Local government is changing with the times. This conversation with the CIO of the City of Asheville, Jonathan Feldman, discusses digital transformation in the public sector, and explores how local governments are evolving to meet the digital needs of civic society. Jonathan shares his insights on innovation and progress in city government and how to achieve digital transformation.

Jonathan is a well-known civic IT executive who creates positive change in challenging business and IT environments through better business processes, better workplace environment, and technology innovation. He is currently the CIO of the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where he has maintained a record of consistent excellence in customer service, employee engagement, financial management, and service availability. He won the Excellence in Public Service Award in 2006. He also works closely with private, public, and not-for-profit organizations, boards, and elected officials to create economic development and other positive community results. Jonathan is a well-known business technology and leadership columnist & blogger who has written for InformationWeek since 2008 as a contributing editor. Jonathan is also an in-demand, global keynote speaker and can be found on Twitter here.

Download Podcast

Video Transcript: Digital Transformation of Government with Jonathan Feldman, CIO, City of Asheville, NC

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Hello this is Dion Hinchcliffe and welcome to CXOTalk episode 177, and it's Tuesday June 21st and I'm very pleased to announce we have a very special guest joining us today, Jonathan Feldman the CIO of the city of Asheville North Carolina. One of my favorite little towns and we’re going to learn a lot more about digital transformation and government welcome Jonathan.

Jonathan Feldman:

Thank you so much Dion.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

So Jonathan why don't we get started really quickly and could you briefly tell us about your IT department in the City of Asheville. Tell us a little bit about the City of Asheville for those that don't know about it, your constituency and a little bit about your department about yourself as well.

Jonathan Feldman:

Absolutely, so the City of Nashville is nestled in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains in Western North Carolina. And we are a huge tourist destination. I appreciate the plug Dion I think everyone who's watching this should drop what they're doing right now and go to Asheville North Carolina. Spend lots of money, increase tax base we like that.

We also have been recognized as Beer City USA. So you may not know it but a few popular breweries or headquartered sorry have expansions here such as Sierra Nevada as well as Highland brewing and we also have New Belgium here in town. So it's a very neat touristy, beer manufacturing. We're excited about that.

As far as the department goes it's a department of 20 folks. We serve 1,100 employees and 85,000 citizens in the City of Asheville. During the day the population swells to about a 120,000, that’s because Asheville is such an awesome place and people love to come here and do business. They love to come here and work, and so the public safety demand for example is really of a city of a 120,000 not very much you know, that 85,000 number.

We ‘re very very mission focused Dion, that's what I  can tell you most of all about the department. When we have a management change here at the City of Asheville which doesn't happen all that often, but the thing I’ve heard a couple of times is, “I had no idea that it was possible to have an IT organization with people who are so…”, and everyone kind of stops and then they say almost apologetically, ‘Friendly”, you know so we don't have the Dilbert no police here.

Staff is extremely business-focused. We’re extremely mission focused, and as far as numbers, we serve a 43 square mile area. We cover everything from telecommunications towers for public safety radio systems to traditional finance systems, HRM systems. We do a lot of different lines of business, so we do water manufacturing and SKATA. That covers you know the normal stuff that cities do.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

That's quite a preview that you've got there. How large is your department? How many folks?

Jonathan Feldman:

Twenty folks.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

So usually when we talk to CIOs that they've been kind of brought in that inflection point, something had to change or there was a change in the organization. What is your specific mandate and roll in the City of Asheville? What were you brought in originally at least to do, to accomplish their?

Jonathan Feldman:

Ten years ago IT at the City of Asheville was measured to have almost the lowest customer service for any department in the city. And when the legal department is beating you out you got a problem. So that was originally my mandate. Customer service was very low, service availability was very low and so the first part of my tenure was really writing that ship.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

So the whole conversation today about visual experience, was that a discussion back then when you first came onboard?

Jonathan Feldman:

Not at all. Not at all, but as you've seen me say on Twitter I really believe that operational excellence is a precursor to doing anything innovative right, because no one trusts you to do anything cool if you don't just have it together on the operational side.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

So how is that journey over the last 10 years? Now it sounds like you were talking a little bit before the show and you're telling us about some of the services you've made available how did you start making that change in the organization? Did you get people to expect it to be able to deliver on these new types of digital experiences to satisfy your mission?

Jonathan Feldman:

Well I think as I said I think that innovation only comes along when you've got ops settled and when you've established a lot of credibility with a large organization. And once that was established I think our business partners started trusting us. Not not only trusting us Dion but coming to us first right, instead of saying hey IT, we have this thing we want to do is it okay if we do it in the context of your no police stuff right. You know, no because security and all that stuff.

Instead they come to us and say, hey we have this idea and how could we do it together. And sometimes we come to them with ideas and say, you know this is going to be crazy but what do you think?

Dion Hinchcliffe:

You know that's really the key, and you know the stance I  think in the industry has really changed that IT has to be seen as more just and saying here's what's possible with technology here's how we can help your corner of things. So it sounds like you're being proactive about that is that right?

Jonathan Feldman:

Absolutely and we try to integrate that introduction of new ideas along with shepherding of existing projects when we get together with departments we've got a really good proactive relationship with I would say most of the department's here at the City. But we also get out into the community and we do things and we hear about needs. We hear about gripes. We hear about “Gee, you ought to be able to do so and so better”, and that allows - and maybe that's reactive right, but we have an existing relationships that allows us to combine all that stuff into a business plan going forward.

You know, metrics and all that kind of operational stuff in conjunction with what we're hearing in the community what we're hearing from employees. We do a quarterly survey, we get ideas from that as well.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

That sounds a like you’re making progress. My question would be then you know the hot buzz word of the day is course digital transformation becoming more digitally native organizations, and you know what are you doing in that regard that either formally or informally in terms of actually visually transforming the services in the City of Asheville?

Jonathan Feldman:

Well you're right digital transformation is a huge buzz word. When I think of what does digital mean in a government context for me, it means that citizens are able to do a lot of self-service. It means that citizens aren't frustrated by government, but they're delighted by government. So one of the things that I think has enabled us to react in a more nimble way is that we've adopted startup techniques to be able to meet those challenges right.

If somebody says to you, your existing information portal is terrible. I think the traditional IT way of approaching that would yield something that wouldn't necessarily, you know the operation would be a success but the patient would die. And nowadays I think that we've been able to take those kinds of inputs and by using more rapid development models, and assessment models, and learning models and iteration models. We've been able to do some really neat product launches and which I'm happy to talk about if you like.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Well we actually have a question from the audience and speaking of surgery on patients. What happens when you have folks in city government that are doing their own surgery? And so we have a question from Arsalan Khan from Twitter, and he's asking, Jonathan have you encountered shadow IT and what do you do to change the mindset of your customers about it?  So the tell us a little about your attitude and your response to shadow IT, and for those of you watching shadow IT is unsanctioned use of IT tools that you can get off the internet or on your mobile device.

Jonathan Feldman:

Well I think you have to be like water. And what I mean by that is there's a reason that shadow IT exists. Shadow IT exist because IT is not fulfilling the need of the business unit yes?  So I think shadow IT is a signal that IT needs to more closely engaged with the customer. And I believe in my experience leads me to be pretty firm about this that when you take the shadow IT ideas or tools, and you explain to folks that we need governance, we need you know wrapped around that, you know ‘what you're doing is great. Let's talk about some scenarios’.

And I’m not talking about this because Jonathan wants to be a control freak. I’m talking about let's talk about what happens when someone leaves the organization and they take all the files with them, right. Let's talk about what happens when someone gets terminated. And you start talking about that was smart with savvy business managers and they say, “I’ve got a concern about that to, can you help me?”

That's not IT meeting with the solution. That's IT saying - IT doesn't say no but. IT needs to say - and we have this conversation in my management team meeting. We need to say yes and. Yes, we want you to have the tools that you need, and what are we going to do, ‘we’, not what are you going to do about it, but what are we going to do about that.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

I think the great debate is that you can certainly bring up a lot of cases. You brought up some of them up where you know the outcomes, the risk start to seem to be too high to allow shadow IT, if it's clear that as a centralized IT department we can't possibly enable all the technological change. So how do you cut it in the middle? How does IT manage risk and how does it  govern everything in the organization but still enabling all this kind of creativity on the edge.

Jonathan Feldman:

Stop thinking about shadow IT and start thinking about self-service IT and IT governance. You know, IT can add value and I say this in meetings all the time, and I had to say a lot more at the beginning right. Because you had a lot of traditional IT folks and it needed saying more at the beginning right but if IT can add value I want us in there. If we can't why would I want to spend taxpayer money on that?

Dion Hinchcliffe:

You keep your seat at the table. If they're not coming to you can't possibly guide them and say well you know what you're doing is almost right. But if you did this extra thing our data would be safe and then it would maybe okay to do.

Jonathan Feldman:

Right.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

So I think we’ll touch on shadow IT and other related topics as we go along, but let's get back to digital transformation and the public sector. Now for a lot of the public sector that means things like cloud right. So there’ a lot of things you really can't do off premises and still maintain the mandate you know, update the security and certainly a lot of the government's handle information, you make the case release now you can’t put it out on the cloud. Where else can the public sector benefit from digital transformation?

Jonathan Feldman:

Well let's talk a little bit about what you can and what you cannot put in the cloud right, and I would say to you that I believe IT has a stewardship roll not an ownership roll. And I think the people who can answer the question about can something be put into the cloud need to be educated about what that means and then they need to be the ones to decide. Because most of the time and I think especially for most of the cities in the US, because most of them are pretty dang small right. Not everything's New York. Not everything's Raleigh. And for small municipalities there's no way you have a security team the size of Amazon's or as effective as Amazon's are effective as google for Microsoft's.

So I think you have to not have confirmation bias when you go into these conversations number one, and number two I think the customer decides. I don't think IT decides. IT has a guidance roll. IT can make a recommendation but ultimately why is it that somebody would trust my w-2 employee to secure their data right, using encryption, using you know, all these things versus an Amazon employee who’s a w-2 employee. Plus my employee who does all the server configuration why is that more or less trustworthy? And I think you have to use that question.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Exactly right and so when we are we brought you on board we realized that the City of Asheville has a Twitter account and it was very active how much has social media been a part of the digital transformation of the public sector? Is that change things? Has that connected the city better to its citizens? What's the story there?

 Jonathan Feldman:

Our engagement effort right under which I would put social media as a subset of that, but our engagement efforts I think have gone a long way to help us develop products and services that citizens need. And you'll hear me talk about products and services right, because I’m a business school graduate. I'm not a master of public administration. So sometimes that makes me a little bit of an oddball out here at the City of Asheville. But I think the concepts are very similar, and when we're talking about products and services were basically talking about things like information portals. We’re talking about better ways of doing customer service, because ultimately if you're a City of Asheville water customer for example you're a captive audience right but we collaborate with every department on engagement.

Our social media has been excellent in terms of letting folks know about you know events that affect them, whether it's weather related and what not. But we supplement that with other digital technology so you can sign up at City of Asheville to be notified if there's a water break in your neighborhood for example.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Yeah so I think this brings an interesting point that we touched on. Now you said the word portal and when I hear that I think you know I don't think of the most modern technology. And these days you know customer experiences what the customer wanted on the channel their choice in the application in a digital way that they want to work with you. So it seems like you still have to have the portal that's the tough part. A lot of people are expecting the old things that were always there and know how to use, but there's all these newer younger constituents that want to engage with you in a different ways. It’s the whole Omni-channel, and the whole digital experience conversation, and the continuum. Where were you coming on that is that, is that your next horizon or how do you look at that.

Jonathan Feldman:

I think you know we approach engagement as meeting the citizen where he or she lives, and let me tell you a story okay. So we used to have a service called Map Asheville. And when I showed it to my octogenarian father, he looked at it and said, “Johnny I have no idea of what this is”, right and he couldn't use it was too many bells and whistles. It looked like Enterprise IT. And we put together a successor to that that was based on a lot of user experience testing. It was based on usability principles and it was called Simplicity…

Dion Hinchcliffe:

It’s actually still available right now?

Jonathan Feldman:

 Yeah, its simplicity.ashevillenc.gov and when your spelling Asheville remember that e is in the middle of it. So when when I showed my dad that product which you know he said, “Oh that looks like google, I can use that” and he's 80 years old. But you still have to remember and our citizen and public engagement folks are always reminding me of this ,because I'm very electronic and I like things to be electronic. But we still need to meet especially elderly folks where they live. And sometimes that means putting signs in yards, or you know planning and zoning signs out that talk about proposed changes.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Is that they're not going to be following the City of Asheville Twitter account. I think this is the the challenge that everyone has, but the government probably in particular is channel fragmentation and that customers are not so much moving as they are spreading out right and we have to touch them wherever they are. But to getting back to what you do, the name Simplicity sounds very aspirational and I think you know that kind of sets an expectation, was that a really important part of rolling that out?

Jonathan Feldman:

Absolutely, we've been talking about Simplicity as it relates to business technology for years here at Asheville IT Services. And so when we were looking to create a successor to this Map Asheville portal we said, well you know what do people really want out of city government?  And surprise surprise, we did not attempt to answer that question. We went out and we went to coffee shops and we went to meetings and that kind of thing. And we asked people what they wanted and as it turns out, people want answers to their questions. They don't actually want data right.

We did a lot with the open data movement back in the day, and we were one of the first cities in the south east to have an open data portal. And that's all very interesting because it automates public records that are open anyway right, and it takes a lot of manual effort out of the equation and it makes it self-service and that's great. Except what most people want is an answer to their question, not a big gob of data.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

They want outcomes right but we'll get to the open-ended question before we're done here, because I think that's been a very exciting development, but does it enable a kind of an intermediate layer of developers and startups to say hey we can build other services that we can monetize on top of that data. Isn’t that what happens and some citizens will use data of course, but we're seeing this broadly with things like hackathons that IT departments are looking for new ways to empower creativity and do everything  themselves. But maybe it can help other people do it you know.

Jonathan Feldman:

Right and we have sponsored hackathons. We participated in hackathons. Back in the day when some folks were shaking their heads and saying “What’s IT doing, having a conference, or having, you know, whatever. You guys don't belong in the public.” Well as that turns out we do, you know not all the time. Not every day, but to get some objectives accomplished we do have to interact with the public and that was a huge change of thinking.

And I'll just sidebar that by saying we have a visionary CEO City Manager, who understood that for us to start focusing on public technology and public engagement, we had to reorganize around that. So we did that.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Well that was a really significant move and we're seeing a lot of organizations saying how do I structure myself, how I organize what we do to be more digital and so there's all these arguments about the CMO and the CDO, the Chief Digital Officer. There's another CD a Chief Data Officer, which I'm noticing a lot in a lot of company right now. And the CIO also doing any digital things, what decisions did you make? I mean how did you decide how to structure yourselves for the next generation of digital?

Jonathan Feldman:

So I think you know first of all I think that we need a chief anything it is just a sign that it's not getting done right. I mean when you have a Chief Security Officer, maybe that means that security is good, maybe it doesn't. But it means that someone is placing a huge emphasis on right. And if data was being handled appropriately maybe you wouldn't need CDO.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

I think C-levels is the place where the buck stops right. You know there's I've had to find somebody who's responsible for this. I know they are right, and we can make that change if we need to.

Jonathan Feldman:

Right,  so as far as how we structure, I feel very strongly that public technology is a major component of what we are responsible for as government technologists. I think you've seen that at the federal level with I think its called 18F where Digital Core in the in the UK there was you know an office of digital transformation in the UK.  I think they were pretty successful with that.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Well there's a number of UK government I think it's been very advanced in the way that they look at digital and some of the reports on the work that they've been just a great. Has that been an inspiration to you, it sounds like it has.

Jonathan Feldman:

Absolutely but you know fundamentally if you want to get digital in government I think there's two things that have to happen right. Number one, you can't go digital without digital employees right and and that means people who are familiar with what digital natives want. And I think the other thing that is a must is that you can't do business in the same way. You can't expect that you're going to be organized around keeping the servers running or you know we exist to be the priests of the database, and expect that you're going to be customer focused. Because that's what has to happen.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

It's all about people, your workers inside your organization. The hardest part about digital transformation is changing people. Technology, ironically is actually simple. So we’re about to halfway through this episode 177 of CXOTalk. We've got to Jonathan Feldman the CIO of the City of Asheville who is kindly joined us today to tell us about visual transformation in government. For those you watching, we would love to take your questions on Twitter if you will mention the cxotalk hashtag or the cxotalk.com, either one we’ll  get your questions and would love to answer them. So Johnson let's move on to the next exciting topic, one that's personally interesting for you and it's my understanding your opponent and an active participant in startup culture and I was wondering what the connection between startup culture and city government is. I've seen this in Europe a lot where they actually give a lot of space in the IT department, let the startups come in and do interesting things, but what are you guys doing?

Jonathan Feldman:

So we have a very active relationship with first of all with Code For America and if you're not familiar with Code For America they're not for profit, headquartered in Silicon Valley and they started out with a program that was very much peace corps for geeks. And they would have you know best and brightest of Silicon Valley volunteer with a year of their time to make government better. And it was everyone from marketers to programmers to folks who were civically minded, civically motivated. And by all accounts it’s a very successful program.

So we have a great relationship with them. We love them. They are doing amazing work. And part of what they do and part of what we model ourselves on is that they're very startup friendly, because the core of a start-up is offering a value proposition. The core of startup is disrupting something. And you know I’m fond of saying to staff, ‘we’ve got to get on the bus or we're going to be run over by the bus.’ And it's so true about any kind of disruption you know. If you adopt it and you as I said be like water right, whether its shadow IT or for any kind of disruption right, shadow IT could be considered disruption right.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Absolutely I think it is the canary and the coal miner right, and the numbers are really startling, 10% of IT and shadow IT in 2000, and five years ago it was about 25%. Now it's closing in on 30-35%. Pretty soon it’s most of IT and most agile IT of course so that's very interesting. You kind of answered my next question, but I’m going to phrase it just to make it clear anyway. And so is local government at risk for disruption today?

Jonathan Feldman:

Absolutely.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

It sounds like you already believe that.

Jonathan Feldman:

 I do believe that because you know we see it all the time. Social media changed the conversation between - and we know this at a national level right. If you look at presidential elections last couple of cycles, and this cycle delete your account! That was the news of the day and that is no less true in local government. You just don't hear about it. But we do working inside government, so disruption is not only coming. It's here in local government.

 Dion Hinchcliffe:

Where it going to come from? What sort of things are you seeing, the private sector may be competing with you on or other things that are actively disrupting that maybe looks outside of government like ourselves haven't heard of.

Jonathan Feldman:

So a great example is open data. I think that those municipalities who have not gotten on the bus have if not run over by the bus but at least had a near miss with the bus. Because what ends up happening is you have  civic technologists collect your data for you. And then they draw conclusions that you might not be accurate, but if you cooperate with the open data movement and you say, ‘Great we love transparency and here it is. And we would love for you to help us solve a problem.’ It changes the conversation.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

It really does and what I've noticed is that when I've been a few city government events where some of the counties have open data initiative and a few others don't. And when they come together and see what the other counties have done, their success stories, all the very innovative things that have come about. One city had a published all of their data about which sidewalks were wheelchair compatible.  And then people who visit the city, someone had built an app, so you can navigate the city making sure you can go only in places where you can actually travel right. And that opened up tourists and some opportunities for all new community of people. And the county's didn't have open data, didn't have any stories like that.

Jonathan Feldman:

That's right, I mean and it you know it's sort of sharing economy in a kind of way. Not everything that's made available to citizens is on the backs of taxpayers and I’ll give you an example. If you go to avlbudget.org it's a beautiful graphical you know, I want to say web 2.0 but that will make me sound really old. But it's a nice and modern app that shows you how city dollars are being spent in this heat map and it’s really user friendly. And the City of Asheville didn't actually code that. We just made the data available to a bunch of civic technologists and hackers, and people who are interested in it and they coded not us.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Well that seems to be the pattern right, that let the network to do the work, but you have to give them the raw resources to do that and so what are the inner experiences the CIO of the City of Asheville now for a decade, what are the best targets for digital transformation? You saw a public sectors as CIO coming in right now where do you take the opportunity is most likely that they haven't maybe already be done yet.

Jonathan Feldman:

That's an interesting question Dion. You know I think the problem is that IT is so very broken in so very many places, and I think the danger is flying in and saying day one we're going digital. I think that would be arrogant, because I think there's so many…

Dion Hinchcliffe:

It certainly would be uninformed to its day one right you know the right. It's not just the knee-jerk reaction so yeah exactly.

Jonathan Feldman:

So don't misunderstand me. I don't mean that you know we would ignore the mission imperative. But what we would do see that's our excellent energy contradiction kicking and I'm not moving enough around here. So I'm not saying you wouldn't do anything right because of course you have to do something. But it would it would likely be pretty bite-sized. It would likely be…

Dion Hinchcliffe:

You want a quick right I mean you've got to make some kind of a visible change.

Jonathan Feldman:

Exactly, I'll give you a great example. We were recruiting for a program analyst and we really wanted you know some design skills and we really wanted you know various things. And our business and public technology managers an awesome guy named Scott Barnwell. And he's so civic minded and he's so mission focused and he had his ear to the ground. And knew that city council was working on a graffiti initiative, so what did he do? He asked all of the job candidates in a very you know 2014-2015 kind of way, here's an exercise. Do it in the cloud make you know make an apt.

And so we ended up hiring somebody you know based upon that work. I love that method of hiring by the way, but we can talk about if you want. The end result was we had this sort of skeletal prototype app in place and not two weeks after this fellow got hired, city council said we really need an app to do that. And so the result was this app that was around for a year or two and it fulfill the function. But it was all hosted in Amazon and it didn't require a big IT or server space or anything like that. So I think if you're going to be effective day one, rent don't buy right and that means cloud.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

We saw that certainly one of the best case studies out there right now is the federal communications commission. Their CIO David Bray, be forklifted virtually all of their existing applications out to the cloud and in just one year, something that most people think is impossible right. But you know he's tapping into the power of his organization. So let's go back to that because you know I see that I track a lot of the industry data and now most of it is lining up with around 2017 2018, public cloud will be the primary form of IT. If you look at all the workloads, all the on-premises workloads, public cloud is at last going to be bigger. It's going to be the majority of IT out there.

Jonathan Feldman:

I don't disagree.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

That’s a big change, but if you plot that curve forward three or four more years it's virtually all of IT right. We're seeing the hollowing out of the datacenter. Do you think it's going to go that far with public sector? I mean you know a Michael Krigsman, you know founder of the show and I have talked about that with Casey Coleman you know what she was in charge of the GSA , their IT departments says that cloud is it you know. So I mean the vision is there but what's really going to happen, what do you think is going to take place?

Jonathan Feldman:

So I think that if you are mid-sized to large you're probably going to be mostly in the cloud right. If you are super-size, if your GM and you're Randy Mott and you can decide that you're going to insource everything and you know the cloud is not where you're going. But you have the resources to have a national footprint and have as many data centers as it takes, I think you have an option. I don't happen to agree with that option and that's not what I would do in that scale.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

They are the biggest biggest players and take the Amazon wrap and onboard additional people to get the economies of scale will say, well you can use our unused cloud capacity right but most people can't do that. But the government's big enough to do that right, so the federal government is big enough to really get into that business. But that doesn't seem to be showing any interest in doing that. But I don't think that’s the end of that story, and I know I’m based out of Washington DC and so I'm very familiar with the public sector issues. The intelligence community's never going to go there. There are 17 agencies right.

Jonathan Feldman:

That's exactly right.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

But that’s a long long time, so you…

Jonathan Feldman:

Never is a long time and when you're operating at the scale of the federal government, you get to have conversations with Amazon.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Yes it with Jeff personally.

Jonathan Feldman:

Oh yes, so who knows what's going on in terms of you know the gov cloud having a gov CIA secret component and we're never going to do that.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Yeah well I think we’re going to see the other Shute will drop, but I think the public sector cloud is an inevitability. I think it's going to take longer.

Jonathan Feldman:

In government I think you're really going to have to start especially with CFO's and executives, who are very familiar, they’re cloud natives. You're going to really have to have almost an airtight business case to prove that you should be spending that much more on internal resourcing. Because it's a lot more expensive than I think traditional IT folks realize.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

We really haven't had the data I mean until recently. Now it looks like cloud IT is about if you take into account all the costs, all the people it takes to run your data center and all the power and all the floor space and all the maintenance and upgrades. And the total cost the cloud is about half the cost on average right. I think it’s about 2% I think its PWC data. You better have an airtight case and say well I want to spend twice as much and it has competitive implications for companies. You know you have a lot of IT in your company and you want to pay twice as much it’s just not going to work. But that takes us back to the public sector which is a very different environment. It doesn't have the competitive pressures that private sector companies do. You're going to get your tax revenue. You're going to get your payments from your citizens no matter what. What's the imperative to do these things when you don't really have that competitive pressure? There are not two cities governments of agile competing against each other just one.

Jonathan Feldman:

I think it's a lot about fiscal responsibility and I think it's a lot about what the governing board brings to bear in terms of expertise, and in terms of business savvy which means business technology savvy. I just don't think you're going to be able to you know instead of competitiveness in the government environment, you start thinking of it as trade-offs. Would you rather have you know, six more patrol cars and five more police officers or would you rather do you totally insourced IT? I know what I would pick.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Yeah right but I mean isn't there in fact a competitive implication. When businesses loo to move to North Carolina do they look at I could go to (Unclear), which is really cool too quirky, or I could go to Raleigh which is bigger city in our customer base and and they’re going to look at how well is this government going to support my business, doesn't that happen?

Jonathan Feldman:

Absolutely as a matter of fact I'm I'm involved in a broadband effort to ramp up some of the broadband presence here in Western North Carolina, although we are very blessed with a tremendous amount of fiber here. But we’re not Kansa City. We’re not Chattanooga by any stretch in terms of offering gigabit to the home through commercial providers. So that's on the radar of our decision makers and it is a competitive factor.

We talk about site selection a lot. New Belgium and Sierra Nevada did not select us you know solely based on one factor right. It had to do with quality water. It had to do with logistics and access to highways. But you know when I talk to our economic development director, he says oh yeah broadband and you know access to multipath broadband is really important to them as well.

Dion Hinchcliffe:

Yeah right so we have a few minutes left and so we're going to ask you a couple of more questions. I think we should wrap up on a topic that you're very passionate about and that's usability. Evidently you had a lot of the vision around the Simplicity portal and some of the things that you did there. Can you give us your point of view on how governments can make their IT services more usable, and the process that you use and what you recommend?

Jonathan Feldman:

I think usability starts on customer focus. I think if you're not hiring for customer focus in IT you're doing it wrong, and perhaps you should be running a data center instead. So I think it starts there because if you don't have staff that is passionate about making sure the customer is okay, you can throw the rest of usability out the window. But there have just been some amazing aha moments. When we started focusing on usability, give you a quick example.

There was one website that I won't name the department had you know, had been a service bureau which is cool I love selective outsourcing right, we don't need to be everything to everybody. We need to have core competencies and we need to go to the marketplace for other things. But they brought back this website and because of that trust and the credibility that I described earlier, they came to us and said well what do you think? How did they do? And two of the folks who had really been studying up on usability looked at it and said, ‘Well we're not going to judge that. Why don't we run some usability tests?’ And so they did and they just watched people try to achieve these goals on this you know, brand spanking new really fancy website. And when I say achieve goals I mean find information that you need, get what you want, those kinds of things, you know the reason why you go to a website. And it was taking people 15 minutes to find what they wanted to achieve these goals.  

Dion Hinchcliffe:

That will be a lot of user abandonment along the way. It's inspiring to see which you have done there and you have concrete examples that you can point to. So that brings us to the end of a successful episode of CXOTalk. I'd like to thank our very special guest Jonathan Feldman, the CIO the City of Asheville for joining us and we have I think a couple more shows this week if you go to cxotalk.com and see what what we have on tap and thanks Jonathan again for joining us.

           

Companies mentioned in today’s show.

Google             www.google.com

Amazon           www.amazon.com

Microsoft        www.microsoft.com

 

Jonathan Feldman

Website           http://feldman.org/

LinkedIn           https://www.linkedin.com/in/1jfeldman

Twitter            https://twitter.com/_jfeldman