The City of Westerville Discusses the Importance of Human Analysis in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Todd Jackson - Central Ohio Tech Power Player Honoree

Todd Jackson


City of Westerville



Christine Zmich

Director, Business Development and Technology



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CIO for the City of Westerville, Todd Jackson, discusses the importance of human analysis in the age of artificial intelligence. 


CZ: Well, good afternoon. We're here today with Todd Jackson, the CIO of the City of Westerville. Westerville is a city here in Columbus with 430 full-time employees, with approximately 800 seasonal FTEs. My name is Christine Zmich and I'm with RSM, and I'll be your guest moderator today. Let's get started. So, Todd, we're seeing a lot of emerging and disruptive technologies – how are you using technology for positive change or disruption in Westerville?


TJ: There’s a couple of different ways. So, from a staff perspective, you know, there's a lot of talk these days about blockchain, distributed ledger, machine learning, artificial intelligence – all buzzwords. But I think these can definitely disrupt a person in their job. So, over the last few years, we’ve focused on the employee. We want to make sure that we do not forget about human logic, human intelligence, human analysis – "humanalysis."


CZ: So, I've not heard that word before. So elaborate on that "humanalysis."


TJ: When using artificial intelligence, machine learning – and if you rely totally on that…machines don't yet have an understanding of compassion. So, we make sure that when we're reviewing a resume that we also look for the humanity part of it as well.


CZ: Excellent. So, from an infrastructure perspective, can you tell us about your equipment lifecycle management plan?


TJ: Yes. Back in 2010, we actually adopted a cloud-first mindset. So, until then we'd been – from a server perspective, storage – we’d been on a life cycle that was anywhere from three to five years. So, that means every three to five years we'd have spikes in the capital expense. We really wanted to smooth that out, so we adopted a plan of thirds. We took the first third and when that rolled off of its lifecycle, moved that to Infrastructure as a Service. And then the next third and the next third. So, at this point, we have just completed the last third. We've really leveraged cloud and Infrastructure as a Service to save quite a bit of money, not just from a hardware perspective but also from a software and licensing perspective. So, the database that we use, SQL Server…the way that they changed the licensing about a year and a half ago was that you had to pay per core. So, now, by using Infrastructure as a Service, the SPLA – the Service Provider Licensing Agreement – they can sell it based on the number of cores you've actually used not just purchased on the server. So, for the next three years we're going to save – just from a SQL server perspective – over $200,000.


CZ: That's significant money you can put back into the city or other IT projects, right?


TJ: Absolutely.


CZ: How has cloud technology changed the way you manage your infrastructure?


TJ:  Part of it is disruption and part of it is how has cloud technology changed the way we manage our infrastructure – not just the city's infrastructure, but also the infrastructure of community partners and businesses. Back in 2012, the city dedicated a community data center that we started as the city's fourth utility. So, the data center, along with fiber, we have over 40 miles of fiber connected to more than 200 businesses. And the data center can be used for co-location, cloud services, as well as a whole menu of other services.


CM: I think that's cool. I didn't know about that.


TJ: Yeah. So, we actually run it as a fourth utility, and what that means is that we don't use income tax dollars to fund and support it. We actually use the dollars that are generated from services that are provided. So, if you use it, you pay for it. If you don't use it, you don't pay for it.


CM: That's so cool. Kind of like a nonprofit when you're trying to be self-sustaining. You’ve created a revenue stream other than tax dollars.


TJ: So, there's a lot of providers in there that businesses, community partners can use. But it also disrupted the way that the telecommunication carriers had conducted business in the past. We did not want to compete with them. We actually wanted to work with them to help them make connections to the customers that needed their services. Small to medium-sized businesses typically don't have access to fiber and data center types of services. So, through the data center and the fiber network, we opened that market up to the carrier community to provide those services.


CZ: Wonderful. So, from a service desk perspective, how does your company approach end user support?


TJ: Well, what I mentioned a little bit earlier about making sure that we leverage the human aspect, which I believe is the most important aspect of the city's technology systems. That is, we've identified people in each department who can be that first level of support. So, we identified people based on core competencies that were developed to identify folks that were very interested in technology and how that related to what they do. So, we have a cross section of professionals that range from parks and recreation, police, fire, engineers to financial folks. So, being able to understand the technology and then, translate that into language that their peers can understand has helped not only the city's help desk but actually helped the employees out so they're more comfortable in their positions and more comfortable asking their peer rather than going to a technology person.


CZ: I've not heard of that before. I think that is strategic, smart. You have power users that are subject matter experts in their functional area – police, fire – but then you found their technology competency and identified them as a first line of defense. I love it. I think it's really wonderful.


TJ: Yeah. It was interesting; as we were going through and identifying the core competencies, we surveyed the entire organization and what we found is that we identified competencies that really portrayed who we are today. And so, we put together a cross section of individuals from every department to identify competencies to identify who we aspire to be as an organization. So, we're going to be using the Burke test, or tool, to really formalize this. We’re going to have every individual in the city take it and then also use it as a hiring practice so that we can make sure that people we're hiring and people who are in the positions are comfortable in those positions. And for those already in those positions, we can put together a professional development plan that will help them in their current job, but also make them marketable to work anywhere – not just for the city, but for any private organization.


CZ: That’s fantastic. I was just going to circle back to the human aspect that, really what you were just describing ties in the human-interest part of the job and how they'll naturally come up with suggestions how to leverage technology for positive change because they're personally interested in their job and their technology. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time today. This is Christine Zmich and Todd Jackson. To learn more about us, visit Goodbye, until next time.


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