Philadelphia revitalizes ‘smart city’ plan with change management

Philadelphia has been adopting “smart city” technologies for more than a decade, but after several leadership transitions in recent years, the city’s efforts to harness emerging technologies are becoming more organized.

Mark Wheeler, the city’s chief information officer and former GIS lead, says that before developing the city’s plan, he looked at examples of what was underway across the U.S. and internationally.

“What we saw the need for was just real governance and process,” Wheeler says in a video interview. “Smart cities — it can mean so many different things, and it’s new technology and it’s new ways of doing things.”

Earlier this year, the city released a new roadmap called SmartCityPHL, designed to avoid some of the pitfalls that have plagued other smart-city efforts. The roadmap marked a shift from one-off pilot projects toward efforts that can give the city actionable information. That should help officials scale up projects and speed up implementation, Wheeler says.

“We have a hard time managing pilots and understanding how to scale up after budgeting,” he says. “We thought about all of our pain points, and our challenges, and what our roadmap does is set us up hopefully to be successful on doing pilots that just give us some R&D information, whether we do something afterward or not.”

Wheeler, who’s been the city’s CIO for almost one year, says he will also change the way the city handles large and midsize IT projects.

“The linchpin to the success of those projects is change management and process change management,” Wheeler says. “An IT solution can’t meet everyone’s need and it can’t deliver 100 percent. That’s kind of unrealistic. We really have in the past tried to push it there, and I think that’s caused a lot of complications, overruns of cost and time with us.”

Now, he says the city will integrate change-management principles into its projects to address the common aversion to change among staff members.

“It could be very simple things. It could just be innovations in communications and process steps between people that we need to work out,” Wheeler says. “That’s going to be part of all of the big projects going forward.”

Wheeler on 5G in Philadelphia:

These videos were filmed on location at the Philadelphia Office of Innovation & Technology in May of 2019.