Digital Transformation and Smart Cities

Today’s cities are more technology driven than ever, yet their digital transformation is only just beginning. In this episode, Jonathan Reichental, noted city CIO, technologist, and smart city expert, brings his latest ideas and insight into the digital transformation of our civic spaces and lives.


Jul 18, 2017

Today’s cities are more technology driven than ever, yet their digital transformation is only just beginning. By 2050, over 70% of us will live in cities that must do more for their citizens than ever before. But are our cities ready? Today, civic institutions face challenges such as aging infrastructure, inadequate transportation, and inefficient bureaucratic processes. Cities must rethink how they operate and deliver services by turning to digital tools, data, and intelligent connected systems. Our cities must grow smarter—and provide citizens and businesses with what they need to grow and thrive. In this episode, Jonathan Reichental, noted city CIO, technologist, and smart city expert brings his latest ideas and insight into the digital transformation of our civic spaces and lives.

Dr. Jonathan Reichental is currently the CIO of the City of Palo Alto. He was recently named one of the 20 most influential Chief Information Officers in the United States. Jonathan is a highly experienced IT leader with over 25 years of success in driving and achieving organizational goals in both the private and public sectors. He is a multiple award-winning senior executive currently focusing on modernizing the existing technology environment, implementing enhancements to the city-wide SAP implementation, as well as pushing the boundaries of innovation in local government such as open data and broader civic participation through mobile devices and smarter cities He is a popular writer, including recently co-authoring The Apps Challenge Playbook and he is a frequent public speaker on a wide range of technology and business-related topics.


Dion Hinchcliffe: Hello and welcome to CxOTalk. It is Tuesday, July 18th, 1 PM on the East Coast. I’m here in Washington, DC today and the last two shows have been elsewhere in the world. It is Episode #245. We have a very special guest, Jonathan Reichental, CIO of the City of Palo Alto, a luminary in the CIO world in general. Welcome, Jonathan!

Jonathan Reichental: Hi! Good to see you, Dion!

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yes! So, great to have you. I was excited about this show, and I know a lot of other people have been too. And as an aside, by the way, for those of you watching with love, for you to ask Jonathan your questions on the hashtag #cxotalk on Twitter. We will be monitoring those and taking your questions.

So, Jonathan, you've been on this show before so welcome back! Can you tell us and give us an update on where you are, your current role, [and] the CIO challenges that you're having right now?

Jonathan Reichental: Oh, yeah. I'd love to give you an update. Hey, by the way, I just want to say congratulations on your 245th episode! That's quite an accomplishment, yourself, with your team!

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s mostly Michael Krigsman, the show founder. He’s been gracious enough. I now have the CIO show on Tuesdays, so… But, thanks! Yeah, it’s been a great run.

Jonathan Reichental: [Laughter] And I'm just thrilled to be on again with you guys! Love to share our story… A lot has happened just over the last two years. I think it's approximately two years since we last spoke. You know, tech really matters in a government context. Tech really matters in a city context. And, I think one of the things that are starting to happen is we're getting the story better. You know, there's a big difference between a piecemeal approach to solving important, but disconnected city issues and creating a sort of cohesive strategy that looks at cities as big, complex machines that have lots of interdependencies. And we begin to take a sort of strategic approach. I think that's the big change that I'm seeing, not only in the city of Palo Alto but also on a global basis, is the topic is now really well-elevated. How can we bring technology to bear on the lives of people in cities to improve livability, sustainability, and workability? To me, that’s the most succinct definition I can give and the way we’re all beginning to think about this.

So, we’re on sort of a peripheral topic. I believe now the “smart city,” the “connected city,” or the “intelligent city” topic is moving to the center of the conversation. And it’s connecting a lot of important ideas. Now, last time we spoke, I was talking about the things we plan to do. And now, the good news is we have a lot of things that we’re doing. You know, we’re doing things in the transportation space. I hope to give you lots of examples as we talk today. We’re doing activities in the climate change space. We’re doing things in energy. And then, in the broader area of digitization or digital transformation.

And, you know, one of the things I’ve asked, I guess, about this topic is are there common topics in cities across the world? And, what we’ve seen over the last two years is not necessarily a honing-in on sort of one, or two, or three ideas, but the beginning of a set of categories, you know… So transportation is a big category. But it manifests differently in different cities. In some cities, it's all about parking. In other cities, it's about congestion and in some cities, it's about the conversion to electric cars or the support for electric cars.

So, the category is transportation, but the way in which the problem manifests and how we solve it is going to be often unique. So, I think if I could summarize it, really now, we’ve gone from theory and visioning into a lot more action. And, here in Palo Alto, we have a lot of great examples to share, and I’m seeing more and more cities beginning to act on this now.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yes, so it would be interesting to hear from you… Palo Alto is practically a bulls-eye center of Silicon Valley. So, you’re surrounded by some of the best and brightest, some of the smartest people in technology. And yet, I wanted you to talk about how representative Palo Alto’s experiences are going to be for smart cities elsewhere in the country, and even the globe. I was in China a few times over the last few years, and I can't help but notice that they're building at an insane rate, right? Places like Shanghai are building hundreds of new skyscrapers all the time, new roads, new bridges, all these sorts of things, and in fact… The other question I would have is: Do those types of these newer, developing economies actually have an advantage because they're building so much infrastructure right now?

Jonathan Reichental: Yeah, thank you for the sort of big question. One of the things that strike me is the sort of statistic around the amount of cement that China is using. Just over the last decade or two, China has used more cement than the entire history of the United States. So, this is sort of big-time, patch-up, at-scale. And, it does have advantages when you can build something from scratch. You know, in the United States, we have to often modernize our cities in place, whereas in some parts of the world, because of their rapid development, they have the opportunity to create brand new cities out of nowhere, whether it’s Songdo in Korea, or Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, Yachay in Ecuador, and a whole lot of new cities in Saudi Arabia. It’s a luxury in some ways, but it’s tough, too.

You know, I do recognize the advantage that Palo Alto has, and this is getting back to the core question you are asking. For me, as a CIO in this city, I’ve always said from day one, it’s such a privilege to have this role because not only do I have the right set of characteristics to help my team and I, and the city manager and the mayor be successful here… Not only do we have those, we have an engaged community that wants to see change, and of course, we have this global brand that has been created over many, many decades. So, here’s one of the things about having a live conference is one’s phone starts to ring… I’ve gone ahead and […] anyway.

So, one of those characteristics, right; one of those categories that […] I recognize and I think is an advantage here, we are surrounded by tech companies. And, smart people who, not only do they want to create great products and services, but there is something in the DNA about Northern California, which is about contributing to the community and being civically engaged and being more socially responsible. Look, I'm not naïve, I understand Silicon Valley has some significant social challenges, but we have a lot of positives in that area, too. And I want to be sure that we recognize that and there are strengths. There are strengths. Our ability to use the large volume of capital to invest in our communities, to do the right thing, to be engaged and move around; climate change, for example. These are things that these tech companies take very seriously, for the most part.

[…] I meet with them. They come out to my office, I go out to them, and the question they ask is, "How can we help? How can we be part of this mission to re-engineer, rethink our cities, create cities that are going to be great communities for decades to come?" And so, we have a number, a small set of partnerships. We've done some neat work with Verizon around smart lighting. We're working with SAP and some thought leadership around transportation. And so, there's a good volume of tech companies who are engaged with me.

Now, I think that is a positive, and when I get to meet some of my colleagues from different cities, whether in the US or elsewhere, they say, “Well, Jonathan, you have this incredible advantage.” And, I recognize it, but I also say, “Well, how can you tap into the benefit that you have as a community? What is the industry that’s dominant in your community? Or, the people that can influence change, and finance change, and be change agents for you? How can you engage those people that are unique to your community?” And so, it’s a little bit harder because I have the technology advantage here. Other communities don’t necessarily have that. But, there are always assets, I think, in a city that can be brought to bear on this kind of multi-decade mission.

Now, of course, the other thing is none of this is geographically bound anymore, right? If you are a city somewhere else in the US or globally, our sort of global community now; lets people network and partner with organizations wherever they are. So, you know, you’ve got to be smart about that.

Dion Hinchcliffe: I’ve got to believe there are smart city consortiums in other organizations where you guys can exchange best practices and so-on, but… Yes, that’s very interesting. You said in your introduction that when you are first on the show, you were just making strategies and developing plans, and now, you’ve actually done some things. And you mentioned energy and transportation. Can you give us some concrete examples? What have you guys done? I heard you mention lighting. I think that’s where a lot of cities start. But, give us an update on where you are in terms of making Palo Alto a smart city?

Jonathan Reichental: Yeah, let me give you a… Thanks for the question. By the way, I just want to kind of correct one belief system that I think is something that I’m sort of champion the idea around, which is no one will ever become a “smart city,” because baked into that statement is there’s an end-state, right? […] So, I go through a set of thirty-five…

Dion Hinchcliffe: The journey is now the destination, right?

Jonathan Reichental: Right, and so, do I finally go into the mayor’s office a few years from now and say, “We’re done! We’re a smart city!” So, you know, any city that is attempting to have a bring-to-bear technology to move forward on a whole set of domains, this is ongoing. The work is never finished. But, we can make progress and by the way, we have to prepare our communities for thirty years from now; fifty years, and eighty years. Imagine that type of planning!

Dion Hinchcliffe: […] Well, power companies, when they put lines on the ground, they do have to do fifty-year planning, because they don't want to have to protect those lines for fifty years. But I think it's the same thing with what you guys are doing. You [do] need to have a big, overarching plan, because you can't eat the elephant in one bite, right? And that elephant's going to continue to grow, to stretch the analogy a bit. And that's why I've seen a lot of… I […] and spoke with some smart city and IoT conferences, and it seems like a lot of the focus now is kind of on smart optimization, saying, "Alright, we're going to help you save money because most cities aren't ready to invest totally across the board in a lot of different surprise city initiatives," just from a budget standpoint, right? So what has your experience been?

Jonathan Reichental: Well, I mean, let me throw out there a sort of few examples, and also maybe use it to open up a budgeting component of that. You know, there are so many things we can do, right? So, we’re dealing with scarcity all the time. By the way, the only thing we have an abundance of in every city is data. And it’s the one thing we don’t really take advantage of. We’ll probably get to that topic. But everything else is basically in scarcity, right? Time, dollars, there’s just some multiple priorities. One of the things I’m very proud of is our digitization efforts. When I came to the city, a little over five years ago now, but I can’t believe it, there was a handful of digital services. Today, we have over sixty; six-zero services. And they range from everything having a full, online library. We can check out books online. We have the ability to report crime online, we have a whole series of apps for reporting issues. You can even spin up the permitting process online and manage it like a FedEx parcel delivery where you see every step of the service.

So, there are sixty services now that people can basically do with their government here in Palo Alto, from a laptop computer or smartphone, a tablet… They don’t have to drive to a city facility, find parking, waste half their day anymore. And I think that’s a very practical manifestation of this change, right? People ask what does it feel like when you’re in a community that’s getting smarter, or using technology? And I say it’s the difference between last year, you had to go to a permitting center. You took a number, you sat in a chair to be recalled, you met some people, you probably filled out some paperwork, you probably were asked to wait again, maybe come back, and this thing went on, and on, and on.

Now, compare that to this year, where you just, on your smartphone, spin up your permit, and it’s completely done asynchronously online. And, it’s a much more pleasant experience, right? So, I think there’s a lot of work to do there, still, in Palo Alto. We’re sixty services in. I think there’s more to do. We continue to push that. Many communities have a lot, a lot of work in this. Everything from all the servers I’ve spoken about right through to having a much better web experience, a website experience.

Now, the other area I wanted to share: not only have you got the digitization side; the other area is the physical [one], right? The sort of hot area right now is what does it look like to incorporate the Internet-of-Things in a city context? Now, the background on this, in one of the projects I'm going to share right now, is Palo Alto is committed to a project called "Vision Zero." And Vision Zero is all about, "Can we reduce and eliminate traffic accidents," particularly, collisions between vehicles and people, whether you're walking or on a bicycle? I mean, the numbers are….

Dion Hinchcliffe: You’d think that would be a particularly urgent.  Human life is involved and if you’re having that issue, it seems it’s an important place to focus, right?

Jonathan Reichental: It really is. I mean, the thing that I get so much joy from is that the city work is meaningful. And that's why I encourage technologists to spend time in government. It's meaningful work because it is about people in a very direct way. If we can make roads safer, and intersections safer, we save lives. Parents can be more relaxed when their children are cycling to school. This is stuff that is deep in the heart, you know?

Dion Hinchcliffe: And you’re really serving the mission of the city, right, which is to protect its citizens. So yeah, that’s a good one. So you bring out a good question. We have a question from Twitter. From Antonio Santos, a very well-known digital engagement thought leader. And, as part of what you just said there, how are citizens being consulted by the city of Palo Alto to help build a better, smart city? So, how do you engage with them in terms of bringing them into the process and that journey we talked about before the show started, how do you catch them up so they’re ready for all this?

Jonathan Reichental: Sure! Let me quickly answer the other point, because I feel like the people watching here are like, “Jonathan didn’t finish his point!”

Dion Hinchcliffe: Go ahead!

Jonathan Reichental: And I'll directly answer the question you just asked. So, talking about how do we employ technology to help with Vision Zero, right? We are going to deploy sensors and cameras around the city while being sensitive to privacy issues, that are able to monitor in real-time the interactions and intersections. And from that, we get real-time data to be able to make design choices about those intersections. Everything from how to design them physically, to the timing of the traffic signals.

I just wanted to sort of finish the little story there. There’s a connection between the safety of individuals, and deploying an Internet of Things sensor infrastructure to give us more rich data.

Dion Hinchcliffe: And that’s a great example. You can actually give to your citizens, showing them this is why putting sensors in cameras everywhere is good. It’s going to save lives.

Jonathan Reichental: It is going to save lives. And, we can’t lose sight of this. This is often not abstract work. This is in-your-face work, a lot of the time. Now, you ask me about how do we engage people. I like that question a lot because cities… That’s something we have to… That’s a richness we have to tap into is the abundance of incredible people with incredible ideas, and voices. We need to be able to capture voices.

Now, there’s a traditional answer to this question, which is when people vote for elected officials, and they represent on behalf of the community the point of view of the community, and the elected officials then pass down by policy to our city manager and executive team activities and priorities, and then we execute on them. That’s the sort of traditional answer. So, in many ways, our nine-member council members are really in charge of what I work on. Ultimately, that’s the bottom-line.

Now, more broadly, though, when we get to the tactics of a particular effort, we've got to bring people into that discussion. And so, I sort of go through a few different categories. One is that you've got to turn up to council meetings. If you want to make a change, you've got to participate in the traditional methods of being part of democracy in America. And that is, come to meetings. Come to discussion meetings, come to council meetings, come to committee meetings.

Dion Hinchcliffe: And as […] have to meet you halfway, it’s… In terms of educating them and marketing them, they have to be engaged, too, if they expect to be engaged by the city.

Jonathan Reichental: That’s exactly right. Very well put, there. It is a… Today, more than ever, it is a partnership of equals, right? And so, we have a responsibility to enable that and then community members have a responsibility to step up and be part of the change they want to see. Now, of course, there’s an abundance of digital channels. We have our own Palo Alto Open City Hall online platform for gathering opinions. We are a community that has embraced the social network called Nextdoor. And by the way, through grass roots, we didn’t push it as a government. Nextdoor is used in many, many communities around the US. We happen to be one of the per-capita highest users of it. That’s another forum.

We use Facebook, to some degree; Twitter, not so much in our community. Email continues to be a popular channel, of course. Now, let me give you an example, though. We have a multi-year vision in the city of Palo Alto to enable the highest broadband you can get for internet access from your home. And, we work very closely with the incumbent technology community; the folks you’d expect: Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and others. And, we continue to explore innovative ways of either supporting the incumbent community or even delivering additional services on the existing fiber service that the city here in Palo Alto…

Dion Hinchcliffe: We’re going to have a question about that in just a second. So, we’re about halfway through this episode of CxOTalk. We’re very privileged to have the CIO of the City of Palo Alto, Jonathan Reichental, on the show. I would also like to thank our sponsors, Livestream, give them a big shout out for making the show possible out there. And, finally, we’re taking questions on Twitter for another twenty minutes. #CxOTalk is the hashtag to submit your questions to.

And we have another one! You were talking about incumbents, Jonathan. AT&T and Comcast who obviously have a lot of infrastructure and bandwidth and points of presence that you can build on top of. But, another question from Antonio Santos, in fact, is, "Can the local community develop IoT solutions that can be integrated on top of the Palo Alto Smart City platform?", if that exists. Is that something that will really open that up? Or are you thinking about opening it up that broadly? What's your point of view there?

Jonathan Reichental:  Okay, thank you. Thank you. And just, again, to finish the last segment, in order to move forward with our broadband efforts on any platform, in any way we can, we have a community advisory committee. And, by the way, just a little anecdote for you. When we first formed this group a few years ago, we invited anyone who wanted to be part of it and we were excited to have specific telecommunications backgrounds to be part of the meeting.

When we first met with the original group, and we went around the room and people sort of shared their backgrounds, it was pretty remarkable the kind of talent we have here. Everybody; everything from folks who were part of the original specification of certain telecommunication protocols, to some of the pieces that make the internet work and they live here and they retired in Palo Alto. So, that is another privilege. But, they’re a voice for us.

Now, the question you're asking is an interesting one - or the Twitter user there; because, I'm a big proponent of the private sector having a very strong role in urban innovation. And, there are going to be times when there's a very important dependency between the innovation that you have and the way you deploy it, and there are going to be times when… Don't wait for the government! Move forward! Just do it! Right? And we, as a government, can facilitate it. We can […] issue the permits; we can help put the traditional paperwork that goes with operating in a regulated environment. But, more and more, I want civic innovators and technology companies to understand that they have an enormous freedom to deploy technology in cities by partnering with cities just to make things happen.

So, there’s this whole concept of the right of way, right? These are areas that you’re allowed to stuff in. I mean, as long as it doesn’t break the law, of course. You know, it’s not nefarious in what it tries to achieve. But, if you want to put it…

Dion Hinchcliffe: Well, you’re going to have the burden of what Apple had with the App Store, right? Eventually, at some point, if you do so much with the data, and you have to very carefully give out access. But of course, if you want the innovation, you have to open up. So, it’s really a balancing act, I have to imagine.

Jonathan Reichental: No doubt, no doubt! I think we’re in a good place today. If your interest is deploying some sort of Internet of Things sensor network, you can use cellular technology. There’s a whole range of even lower-cost, short-distance wireless technology now that you can aggregate into a collection point, and have one point be the cellular collector and the […] of data. And, the only thing you’re really asking the city for is, “Can I have permission to put this on a lamppost, or a traffic signal, or on a building, right? So, you don’t need to plug into some sort of city infrastructure anymore. You can traverse it wirelessly. Now, if you want to plug into city infrastructure, ask us. Ask us! You know, there’s probably just some paperwork that needs to be filled out.

So, you know, I think the bigger answer to the question is, don’t wait. You’ll find out what the limitations are as you sort of proceed with your diligence and through conversations with city leaders. But, there’s more space to innovate in cities than, I think, most people appreciate.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah, absolutely. And, especially as you were talking about, when you first came on the show today about everything’s becoming so much more interconnected, and we’re just in a… I like to say we’re in the cave painting days of digital, right? This is early days, and everything is going to become instrumented and connected. And the things that we can do are limited only by our imagination. But then, the challenge I have… I just got back from an IoT conference in Germany, and the big conversation there was, “Security, security, security”. They had to say had to say because IoT is becoming such a threat vector, and is one of the foundational technologies for smart cities, what do you say to that? How are you addressing that and making IoT a source of good things and not bad things?

Jonathan Reichental: Yeah. I would add to that, “Security, security, security”…

Dion Hinchcliffe: [Laughter]

Jonathan Reichental: So, I’m glad! I’m glad that an IoT conference is an important part of the conversation. I don’t necessarily think we’re at a great place today, in terms of the prioritization we’re giving to some of this new tech. As you can imagine, most of the motivation is on winning customers, and on employing tech, gaining mindshare, and you don’t want necessarily to commit a lot of resources to the cybersecurity piece, which, much like insurance, often isn’t directly beneficial but it helps you when you need it, right?

So, I want to see us move this more to the center. Cybersecurity needs to be on the table as we have these discussions. The reason […] an important part of our dialogue here at the city of Palo Alto… We are investing heavily in our cybersecurity capabilities and defense mechanisms, and protection systems. We’re pretty proactive on this.

On the Internet of Things side of things, people now need to align with our privacy stipulations. And, by the way, we’re still working through this. We’re working with the ACLU, we’re working with some regional organizations, we’re working through this. You know, it’s 2017. […] We don’t yet have this fully worked out. I mean, that’s probably… And what makes it interesting for technologists who are watching, and Dion, you can appreciate this; as we are developing policy and moving forward, the threats are ahead of us. So, we’re kind of like chasing it, right? Getting ahead of this is…

Dion Hinchcliffe: You know, well I think that everyone in technology is still in that right now. The cybersecurity community is feeling that the bad guys are now really organized and they’re maybe better-funded, and they’re becoming an issue across the board. So I just wanted to at least address that. I think it’s much more exciting to talk about the good things that can be done for citizens with these kinds of technologies. And speaking of that, we have a question from Twitter from Scott Weitzman. I have had some good conversations with him online. And he asks a question I wanted to ask, which is, “How can artificial intelligence be better utilized in services for citizens?” Have you had the experience […] services, so far? Are there any lessons learned, or pain points you can share with us?

Jonathan Reichental: Well, we're keeping an eye on this and I'm following a lot of the developments. I think AI in a government context is still relatively young. And, it's probably not, if you're a civic leader like myself, it's probably not yet a priority. But, if you're enlightened, you need to be listening and reading and observing. I'll give one what probably appears to be a relatively simple answer to this. I've been fascinated by the emergence of chatbots, as over two billion people in the world have spent time every week on Facebook and really got comfortable with Facebook messenger and that platform. The paradigm of being able to have a dialogue with what appears to be another messenger colleague, but have AI actually be powering it, I think, is becoming very compelling.

And, one of the experiments we did, and in fact, just in the last four weeks, was to spin up an experimental chatbot on Facebook that would allow a person to type in a, just say, normal, natural language question and have that question go out against our city websites, specifically the IT area of that site, and come back with a meaningful answer. So, rather than do a Google search where you get the thousands of responses, or ten thousand, in the chat session, it would come back with one, specific answer. If I typed in the question, “What is Jonathan’s phone number?” or, “Can you list projects that were completed in FY ’17?”, it would come back with an answer.

So, I've been impressed with that type of AI technology. I think we're going to explore it as part of the next generation of our city's website, and the city's channels for interacting between the community and the government. So, that's kind of a near-term… I think a lot of the AI is going to be baked into some of the infrastructure, for example, around supporting self-driving vehicles. You know, some of our defense mechanisms on the emergence of drones… And so, it's going to show up in many, many different ways.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah, I think you're right. It would be baked into a lot of the IT systems that you'll be deploying for smart cities. We had the CIO the city of Ashville, Jonathan Feldman, on the show and he was also talking about bots as a great way to provide better 24-hour customer service; a place to ask questions and get access to city information in smart ways. And so, I think chatbots are kind of the gateway technology drug for AI. It's easier to get started, non-threatening, for the stripboard understanding there are thousands of bot solutions out there. And of course, they're all maturing. And, I think that's fascinating.

So, we still have about eight minutes left. So, let’s talk a little bit about the relationship between IT and city government. I expect that in Palo Alto, which is such a tech-centric city, it shouldn’t be good, right? But, how do… My background’s in IT, and I was enterprise architecture for many years. I know that IT people love technology. They don’t necessarily love the business side of things and learning the civic side. So, do you have those kinds of issues, or is the relationship really good; or can you give us how you are dealing with the IT-business divide?

Jonathan Reichental: Yeah. It’s kind of an interesting question because you have to ask what's the motivation for people who come to work for the government and the city? You know, one of the things that have happened over the last five years that I've been in the city is we've had quite a few retirements. We've seen some turnover. And, I had the chance, as a consequence, to hire a whole new set of technologists for the city. And so, that’s helpful because I get to, with my colleagues, create a culture based on hiring and that’s often one of the ways in which you can shape the future of your organization.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Mhmm.

Jonathan Reichental: But, the really kind of localized interest here is how do we hire people when technologists could work for all the amazing tech companies that are…

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yes. That’s the big […]

Jonathan Reichental: And so, if the answer, if I said to you, “Well, we get people because we pay more,” I’d be lying, right?

Dion Hinchcliffe: Right. Exactly! With the public sector, that’s the big problem. Here in DC, people make an appeal to the […] who are very mission-oriented. Those who want to do good, that is just as important as them having a higher salary. So, they can get people who are more… have that kind of giving spirit, and who are inclined to work for the public sector for less pay because they get to work in a mission-oriented environment.

Jonathan Reichental: Well, I think that’s exactly right. I think that’s what we’ve done here, is we sell experience and meaningfulness. So, it kind of gets back to your question as to the relationship between IT and the city. You’re coming here because you want to make a difference. I no longer am trying to hire you for a career. Look, if you stay, and you have a career here, that’s awesome. But, if you just come for three or four years, that’s really cool too because you probably want to get back to the private sector anyway.

So, we sell meaning. And people here, the relationship between my team and all the different divisions and departments is strong. People believe in libraries, and our police, and our fire [department], and our public works guys. So, it’s going to be a little unique because the experience is different. I worked for twenty years in the private sector. I know that the relationship between IT and the business is often contentious and doesn’t go smooth. But, I think we’ve groomed a very positive experience here in the city of Palo Alto. I think, by having my team members immerse themselves in departments…

Can I give you just one, quick example?

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yes.

Jonathan Reichental: We have a program that we do every year. It’s on everybody’s appraisal here on the IT team. […] It’s called “A Walk in Your Shoes.” It’s real simple. Everybody in the IT team has to spend at least four hours shadowing a colleague outside of IT. And every year, you have to choose a different person. And it shouldn’t be a friend. It shouldn’t be somebody you’ve never worked for. So, we want people to spend four hours with a librarian or with a utilities engineer, and build trust. You learn about someone else’s job, they learn about yours; you share issues. And, we require that; you get appraised on that work. So that’s one of the ways in which we…

Dion Hinchcliffe: And, we had a lot of CIOs on the show, including Joanna Young last week who said that very same thing. That is proven to be the most effective onboarding tool. It’s to see what people in the city, what city workers actually do [while] on the job, as opposed to caring about it in meetings, right? So, that's great to hear that. Good advice.

Jonathan Reichental: Certainly.

Dion Hinchcliffe: And so, we have time for a couple more questions. So, what about smart cities? Isn’t that an attractive technology? Does it allow you to draw and access better talent? And as a related question to that, […] how much does culture play in the type of changes that we’re making, right? So, to bring in this new talent, and you have to scale up all the people you already have on smart cities, is that a challenge? We were talking about briefly before the show started, and you were saying that the IT people can’t pull too far ahead on the rest of the team in order to be successful.

Jonathan Reichental: Yeah, yeah. There are a lot of great questions there. The issue of where are the projects, the innovation projects relative to the mindshare of the recipient? I mean, that’s something that is an art probably more than a science, right? If you, as an IT team and as an IT leader are pushing forward with something you think will… Something that is a response to a need, but you’re pushing quickly and the organization’s not ready, you’re going to learn about that pretty soon by the way, actually. It will manifest in ways that are pretty obvious. People will reject the technology. And so, I think every IT leader has to confront that.

What was the first question you asked?

Dion Hinchcliffe: Well, I was suggesting that the smart city actually might be a big talent attractor, right?

Jonathan Reichental: Right.

Dion Hinchcliffe: But at the same time, you’re bringing these people who are going to want to do so much, and is that going to kind of leave the rest of the organization behind? […]

Jonathan Reichental: Thank you for the reminder. Great question! I don’t think that we’re using it quite yet as a recruitment tool. I wouldn’t like to sort of focus too exclusively on the technology. I think when we try to sell the experience here, and why this work is so important, I think we have to go back to the people experience, what it means to live in this community or to live in this region, and benefit from the way in which the service is delivered. There could be a challenge, I think, over the medium to long term of overselling the technology at the cost of the bigger mission, which is livability, workability, and sustainability; three objectives.

I think, for a technologist, we're selling a bigger set of qualities. We might call it "smart city" or smart city might be part of it. But look, if you're listening to this and you never considered working in the government, you're going to work on cloud, you're going to work on AI, Internet of Things, Big Data; I mean, some of the coolest work in the world, and it's the hardest, most complicated, and most meaningful work. So, I think there's a great story to be told, and it's a great place to spend either part or your [whole] career.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah. Fantastic and very well-said! So, Jonathan, one final question. So, you’ve now been the CIO of the City of Palo Alto for a while, now. And, you have deep expertise, 25 years of expertise in the IT field. Given everything that’s going on right now, what advice would you have to CIOs just coming into a role like yours, in the public sector, based on the lessons learned that you have? What would you tell them that can help them?

Jonathan Reichental: Well, I thought you might ask this question, so… I could give a few sort of cliched answer, you know, “Be a good listener,” “Work with the business…”

Dion Hinchcliffe: Which are still true, but yeah. That’s… You have to do that anyway!

Jonathan Reichental: [Laughter] You’ve got to do that anyway! People have heard all that. I go back to sort of the question, “What is it that I do that has helped me be successful or to be able to deliver value consistently?” And, one of the things that I see, as a fairly continuous characteristic, is a persistence, right? It’s a persistence. It’s very easy to be distracted. It’s very easy […] for people to say “no.” And, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the public sector or the private sector. When you’re an IT leader, and you, by definition, you’re a disruptor in many ways because you’re probably, at some point, going to change the status-quo by introducing new technology. There’s a lot of reasons for people to say “no” or to push back. And so, if you didn’t have maybe the strength or the courage of your convictions, you might stop. You might say, “Okay.” You might go in a different direction. And, there’s going to be appropriateness for that.

But, I would say this. If you have the courage of your convictions, you’re well-informed, you’ve engaged people; you believe in what needs to happen; it’s this fundamental quality, I think, of being persistent despite all the roadblocks that you might encounter. And, persistence doesn’t mean being inflexible. I don’t think those are equating. I’m saying, persist but be flexible.

Dion Hinchcliffe: Yeah. And adaptable, right? Yeah, exactly. Very great advice! So Jonathan, thank you very much for appearing on CxOTalk! You're a well-known CIO and thought-leader in your own right. We appreciate you taking the time. And, thanks everyone for joining us for CxOTalk. Please join us again on Friday, July 21st, 4:30 PM ET, where we have our show founder. Michael Krigsman will be talking with the CEO of Genpact. Thanks, and have a great day!

Published Date: Jul 18, 2017

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 447