Leading SA: City’s chief innovation officer calls community’s COVID technology pivot ‘a gift and a curse’ – KSAT San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – The world has changed a lot in the last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In response, we have had to rely much more heavily on technology — something many families, businesses, and organizations were not prepared for.

Brian Dillard, chief innovation officer with the city of San Antonio, joined Leading SA on Sunday to discuss the technological shift during the pandemic and what comes next.

According to Dillard, throughout the coronavirus pandemic, cities worldwide have faced the same situation, forcing adaptation and progressive technology solutions.

“It’s been a tough, tough struggle. But, you know, it’s kind of been a gift and a curse at the same time for us to push us forward,” Dillard said.

Even though the city started to upgrade its own technology before the pandemic, Dillard said that families, businesses and organizations were still caught off guard by the severity of the virus and its impact on the community.

“We did a digital divide assessment starting in June of last year. We did that work with UTSA, Bexar County and Digital Inclusion Lines of San Antonio, so we had a kind of a road map as COVID hit to know where we need to start investing in,” Dillard said. “The council actually allocated $27 million to start a project to connect 20,000 students, eight independent school districts and 50 neighborhoods throughout the South and West sides.”

Dillard said the assessment was conducted in a partnership with Texas A&M University, City Education Partners, Bexar County, Methodist Health Ministries and does not anticipate that sort of support to stop anytime soon.

“You know, here in San Antonio, we’re coming up on two million residents in our city… So, we talk about innovation,” Dillard said. “It’s really about ‘how do I educate the community on what we’re doing?’ and ‘how do I get feedback on whether what we’re doing is right?’ So, as we deploy something like this digital inclusion project, how do I make sure we’re actually connecting those students? How do I make sure that students are utilizing this in the most appropriate manner.”

Dillard said continuing to adapt and move toward progressive technological solutions will be critical in moving forward, even after the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m a third-generation, East Side (resident), so my focus is to continue to focus on our most vulnerable neighborhoods,” Dillard said. “We know that all this innovative stuff doesn’t intend to impact the lives of those who are suffering the most in some form or fashion. And we need to make sure our priorities are in order. We have a Smart Cities program that we kicked off in 2017. At the end of the day, if we’re starting to do driverless vehicles and new ones, city apps and everything like that, I need to make sure that those community members are actually connected and have the ability to connect to those new innovative solutions before we start looking to success,” Dillard said.

The full Leading SA interview with Dillard can be viewed in the video player above.

Related: How a San Antonio child guidance center is supporting kids’ mental health during pandemic

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