Puerto Rico TechSummit Reimagining the Tech Industry

When I took the challenge to serve as Chief Information Officer for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, I knew there was a lot at stake. Security and Jobs were the most important points on the Government’s agenda, and it is the CIO’s responsibility to enable the tech sector to respond accordingly.

We started by uniting all CIO’s from government agencies to assess the current situation and share our vision for the future. As an opening introduction, we presented Jennifer Pahlka’s TED Talk on Coding a Better Government. Our objective was to present technology as a catalyst for economic development; an enabler of opportunities through open data and collaboration.

The Adopt-a-Hydrant app became the center of many conversations, which fueled the cooperation between agencies to determine which datasets were “low hanging fruits” that we could open and have serve as examples of what is possible.

This was followed by Executive Order 2013-13, which required all agencies to submit a plan to develop their first API, with the purpose of enabling better government-to-government or government-to-citizen services. This was followed by an API policy with several examples made available on the Commonwealth’s new GitHub account.

To bring it all together, our office organized the first Puerto Rico TechSummit, which brought together leading government officials, industry entrepreneurs, principal technology partners, NGO’s, and academia to discuss current and future challenges within Government through different technology sectors, and explore how we transform traditional government services into scalable product development as an engine for economic growth.

Speakers of high standards visited the island, each with a vision that went along with new Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s agenda. The event opened with Doug Robinson, executive director of NASCIO, which set the base for the work ahead. From working with state officials to discussing the top 10 issues for government CIO’s, Robinson, was instrumental in providing guidance and structure through all sectors of government technology.

It was followed by talks on lean startups, agile development, and security–issues that indicate a maturity and a different understanding of how they may stimulate the country’s economy and at the same time improve the services offered to citizens. The unprecedented initiative to liberate government data and make them available to developers demonstrated a commitment to the vision that has taken off in the U.S. mainland through organizations like Code for America.

Parallel to the Tech Summit was a government hackathon with almost 200 developers committed to 12 initial challenges on the first datasets that were made publicly available for application development. The end result was more than 30 different projects presented.

The emotion was palpable, as 200+ people were on stage to present a brief recap of what they worked on. The presentations left no doubt as to the talent and ability of a development community, and to the numerous proof of concepts that can be implemented through a lean philosophy to achieve value and efficiency in different government agencies. Open datasets allowed for historic data to be collected and analyzed for future tendencies and improved results.

The event was organized by the government with focus on the community and its potential. It was a cross-section of government leaders, established enterprise players, and startup people meeting and becoming aware of one another. A way for everyone to see that we need more from each other now than ever before, to transform our economy into a technological hub providing not only better services to Puerto Rican residents, but thousands of jobs through a thriving sector with capabilities to export services abroad.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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