Citizen engagement and engaging citizens key to sustaining a place at the top of the digital cities list

Albuquerque's CIO and DOT Peter Ambs discusses how this digital city retains its perch in the Top 10 with city services, an open-data platform, and an intelligent interface.

TechRepublic's Tonya Hall and Peter Ambs, chief information officer and director of technology for the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico sat down to discuss how Albuquerque's city services, open-data platform and intelligent interface keeps it at the top of the digital cities' list.

Tonya Hall: From public safety to lost pets, how a digital city stays in the top 10. Welcome Peter.

Peter Ambs: Welcome, thank you. It's good to be here.

Hall: You know smart cities, this is right up your ally. You guys have actually been one of the top 10 digital cities and last year you were the second most digital city in 2017 so what does a smart city mean to Albuquerque?

Ambs: Well for us, Tonya, it's really about citizen engagement and engaging citizens with city services, and that could be through a mobile app or through certainly online services but it's also providing data that we collect in an open data platform that our citizens can use and developers can use to write applications against for example. It's about equipping our infrastructure with intelligence, so it's that convergence really of the physical world whether that's traffic or facilities and building and energy conservation and how we're managing our transit department with real-time data that's availability to a citizen for bus locations for example on their mobile phone.

It's those type of capabilities that we want to put into really the hands of our citizens so that our city services and what's happening in our city it's relevant and responsive to their needs. It could be everything from finding a lost pet, we have online capabilities with photographs and information around pets that we've received and so if you lose a pet or you want to adopt a pet. That's just one area I think that we've taken, and we want to take everything that we currently have and how we provide that to citizens and make that available through online capabilities and the data that we collect around our infrastructure making that available also.

Hall: You know I keep hearing you mention the data that you collect. What are you doing to, or are you doing, is it a concern to protect citizen data as well?

Ambs: We certainly we live in a world where you've got to protect the PPI or the personally identifiable information and that could be things around credit card information, point of sale terminals, or health information in a health clinic, or it's your employee information, all the information around that. Certainly we go to great extents to make sure that our citizen data is protected but we also want to be transparent and we want to provide data to citizens as we have it and that's our open data program.

There is that kind of mix of responsibility we have around data, and privacy is very important, and then so is the ability to be transparent. We were very transparent in our open-data programs and that could be everything from the on body-camera systems that a law enforcement officer wears, to data collected in a restaurant inspection, or the 311 data that we collect through citizen interaction.

Hall: The Young People Are Our Future University, you have universities in Albuquerque. How are you engaging the universities to help create a smarter city?

Ambs: Well, yeah, that's really important to us — to make sure we're collaborating with higher-ed. That's the University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico University here. We have programs we work with around coding, and we've got boot camp for that. We offer open data again for them to use as they write applications for our citizens. We've seen some really good things come out of that, like Where's my bus?for example, an application we worked [together] with the University of New Mexico on where we provide data feeds from our automated vehicle locators on our buses so that UNM students can have that information that's tied into the university transit system also.

We're doing that, we're also working with universities on some grants around preparing our infrastructure for autonomous vehicles and the ubiquitous broadband that needs to be available for a vehicles infrastructure communications and how we're going to prepare for electric vehicles with EV charging stations and the autonomous vehicles and the 5G environment that's got to be created to help support much of this. It's really ... we have a very good and cohesive relationship with our university, and the local tech groups, for example, and those capabilities, yeah.

Hall: How are you incubating a start-up community within the city of Albuquerque?

Ambs: The city of Albuquerque went into partnership with the University of New Mexico and the county, and some private sector companies, to create an innovation district, an innovation central, where we're offering city resources and capabilities in conjunction with the start-up community, and development community, and we've sponsored some app competitions and we've kind of incubated at least a couple of civic tech companies that have helped us write applications, mobile apps for example, which contribute to our citizens' engagement.

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The city can be viewed as this huge working lab, when it comes to having the infrastructure, and having the resources that can be used. Anytime our startup community is creating something to the betterment for our citizens, it's a good thing, and so we work together with our startup, and our economic development department has done a really good job with creating that ecosystem around providing for that. For example, we're working on blockchain today, creating a local chapter for government blockchain associations, so we can start to look at, with our development community, what are some good applications for blockchain in the city, for example.

When you look at blockchain, and what it offers in terms of transparent immutable trust, well, that's just about everything we do in government. We see that as an emerging technology we'll want to get in front of, for example, yeah.

Hall: That's smart thinking, and you know there are a lot of concerns, probably as a city official, to protect your citizens. Urban areas tend to have a lot of crime. How are you using smart technology to actually enhance public safety?

Ambs: Yeah so we've got a real-time crime center in our Albuquerque police department, where we've tied in cameras from across the city, and the traffic cameras that exist at the intersections, for example, and along our highways with the state. We brought those all into a real time crime center so that is one area where we have cameras that are providing that type of capability. Then we've offered for our private sector community, whether that's maybe a fast food restaurant or a convenience store, their cameras in those facilities can tie-back into our real-time crime cente,r also. In the evening, there's a call out to a situation, where we can bring their camera and provide that information to the officer in the response dispatch.

It's those type of those capabilities around cameras and video analytics that have really helped up in that area. We've got a mobile app for our police department, where you can enter in a police report, for example, a non-emergency case, or report that you need to do. That frees up the non-emergency calls to 911 and dispatching an officer to take that report so we really want to get those type of tools in the hands of our citizens so that our officers can be spending more time on the priority calls and the priority situations.

It's the mobile apps, it's the technology that's out in the field, and then really we're looking at license-plate readers and ShotSpotter, and how we could incorporate those into a crime-fighting model also. I think the piece that will enable us, really is our streetlight project. Today we're in the process of converting 30,000 high sodium streetlights into LED and with that project we're also identifying those neighborhood and those areas that would benefit from having this enhanced smart city's technology, and we've got a project that's kicking off right now to do that very thing.

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It'll be things around cameras, perhaps license-plate readers, and ShotSpotter for example and those type of capabilities then that could be also brought into the real time crime center. It's having that available but our mobile app also provides for Crime Stoppers tipping, we've seen a benefit there also. It's really equipping our officers with the latest technology around communications and whether that's radio, dispatch, and CAD systems, making sure that all those work together and then that we're working together with the DA's office and the court system to make sure that the case management is being handled properly for better prosecution rates for example. It's really taking that holistic approach I think of how to provide the smart technology to our officers and to our citizens.

Hall: Well you're certainly embracing emerging technology and it sounds like you've got a lot of projects that you're implementing, or you've already implemented, and you plan to implement in the future. How do you actually communicate some of those smart city initiatives to the actual citizens?

Ambs: Sure. We've taken extensive use of social media, so, for example, our Albuquerque police department Twitter account was voted the best Twitter account in the city. It's that type of citizen engagement ... you know our citizens use our digital and they expect their city services to be digital, so we use social media quite a bit for this for promotion of our city services and our online capabilities, our city website. We're looking to expand that effort even more and we're going through a ... we've got a new kind of communications and marketing person on board and we're going to be be working with them to better publicize the actual capabilities that we have as a city because it is extensive and we want to make sure our citizens are using those and benefiting from what we have.

Hall: Wow, well, the best Twitter account Peter, that's something resume building and I need to follow it.

Ambs: Yes, APD Twitter account, there you go.

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Hall: I really appreciate your time, you're doing some exciting things in Albuquerque. I like forward to visiting your Balloon Fiesta this late this summer and hopefully we'll get to see you. Thanks for your time and if somebody wants to follow you maybe they want to follow your Twitter account how should they do that?

Ambs: It's Peter Ambs as my Twitter handle and LinkedIn, and certainly those are two good ways to find me. I'd love to work with our other civic leaders around tech and our citizens to even make it more better than what we currently have, certainly.

Hall: Connections and networking is a great idea.

Ambs: Yes, yes.

Hall: If you want to follow me you can certainly do that, you can find me right here on TechRepublic or find me on Twitter. Hey, I have a great Twitter account, at least I think it is, I'm at @Tonya Hall Radio on Twitter or find me on Facebook by searching for the Tonya Hall Show, until next time.

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Peter Ambs, CIO for the city of Albuquerque, NM

By Tonya Hall

Tonya Hall is a pioneer in new media broadcasting. She hosted a daily broadcast radio show on social media, worked as a producer for one of the largest tech podcasting networks, and continues to bring compelling guests and stories to tech fans across...