure, updating our communication technologies and ensuring that the software applications used by our 19 departments are of the highest quality. high quality. Previously, in the government, there was an IT department and it was the technical department. Today, that is not true. In Pittsburgh, each department is a technical department.
2. Pittsburgh has a Silver certification from What Works Cities. How do you work towards gold?
We have established a data governance committee made up of data coordinators from every department in the city. This summer, these data coordinators are attending a boot camp to learn what it takes to identify the data their departments create and to create data dictionaries so that we know what data is available, where it is available, and at what frequency they are updated. Ultimately, we will be able to train them all on how to access our data rivers – which is our name in Pittsburgh for our data warehouse – and also how to use the analytics tools available to them. to help their department leaders understand how their departments work, set goals, and make decisions about how they might want to do things differently as a result.
3. How do you engage with local and regional partners?
Our collaborations are very important. In Pittsburgh, we are very lucky. Within the city limits we have 10 colleges, maybe more. The big two are Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh. We are fortunate to work closely with both. Their teachers love testing new ideas and technologies about the city, with really interesting results, where we learn things we didn’t know or find a new way to do things that didn’t seem possible. We also work in partnership with many non-profit and for-profit organizations in the area. A good example is our collaboration with RAND Corp. They work a lot with public data and government innovation. We also partner with startups who want to test products or services in the public market or in some type of government organization. We have an incubator in our department called PGH Laboratory, and it has been so successful that other cities have copied the program and created innovation incubators for startups in their own communities. We are constantly learning and absorbing the “best of” that other organizations have to offer.
4. What are you waiting for next?
Broadband and bridging the digital divide. For me that’s a major goal, and it’s a challenge because in Pennsylvania we’re not legally allowed to charge residents or businesses for internet service, so I can’t create a public municipal network to provide these services to my residents. Therefore, within my IT department, I don’t have anyone who is dedicated to these types of policies and who thinks about the needs of residents. So that’s gonna be me. I have a strategy, and I know that the mayor and the administration are delighted with it. I hope I can be a leader within the Pittsburgh community to not only deliver great broadband to all of our residents, but to make sure it’s affordable, that our people have access to devices and that they have the knowledge to properly and safely use these devices on the Internet for their work, for the education of their children and to access health care.