A political tech vet is leading new innovation efforts in Kansas City, Kan.
The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas on Monday welcomed Alan Howze on board as their first chief knowledge officer to oversee the government’s IT Department, the 311 service center and mapping group. A former Virginia gubernatorial director and fellow at IBM’s Center for the Business of Government and Partnership for Public Service, Howze brings years of public service experience to the position.
Howze said that he’s excited at the opportunities to make his new community more efficient, and is now learning more by listening.
“What makes government so interesting to me is that there are so many considerations that are incredibly rich and complex,” Howze said. “You’re trying to balance the needs and desires of the community, trying to protect health and safety, trying to drive economic growth and deliver basic services to residents. Putting all of those pieces together is an endlessly interesting challenge.”
Howze said that the biggest challenges he will focus on is increasing transparency with open data and merging data into government department decision making. He also hopes to build on the progress Google Fiber has made in its 110 UG facilities in the community and learn new ways to tap gigabit speeds.
Howze added that he hopes to work closely with the startup and entrepreneurial community and tap into the experiences of those who have already addressed these challenges.
“A big part of this job is reuse,” he said. “You have to figure out who has done this before, and then pick up the pieces and apply them to the challenges at hand.”
The arrival of new CKO comes at an apt time for the UG. Late spring 2016, KCK was nationally recognized as one of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities as well as launched its 311 online portal, which allows residents to submit service requests through the website. Although the 311 phone line is still available, this change means residents can be now served 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This Summer, the DMV introduced online queues in hopes for shorter lines.
Howze arrives to Kansas City, Kan. with a world of opportunity to improve dismal digital connectivity in Wyandotte County. About a year ago, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance aggregated a list of the worst-connected cities in 2014. Using data from the 2014 American Community Survey, the report showed that 34 percent of the more than 55,600 households in Kansas City, Kan., do not have Internet access.
Kansas City, Kan. Mayor Mark Holland said that hiring a CKO was a major step toward incorporating innovation in the area. He hopes that with Howze’s help, the UG can use data to improve customer service, create greater efficiencies and improve employee satisfaction.
Excited that Mayor Holland values innovation as a priority for UG, Howze is looking forward to combining multiple skills in his role. A fan of both IT and public policy, CKO seemed to be a good fit.
“It’s a fascinating role,” he said. “I was delighted at the opportunity to come and do it.”
Howze, who hails from Arlington, Va., recently moved to the area with his wife, Pam, and their three children. Howze said he’s been enjoying the area and its hospitality, adding that although the days are as hot as they are in Virginia, the metro is a fabulous community with many physical and digital assets.
Coming from a city a few miles away from Washington D.C., Howze understands the difficulties that a border line can present governments. Howze said he believes that there is a lot of potential for regional cooperation in the area.
“By and large, Midwesterners have been living up to their reputation, they are really friendly,” Howze said. “Everyone has been incredibly welcoming and our family has certainly appreciated that.”