June 13, 2024

Tricia Oak

Business & Finance Excellency

How Atlanta Is Using Tech Innovation to Close Equity Gaps

  • Atlanta, Georgia, is hoping to close equity gaps as it becomes a major tech hub.
  • Atlanta Information Management is spearheading tech innovation in the city.
  • Initiatives include free WiFi across the city and using security cameras to improve public safety.
  • This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”

Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the fastest-growing tech hubs in the country. It’s attracted Big Tech companies like Apple, which plans to build a tech education campus for students at historically Black colleges and universities to boost local tech talent, and Microsoft, which recently announced plans to expand its presence in Atlanta, including a data center and new campus.

headshot of Jason Sankey

Jason Sankey.

Courtesy of AIM

But the city still has “vast equity gaps,” said Jason Sankey, the chief information officer at Atlanta Information Management (AIM). His department hopes to close those gaps by using technology to provide better, more equitable citywide services.

Sankey joined AIM, an arm of the Atlanta government that was originally established as the Department of Information Technology in 2004, last summer and is currently spearheading a reset of its smart-city initiatives. 

Guided by an operational strategy known as Operation Excellence, which outlines five pillars for creating and delivering technology-centric services — strengthening core IT services, increasing service alignment across city departments, enhancing the user experience, modernizing systems, and investing in workforce development — AIM is collaborating with other departments, local businesses, schools like Georgia Tech, and organizations like the Metro Atlanta Chamber to build a public-private ecosystem to bring innovative technologies to the city.

a graphic explaining Operation Excellence

Operation Excellence.

Courtesy of AIM

Atlanta’s new mayor, Andre Dickens, is a Georgia Tech graduate and was previously the chief development officer at nonprofit TechBridge and cofounded the organization’s Technology Career Program, which trains underserved residents for tech jobs. Sankey said Dickens understands the role technology can play in helping Atlanta advance its innovation initiatives.

Here’s a look at what Sankey’s team is doing to improve access to technology for all, as well as leverage technology to make the city and its services safer and more efficient.

Installing kiosks and free WiFi

a kiosk on a street

The interactive kiosks across the city.

Courtesy of AIM

One project AIM is working on is installing dozens of interactive kiosks across the city in partnership with IKE Smart City. The kiosks offer wayfinding information, details about city services, and free WiFi, and Sankey said at least 25% of the kiosks will be installed in underserved communities. While the program is still new, the city plans to use data from the kiosks to inform future projects. 

AIM also works with the city’s parks and recreation department to provide more than 250 computers and WiFi for citizens at 17 centers across Atlanta.

Using security cameras to improve public safety

Public safety is another priority for Atlanta, and AIM is working with the Atlanta Police Department and Atlanta Police Foundation to establish a real-time crime center, Sankey said. This allows law enforcement to view live footage from any nearby security camera when they’re responding to calls. Residents and businesses can voluntarily connect their security cameras to the police network. 

The new system will bring Atlanta’s existing video integration up to date with new technology so businesses’ security cameras are more compatible with the police system. “We were reactive with our video integration center; this real-time crime center will give us the ability to be proactive when addressing crime,” Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant told Fox 5 News.

As of January, 4,500 cameras were integrated into the new system, and police expected to add 25,000 more over the next year. 

Helping residents better access city services 

AIM’s operational strategy centers on creating innovative, reliable information technology services across the city’s departments that are designed with users in mind. 

“We really want to engage the community to understand how they interact with technology and how they want technology delivered,” Sankey said. 

In line with this goal, AIM plans to pilot an upgrade to Atlanta’s non-emergency 311 system later this year that uses artificial intelligence and intuitive chatbots to answer residents’ questions about things like trash collection and sidewalk repair. Sankey said the system will provide “real answers, not just FAQs,” and came about after resident feedback revealed their frustrations with trying to use the existing system, which didn’t always provide the information they need. 

AIM also has a team of seven business-relationship managers that partner with other city departments to identify their technology needs, create solutions, and provide seamless services to residents.

Involving citizens in decisions around tech innovation

With Atlanta’s tech sector growing, attracting and retaining talent and investing in existing city employees is another priority. Sankey said the city partners with local colleges and universities on internship and apprenticeship programs at the city to provide underserved groups with access to tech job training. 

AIM also plans to launch an office of digital transformation this year to further ensure that the city’s technology solutions work for those using them. Those in this department will be involved in seeking public engagement on initiatives and forming public-private partnerships. 

“We want to invite community leaders as well as citizens to innovation labs so they can interact with proof-of-concept designs prior to implementation so they can tell us what the problems or the problem areas are that they’re dealing with,” Sankey said. 

Earnestness drives all of AIM’s projects. “Time is the biggest challenge when it comes to technology. If we lead with a sense of urgency, that balances out this ongoing challenge,” he added.