The connection to real-world projects was priceless for this alumnus
Aug 26, 2022, 11:00 AM.
Raimundo Rodulfo, recounts his experience learning tangible skills from his FIU degree coursework and how he’s leveraged the knowledge to help transport the City of Coral Gables into a model smart city.
Raimundo Rodulfo is incredibly busy. He loves to find new ways to make living better, more convenient and provide savings that make sense for the residents of Coral Gables. As the director of innovation and technology and chief innovation officer at the City of Coral Gables, a position he’s held since 2016, he credits his master’s degree in engineering management from FIU and his 30 years of professional experience across sectors and industries as the foundation for all his projects.
“I have to apply a process- and efficiency-oriented mentality to improve the city’s technology-powered operations,” says Rodulfo. “Running a smart city infrastructure and services is very complex.”
New projects launch
Rodulfo and his team are on the verge of helping the city administration complete the rollout of citywide electronic processes and unveil a high-tech, new development service center, off Biltmore Way, which will be a one-stop shop for all permitting, code enforcement, planning and zoning needs. It’s part of a broad campaign to modernize the city’s systems—a task that Rodulfo and the city’s leadership have been working toward for years.
Proud of the accomplishments of the City of Coral Gables, his bookshelf behind his desk is filled with heavy, thick textbooks from his time at FIU as a Master of Science Engineering Management student. As an alumnus, he talks about the real connections he made in his classes, the tangibility of his degree, and pathways he used to lead one of Miami-Dade County’s main cities through a transformation to become a hyperconnected, transparent and efficient smart city.
Aligning classwork to the real world
“The things I was learning, I immediately applied to what I was doing,” he says and discusses efficiencies he created for the city departments for public services. “My team was challenged with implementing technology that makes sense to improve processes, and with taxpayers’ dollars, there's a lot of scrutiny on how you deploy solutions, the cost of technology and how you maximize efficiency.”
More than 20 years since the last time he was in a classroom, he had already amassed significant experience in his field, but he wanted to do more than just an MBA. The master’s degree in engineering management offered the best of both worlds, the leadership, business acumen, and the engineering management.
“I had my hands full in the city, but, you know, it was the best decision. I had great professors with Dr. Schmahl and Dr. Chen, and all the classes in systems engineering and enterprise systems were extremely relevant. The classes helped me a lot to replace legacy systems,” he affirms. “There was a lot of alignment, a lot of the things I was learning there, I immediately applied to what I was doing.”
Rodulfo leveraged everything he learned in Dr. Schmahl’s class from the academic research to the methodologies and the associated mathematics, he says. The class refreshed his knowledge from engineering school, updated his skills and he was able to achieve his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.
“Students learn a lot of different skills that can be applied in a complex production environment like a city, such as construction management, logistics and fleet management, asset management—the whole spectrum of disciplines that you need to know because in a city, you basically have all of the verticals combined into one operation,” he offers.
With his knowledge and skills, he was able to improve citywide efficiencies in the Innovation and Technology department, including support and financial balance scorecard performance as well as reduced response times for fire and police. He also continued building and developing human capital. Because of his work, his research, methodologies and findings have been published in journals and he is a frequent guest speaker for other organizations on what it takes to prepare the infrastructure for municipalities to serve constituents and move toward sustainability.
In addition to being the first city in the nation to implement an AI-powered integrated/modular smart city pole, and one of the first cities in the nation to use manned drone technology to monitor large crowds and respond to 911 calls before responders are able to arrive, the city also uses smart lighting and communication infrastructure that incorporate Wi-Fi, 5G, CCTV, traffic, environmental and safety sensors to improve public safety, mobility and economic opportunities.
“The enterprise systems and the systems engineering tracks are useful for any large organization undergoing a digital transformation,” he notes. “People, process and technology. These are the three elements that graduates need to be able to handle well to be successful working for organizations and especially for smart cities like Coral Gables. The master’s degree in engineering management combines those three major elements.”
Under Rodulfo’s leadership, the city has received numerous awards. The city recently received the Smart Cities Council Innovation Excellence Award and the IEEE Smart Cities Contest Jury Award in 2022. Coral Gables also achieved first place in the Digital Cities 2018 for cities of up to 75K population, first place in the U.S. Open Cities Index in 2019 and 2020, and Smart 50 Award in Urban Infrastructure. The city is also recognized as one of the eight Smart Cities to Watch in 2020 by State Tech Magazine and was one of the 12 finalists worldwide in the Gartner Eye on Innovation Awards for government in 2021.
“Engineering and enterprise systems will continually be impacted and disrupted by this Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the next one,” summarizes Rodulfo. “I found that the master’s degree program helped me a lot and I would say that the future is bright for anybody who's graduating from that program, especially from FIU, which offers excellence in the faculty and in the curriculum.”