Frisco, Texas, is a vibrant hub for venture capitalism and innovation, with a mostly suburban population of 226,000.
StateTech spoke recently with Jason Cooley about his role as the city’s chief innovation officer and to learn about some of the projects in Frisco of which he’s most proud.
COOLEY: My role is to identify what innovation fits our profile, what fits the city’s profile and what can we use to be better. And, then, if we deem that is something that we want to move forward with, I help align the resources within the city to make that happen, whether that’s fiscal resources, working with IT partners, geospatial information systems or the Frisco Economic Development Corp., whoever it is, making sure that we have all the resources available to actually implement the technology.
COOLEY: We rolled out Microsoft Teams right at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, not because of COVID-19 but because we had been planning to implement it as a service delivery for our staff. We have to innovate the way we think internally with our staff if we want to retain and attract new staff, especially when you deal with staff in IT and geographic information systems. We have to always be implementing new things and evolving to make sure we can attract those new people.
COOLEY: The first step is talking to me and letting me know what the technology looks like — sometimes a short demo of what the application is and an initial information exchange. On the next round of questioning, I would bring in department directors who would be directly affected by the new technology. They might ask, ‘What are the interfaces that we need to use? What do we have to provide for the technology to run well?’ If there are things that we aren't happy with, or capabilities that are against what we would use or not, things that we would not want on our system or servers, that's when we would probably part ways and go find something else. If, as we go through this process, things continue to check off and it works for us, then we continue until we start to talk about procuring a service. We go through a stringent process of screening things out before we pay for an app to implement it.
COOLEY: Something that was shared throughout Smart Cities Connect at a municipal, state and local level was that we haven't wrapped our heads around the proper way or the quickest way to procure emerging technology. Because we are using public funds, we must abide by state procurement law. This is sometimes a time-consuming but necessary process. We need innovative ways to use partnerships with other cities and governmental entities for quick procurement of technology.
COOLEY: Drones, I think. Anything with robotics, and then getting the augmented reality initiative out the door. If I can get augmented reality done toward the end of the year and in the first quarter, that would excite me.
COOLEY: We know that we have all the pieces together here in Frisco, whether that’s inventors, venture capitalists, developers and the Frisco Economic Development Corp. as a partner. In 2023, I want to work closely with the EDC and flesh out this innovation ecosystem. Creating a roadmap for innovation will help us develop a game plan and strategy for pursuing the right type of technology for Frisco and will guide us in how we should invest our time and resources to address the needs of the city.
COOLEY: In Frisco, it means that we are seeking to implement innovation that fits the city's profile. By organic, we mean we're building innovation from the inside out, not necessarily bringing it from the outside in. We have an in-house Lean Six Sigma academy called Frisco Lean. We’re equipping all of our employees with the tools to think outside the box and to consider how we can use our resources to be more efficient, not necessarily going out and buying something to make us better.
COOLEY: Our Situational Awareness for Emergency Response product, or SAFER, was born in our GIS and IT departments with public safety, fire and police, where all of our Frisco public schools naturally have security cameras. We also have our mobile dispatch computers inside each patrol car. Our police and fire officers can use their MDCs to tap in and see those security cameras in the schools.
If there's a call for service at a school, whether it's a smoke alarm in the cafeteria or a disturbance in a classroom or hallway, there's a security camera that first responders can tap into, and they can actually see what’s happening. They can also see a layout of the school so they can deploy the resources best and, they're not going into a situation blind.
We're very well aware of all the tragedies that have happened in school shootings. But it's not to say that our technology will prevent a school shooting. What it will do is help the first responders when they pull up to the school. Whether it be firefighters or a police officers, the first responders can see a map of the school internally, and can see all that data gathered from the security cameras so they can be better equipped when they start to deploy their resources. And that's what we're always looking at as a smart city.
STATETECH: How can staff and elected officials work together to support the work of innovation directors?
COOLEY: I'm fortunate because I had the buy-in of my management. I work directly for the city manager and the deputy city manager. They have both fully supported the innovation process, and that started with reassigning me with the title of chief innovation officer toward the end of 2019. My mayor calls the city the Innovation Lab, and he has given us the latitude to conduct pilots.
We have the full support of management. As long as we're doing things that fit our profile and that are not too burdensome on staff, then we have the opportunity to move forward. Mayor Jeff Cheney and council are very supportive of what we try to do.
COOLEY: Yes, we collaborate with citizen groups when necessary. Our autonomous drone delivery project specifically was one where we did a great deal of public outreach and had some community forums. We wanted to make sure everyone understood how this project would impact them. We had a town hall meeting, we went to homeowners association groups, and we had demos. Our drone vendor Wing was even in our community parade to make sure everyone understood the project; that by the time they saw the drone flying over their houses, they would know exactly what it was, and it wouldn’t be a surprise.