The IT Office in Atlanta Emphasizes Ecosystem Growth as it Matures

Ever since its establishment just over a year ago, the Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI) in Atlanta has significantly influenced a wider technology ecosystem for the city.

The birth of the office commenced from Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ technology-focused vision for the city, according to Senior Technology Adviser Donald Beamer Jr. Beamer was appointed to the inaugural role in 2022, where he collaborates with CIO Jason Sankey.

The administration’s vision revolves around technology in the context of economic development, establishing a pathway through technology to create economic mobility for constituents. The work to achieve this vision is a joint effort by OTI and the mayor’s office.

OTI Expansion

Beamer divides OTI’s work into three broad categories. He explained that the first is perception, which involves raising awareness of the advantages of initiating a company in the city. The second is measurement, which encompasses using metrics to monitor progress. Finally, the third area is resources, focusing on the talent, capital and customers that contribute to this ecosystem.

While the senior tech adviser is a pioneering role within an office that is still being established, Beamer has adopted an entrepreneurial approach to the work.

Having studied at the Georgia Institute of Technology and collaborated with corporations like BlackRock, Cox Communications and as an Atlanta tech entrepreneur, Beamer said he has engaged in the various nodes of the technology ecosystem This experience allows him to communicate effectively with those in government, the private sector and academia, and to convene them more effectively.

“Our function is to connect the dots because all the assets are here in Atlanta,” he said, adding that collaboration is an Atlanta superpower. “If we can just help orchestrate the activity across the ecosystem to guide that progress, we can paint a perfect picture.”

In the first year, the process of expanding this new office has involved defining issues to comprehend where OTI can be most impactful. The other aspect of the work has been finding and convening this coalition of tech stakeholders across sectors in the community.

The mayor’s current cabinet is the largest in the city’s history, according to Beamer, bringing over 20 departments together to understand workforce needs. This also helps to create a broader understanding of each department’s priorities, problems and how OTI can help solve those problems with technology.

A crucial part of the administration’s focus revolves around inclusion and equity. One of the ways these objectives are being achieved is through the Atlanta Startup Growth Loan Program, which was first launched in October 2023.

Beamer noted that in Southeast Atlanta there is a shortage of capital that can be partially addressed with loans to area technology startups for the purchase of technology, inventory or commercial space.

Gamifying Entry Into Tech

Effectively shaping the city’s technology ecosystem involves developing a workforce to meet its evolving needs. Atlanta has adopted a distinct approach that entails, in a sense, gamifying entry into the IT field.

This approach includes the e-sports and workforce development program and the Minecraft Challenge, both of which launched in fall 2023. Beamer said, the e-sports and workforce development program aims to help the city find enough people to fill the many open roles in city government. As large tech companies move to the city, the need for diverse talent increases even more, he said.

“That’s the other Atlanta superpower: diversity of people and thought,” Beamer said.

The ultimate goal is to get young people excited about technology early, and this is being accomplished by leveraging an activity many young people already participate in: gaming. The program, which operates through Department of Parks and Recreation centers across the city, is a way to meet those young people where they are while doing what they already are doing.

Beamer noted that because people of color are underrepresented in the industry as both developers and designers, this e-sports program offers early exposure to the industry and possible careers within it.

“It’s really about not only showing them opportunities that they could do careers in e-sports, but we’re also looking at it like a pathway to STEAM in general and other roles,” Sasha Smith, OTI technology strategist added.

By bringing in partners, including organizations that can help participants get technical certifications in tech-related areas, they will be able to not only see themselves in these careers but also start building toward them, Smith said. Between skill building, resume development and education, the program offers an all-encompassing digital-readiness approach.

“I think getting the internal dots connected for the city of Atlanta and seeing where we can help to innovate and create there — that’s something I’m really excited about,” Smith said.

In a similarly themed initiative, Atlanta Public Schools partnered with Microsoft to launch a challenge using the popular game Minecraft in a way that resembles a digital twin city.

Beamer said that the program enhances civic engagement, allowing students not only to feel like they are a part of the city but also to generate actionable solutions that the city can implement.

Looking ahead, Beamer said the city will continue working with schools in the community, including those at the university level.

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