In the age of Smart Cities, technology has never played a more important role for municipalities. Cities are now thinking differently about the function of data and systems as well as the opportunities they present for driving technological solutions to challenges and increasing efficiency. In Fremont, this change in thinking has resulted in hiring our first Chief Technology Officer (CTO), a role that we see as critical in advancing our innovation agenda. Meet Saul Melara, and see where we are headed on the technology front.

You are Fremont’s first CTO, which suggests a different orientation than the previous position of IT (Information Technology) Director. What about this position attracted you, and what do you think the City is trying to accomplish through this new role?

I have spent the last 15 years as a municipal CTO, developing and implementing technology solutions for organizations. What I’ve learned is that strategic thinking is key — you have to assess at a higher level how solutions may affect all City departments, not just the individual department where IT is housed. I’m also a life-long learner, which is important because change is constant in technology, and understanding how new trends facilitate solving problems is where the magic happens. Fremont recognized the need for a more strategic approach and how IT might (and should) relate to other City initiatives. I am attracted to environments where technology is part of a holistic approach to solving problems.

What do you see as key challenges for cities trying to keep up in the age of connectivity?

Keeping up, in itself, is the challenge. Trends change so quickly, and that is difficult for the public sector. But it’s not impossible. Learning how to implement new solutions following best practices, standards and frameworks correctly the first time while preparing to couple these with unknown future trends is the key to success.

Your background includes a blend of public and private experience ranging from the City and County of San Francisco, to Oracle. How does your unique background prepare you for these challenges?

My private sector experience taught me how to adapt new methods and best practices in the information technology sector very quickly. This has been an invaluable skill throughout my career. In my public sector tenure, it turns out that many agencies use the same or similar systems, so maintaining and developing solutions within these systems has eased my ability to integrate into new organizations without a big learning curve. This allows me to hit the ground running and focus right away on the strategic needs in order to play a key role in the Smart City strategy.

Fremont is in the beginning stages of a Smart City effort. What role will your department play in implementing the City’s priorities whether related to sustainability, public safety, or mobility?

As a Smart City, we must always ask ourselves how we can incorporate the trends and newest technology, such as smart devices and biometric sensors, into our strategy. And Fremont is on that path. Going forward, I will be focusing on technologies such as loT and cognitive science and on opportunities with big data and predictive analytics in order to evaluate things like traffic and waste, for example. In public safety, we will be working on improving how data is shared within and across departments and facilitating real-time access to video. Much of our work will be to support the increased use of mobile applications, which is becoming much more mainstream as cloud technology continues to grow, facilitating the ability to solve problems in our future state (Smart City).

Beyond that, another opportunity I’m excited about is providing a new process in work distribution and moving toward a more asymmetrical system. This means that we will cross-train our team and organize assignments by geography, rather than by discrete task or skillset. This creates a more, well-rounded, flexible team capable of providing service wherever the need exists.

Star Trek or Star Wars?

For me, that’s like asking me which child I like best! In all seriousness, I love them both for different reasons. I am amazed at the technical accuracy of Star Trek which continues to evolve in the progress of time, but as a young person, Star Wars inspired me to spend a few days in the library looking into the feasibility of hover cars and light-speed travel. Both series laid the foundation for my future.