Chief Information Officer at City of Tucson
Musician and driver of new technology Collin Boyce, Chief Information Officer of the City of Tucson, orchestrated a move for free internet access for up to 32,000 citizens when the pandemic hit the Arizona state.
Despite being stuck in lockdown 2,420 miles away in New York City, Boyce called on his training in tact and diplomacy to ensure his vision to bridge the digital divide resulted in the rollout of a free municipally-managed broadband network to those who needed it most.
Accomplished sax player and champion of technology, Boyce joined the City of Tucson, local administration in 2019 - which oversees a population of 540,000 - armed with a digital road map. His aim was to ensure the city could quickly respond in an emergency - a lesson he had learned in his previous role as the CIO at the City of Lansing in Michigan.
“A polar vortex struck when I was at Lansing, and I had to mobilise everyone to work from home as temperatures plummeted to minus 50 with wind chill and you could not go outside,” said Boyce, who pointed out this prepared him for the challenges posed by the global pandemic.
“It was so cold you could not leave your house. We had geothermal systems pulling heat out of the ground, and we could not keep up heating the house. During that time, I covered the territory and laid the groundwork for my colleagues to work from home - apart from the emergency workers - and this prepared me for the next natural emergency when I came to Tucson.
“It was part of my roadmap to make sure that Tucson was self-sufficient if something terrible happened, as was the case at Lansing. But I was a few months into my three-year plan, and the pandemic hits, and we have to finish the plan in six months. So, that’s where your leadership style has to change, and you have to accelerate the pace and get the job done.”
Boyce declares that “data is the capital of this century” and cites data-driven solutions that will drive Tucson on its journey to becoming a smart city.
Technology has been a part of Boyce’s life since he was a child. “I was born in Trinidad and Tobago, and when my mum moved to the US with me and my three brothers, she sent us to computer camps all summer to develop our skills. Today, me and two of my brothers are in the computer industry, and we jokingly say the black sheep of the family is the one who became a neurosurgeon.
“I started my first management job with Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. My wife, who wanted to be a physician, got a residency in Michigan, so we moved, and I worked for MERS of Michigan, which is a pension fund. I then moved to Emergent BioSolutions, where I ran the technical teams that supported the creation of the anthrax vaccine, which was very interesting. In light of this experience, I have been watching with interest how they have developed the vaccine for COVID-19.”
Boyce went on to become a director for Comlink, where he focused on cloud products and then moved on to become the CIO at the City of Lansing, where he helped to revolutionise the mayor's 3.0 initiative, which was focused on technology.
In 2019 Boyce took up his position as CIO at the City of Tucson and oversaw cybersecurity and all the city's applications, networking servers and help desk components. He describes his leadership style as democratic but says this can change depending on the climate.
“In the middle of the pandemic, I moved quickly and had to become a little more authoritative than usual. But then there are other times, such as when you are managing the digital transformation, that you can become more transactional.
“As a leader, you end up using a lot of the tools in your storehouse based on the circumstances - some circumstances require a strong approach while others need a gentle approach,” said Boyce, who pointed out it is important to take time away from your computer to relax. “I am a musician and play the saxophone. I have a collection of vintage saxophones, and I am a performing arts major in my free time. My aim is to perform a duet with my wife as she is a singer.”
Boyce cited President Joe Biden as a leader who has responded to the pandemic with his goals for the rollout of vaccines. “What I like about the current administration is there's a clear understanding of KPIs and metrics on how we want to get vaccines and how many vaccines are expected.
“Thankfully, with our free broadband, more people in Tucson will get information on the vaccine rollout, which we post on our website,” said Boyce, who is determined to ensure all eligible citizens get connected to access virtual learning and healthcare.
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“Sometimes automation is seen as a panacea. We see it as one of a number of solutions, not a silver bullet.”