2023 Rising Star: Santiago ‘Santi’ Garces

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Chief information officer, City of Boston

Santiago ‘Santi’ Garces
Courtesy: City of Boston

One of Santiago ‘Santi’ Garces’ top priorities since becoming the chief information officer at the city of Boston nearly two years ago has been reducing the number of residents who don’t have internet access. So far, Garces and the rest of Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration have helped slash that number from 32,000 households to 14,000.

The need for people of all backgrounds to access broadband became urgent during the pandemic, when being able to use online services could mean the difference between someone staying healthy or catching COVID, he said. So Boston worked with the local public housing authority and library system to allow low-income residents to check out laptops for as long as they needed. The city also helped 48,000 households enroll in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program and has been working with youth and family organizations to reach residents looking for broadband access.

Garces said the effort is an example of how he pushes for improvements in government technology: delivering incrementally small but quick improvements that add up to a big difference in the lives of residents.

“We’re changing the way that we work,” he said. “We’re thinking that our job is not only to bring technology, but also to solve problems and to be good partners. Sometimes the issue is not just the gadget but how we use it, what the expectation and what the experience is like for the customer.”

To improve reliability and the user experience, Garces is moving government applications to the cloud and upgrading the city government’s core network speeds to 100 gigabits per second.

Garces helped write the city’s guidelines for deploying generative artificial intelligence, making Boston the first city in the country with that kind of strategy. He is also leading an effort to eliminate the gender identity question in marriage records, a priority of the city’s LGBTQ community,  

“I love complicated problems,” he said, “and I think that governments and cities are the most complex of human-made machinery. They are these systems of systems, and ultimately, they are at the heart of how human beings relate to their environment and how they relate to each other.”

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