Cyber Talk Radio: San Antonio’s Newest Innovation Initiatives

Bret Piatt, CTR Host, with San Antonio’s Office of Innovation’s Brian Dillard, chief innovation officer, as well as Candelaria Mendoza and Emily Royall, smart city coordinators - Episode 148 of Cyber Talk Radio

This past Saturday, July 27, episode 148 of Cyber Talk Radio hit the air on 1200 WOAI and iHeartRadio streaming. I was joined by three guests from San Antonio’s Office of Innovation, Brian Dillard, Candelaria Mendoza and Emily Royall, to discuss the role of the office and smart city initiatives.

To start off our episode, I ask Brian Dillard, chief innovation officer — who’s been a guest on the show before — about his career background. What really launched his career was when he failed his first semester at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). After that, he decided to enlist in the Air Force and worked in cybersecurity for 10 years in addition to finishing his undergraduate degree in political science. After leaving the Air Force, Brian worked in San Antonio’s private sector and spent time volunteering at local public schools. It turned out that once he got involved in the community, he was able to determine that that engagement and making a difference is what he’s most passionate about, which is exactly what he does as chief innovation officer. The Office of Innovation got started in 2007 identifying inefficient processes in other city departments and then evaluating problems and suggesting solutions. Now, the office does a similar job, but with the San Antonio community and involves technological solutions. It’s made of three teams:

  1. Innovation Academy: training people within bureaucracy in how to improve their departments
  2. Research and Development: working with partners (UTSA, USAA and Southwest Research Institute) in city development to become resources
  3. Smart City: implementing and figuring out how to add value to inefficient processes for local communities

We decide to talk more about SmartSA. It’s focused on three innovation zones around the city: downtown, Brooks City Base and the medical center. The main objective is to get community feedback in order to see what technology would be needed and sustainable for solving day-to-day challenges. There is currently a RFI (request for information) for vendors helping in three main areas: access, mobility and sustainability. A vendor they’ve worked with in the past is Cityflag, who created the 311SA app that’s helping citizens get more involved in the maintenance of their city. It’s important that this type of progress is transparent to residents. They’re also working on the CivTechSA program with Geekdom, which is a three day competition program that awards the winners a residency program in San Antonio to solve civic challenges. What’s impressive is that the office has saved the city more than $20 million by reducing inefficient and wasteful processes.

After the break, I talk with Candelaria and Emily, smart city coordinators who are working on the SmartSA vendor summit. How'd they get to their current positions? Emily started with a neuroscience degree, and connected that knowledge to cities and technologies. She took that interest to graduate school at MIT and did research on integrating tech into the function of cities. Candelaria has always been interested in communities and worked for the city as a librarian — in this position, she was excited about connecting the dots between the community’s needs/problems and technology.

Lastly, we chat about the three main areas of focus. First, access to services — this means collaborating and thinking about reaching everyone — not just people with smartphones. Second, sustainability — try to mitigate harm to the environment. They’re working with CPS Energy for RFP (request for proposals) for smart streetlights. This area requires a collaborative model as well. Smart streetlights will happen in the three smart zones for smaller scale testing before going city-wide. They will have sensor technology to measure the outside temperatures, air quality and surrounding parking in the area. They’ll also be able to be controlled remotely for saving energy and reducing emissions. Finally, the third area is mobility — getting people places securely and efficiently, which means working closely with VIA public transport. The main point in all of this is collaboration, both with vendors and the community, to find the best solutions for everyone.

Listen to the full episode replay to learn more about what’s going on at the City of San Antonio's Office of Innovation.

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