The Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) works to improve the City of Philadelphia’s tech strategy, touching everything from cybersecurity to digital equity programs. The office has welcomed some fresh faces in the past few months, as well as familiar faces in fresh roles — most recently Sandra Carter at the new interim chief information officer (and one of Technical.ly’s 2023 RealLIST Connectors).
Below, meet two additions to the leadership staff, plus learn about some of the work the department has been focused on recently.
Meet OIT’s new CIO
Carter is taking over as Philly’s interim CIO from Mark Wheeler, who held the chief role for five and half years before announcing his departure earlier this month. Carter started working for the City in 2005 as a consultant and was hired by the former Mayor’s Office of Information Systems in 2007 where she was a project manager for IT-related projects.
Just a few of the positions Carter has held in almost two decades with the city government include interim deputy of communications, deputy director of communications, deputy CIO of unified communications and chief operating officer.
“My experience has simply been to manage projects, to manage all the operational units across the city, which involve network unified communications, platform engineering, email and the like,” she told Technical.ly.
Carter also worked closely with Wheeler as deputy CIO of unified communications and COO. When Wheeler started in the role, Carter said she relied on her own background in gov operations to help him get the hang of things.
“Mark, I think, was a great leader for what OIT needed at the time that he came in, and he was able to accomplish a lot and so I do hope to be able to fill those shoes and continue a lot of the things that he set forth,” she said. She also aims to “make sure that OIT continues to be the premier IT department for the city.”
There’s mutual love there: When he spoke to Technical.ly about his impending departure, Wheeler said Carter had “been a trusted partner in all of this, she knows the operations very well, especially the cybersecurity and the project management issues that are very, very big for us on,” he said, “so I have 100% confidence in her ability to steer the ship.”
Even though OIT isn’t a publicly facing department, Carter wants to continue supporting other City departments who provide important services to Philadelphians. And in all her time working with OIT, she said, one of her favorite things in the department is the people: Working for local gov is tough, but she enjoys watching her colleagues come up with creative ideas that will improve Philadelphia, and implement them.
Philadelphia is in the middle of a mayoral election, with a new administration coming in soon. Carter said leading up to that change, her focus is on preparing the department for the transition and then supporting whoever wins.
“Even prior to the administration [change], we’re supporting those two candidates and understanding how to best operate with OIT, operate within the city, protecting data and protecting citizens,” she said, “and then simply just making them aware of who OIT is and how we can service not only them as the mayor and the leader of the city, but also their initiatives that they set forth for the city.”
Meet OIT’s CTO
Richard Hertz joined OIT as chief technology officer last November, after the office announced it was hiring its first CTO (kinda) back in March 2022.
Before working for the City, Hertz held mostly engineering and technical roles for larger telecom and cable companies, including Comcast. Hertz told Technical.ly via email that his previous positions gave him experience working with large-scale resilient systems, ERP systems, cloud-based solutions and global delivery teams. After Comcast, Hertz worked as a consultant, specializing in cloud migrations and cloud native solutions.
“The opportunity to take the skills I learned in large organizations and bring it to [the City] via OIT and the CTO role was what drew me” to city government, he wrote, as was OIT’s leadership team.
Hertz approaches this role wanting to create “repeatable, scalable and secure” IT services to all City departments. He sees a lot of opportunities for technology to improve the services the City offers Philadelphia residents, and said he wants to see that tech continue to grow and improve the way the City responds to challenges, specifically with cybersecurity.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve the residents of the City,” he said. “As an organization OIT has a charter to support over 1.6 million residents, >35,000 employees and >10,000 contractors/contingent workers. It’s a critical role and a chance to positively impact a lot of stakeholders.”
What else is new with OIT?
Carter noted a focus on security and technical debt as two areas that touch all of the department’s projects.
Andrew Buss, deputy chief information officer, said OIT is also working on digital services initiatives, one of them being an in-house digital forms practice, as well as ways the team can reuse code for multiple projects, and how to integrate the digital services team with OIT’s software engineering group.
Digital equity is top of mind, too, especially as more information comes out about funding opportunities from the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority. The City is increasingly focusing on the physical infrastructure side of digital equity work, he said — “so, thinking about how we can use city assets for increasing public Wi-Fi or perhaps even raising revenue that we can use for other digital equity purposes.”
The City’s K-12 family-focused PHLConnectED program remains in OIT’s five-year budget, but the internet subsidy part of the program is ending in July. Accordingly, the City is encouraging Philadelphians to use the Affordable Connectivity Program for subsidized internet access.
Overall, Buss thinks the office is doing well.
“I think we’re in a good place because we have a strong operational capacity now,” he said. “We’ve built the team on the public-facing side and the innovation side, so it’s a pretty strong organization right now.”Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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