Smart Cities and Digital Transformation, with Jonathan Reichental, CIO, City of Palo Alto

In this episode, Palo Alto's Chief Information Officer, Jonathan Reichental discusses smart cities, digital transformation, leadership, and innovation in local government.


Dec 11, 2015

The City of Palo Alto lies at the heart of Silicon Valley near Stanford University and companies such as Google and Facebook. In this episode, Palo Alto's Chief Information Officer, Jonathan Reichental discusses smart cities, digital transformation, leadership, and innovation in local government.

Dr. Jonathan Reichental, currently the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the City of Palo Alto, is a multiple award-winning technology leader whose 25-year career has spanned both the private and public sectors. In 2013, he was recognized as one of the 25 doers, dreamers, and drivers in government in America. He also won a best CIO in Silicon Valley award and a national IT leadership prize. His innovative work in government has also been recognized by the White House. Dr. Reichental works with his teams to apply technology innovation in organizations to create new value and to enable work to be more meaningful and fun. 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.




Michael Krigsman:

(00:02) Welcome to episode number 147 of CXOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman and today I’m speaking with Jonathan Reichental who is the Chief Information Officer for the city of Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley. And we’re going to be talking about smart cities and data and government and open government and a lot of interesting topics related to innovation. Jonathan, thank you so much for joining us today.

Jonathan Reichental:

(00:37) Thank you Michael, it’s great to be here, I love what you’re doing here so I can’t wait for the conversation.

Michael Krigsman:

(00:43) Well thank you, I am excited and I’ve been an admirer of yours for a long time, watching your tweets and from afar watching the things you’re doing with government and data in Palo Alto. So let’s start by give us a very brief sense of your background, just to set context.

Jonathan Reichental:

(01:05) Sure, so the fact that I’m doing public service is a little bit of a surprise to me as it is to many of my own colleagues, friends, and family. Most of my career is in the private sector, it’s always been tech and it’s always been innovation so those are the two common themes throughout my career today.

(01:27) So I was in the private sector for close in for about 20 years and it’s only in the last four years that I’ve embarked on this very interesting adventure around the future of cities and the future of local government. So that’s my journey and it’s a fantastic place to innovate as you’ll hear in the minutes ahead.

Michael Krigsman:

(01:50) Well tell us about Palo Alto. It’s a famous city and you’ve got a lot of interesting companies there, so tell us about Palo Alto.

Jonathan Reichental:

(01:59) It is a unique place, you’re right Michael. I think that people are surprised at the size of our city. It’s 25 square miles, it’s 67,000 residents only, but I have to say that it grows by 120,000 more people during the day so right now we’re at about 180,000 people in our city.

(02:22) There’s a lot of reasons why it’s become sort of at the heart of Silicon Valley. Hewlett and Packard have a lot to do with it as of the semiconductor industry overall and bringing in engineers out here and building facilities.

(02:40) Today we kind of have a bit of a nexus of important things. We have Stanford University up the street; you can almost see it from my office. You’ve really got the venture capital home here in the world, billions and billions of dollars flowing through Palo Alto each month. You have an affluent community as a result of all the tech firms and this propensity towards innovation. You have a lot of people who are engaged in networking and engage in civic life. So it’s not one thing which makes Palo Alto special, it’s a combination of things.

Michael Krigsman:

(03:30) That must present a challenge to you. You’re chief Information Officer in a city that’s populated with Stanford, the VC’s as you say, Facebook, Google and so many startups it must present a challenge for you.

Jonathan Reichental:

(03:49) I used to be the Chief Information Officer with O’Reilly Media working with Tim O’Reilly. I used to make the comment that being in an amazing company like that it feels like everybody is a CIO or CTO. Now I think I live in a city, I mean I work in a city where everybody is the Chief Information Officer. But I like to think of this as a very positive thing. You know, people are very interested and understand tech and I have this incredible network that I can leverage for ideas, for participation, and brainstorming.

(04:27) A lot of the big tech companies now and a lot of small companies are getting into the civic innovation space. So I have to say that it is something that is a very big positive. I never lose sight as I go around and talk about the cool things we’re doing and some of the assets that I have at my disposal and we do take advantage of it. We do like to work with a large range of stakeholders to achieve the successes we’ve had.

Michael Krigsman:

(05:04) So you take advantage of the local community and essentially the brain trust that exists all around you.

Jonathan Reichental:

(05:11) Yeah, first of all you know, we were inspired by the amazing stuff that happens around us. One of the things that I do with my tech team here in the city is about every two month I take the team out for an hour or two to visit one of the amazing businesses in Palo Alto. And we’ll have our meeting there and we’ll have our all-hands meeting. We’ll hear from the company, we’ll hear from one of their leaders in what they do. We’ll observe the environment in which they work. We were very inspired about the open workspace model and we’ve adopted that here as a consequence.

(05:51) So it broadens minds and it’s a way for us to be inspired and by the way it’s an interesting way for companies to be inspired about the possibilities of local government.

Michael Krigsman:

(06:04) And do you find that these companies are willing to invest the time to share with you and your team.

Jonathan Reichental:

(06:16) We’re sensitive of course to the role of local government and not to over impose. I’ll give you an example, last year I hosted what was called the Palo Alto Apps Challenge. It was a competition that lasted about six months and it was a way to engage the community in helping identify challenges and then solving those challenges by writing software and eventually deploying some smartphone apps.

(06:49) It was enormously successful by the way, 30% of the participants were under the age of 18, which to me was one of the greatest metrics and outcomes of it. But during this journey we had an opportunity to tap into the local innovation ecosystem and in particular we brought some of the 10 finalists to Cloudera. Cloudera is a growing big data company; very successful, and we brought them to Cloudera, their CEO said he would support us getting some coaching from their senior engineers. So the finalists would be able to work with these senior software engineers.

(07:35) And we did, and we went there and we spent an evening with them. And later on I asked the finalists and the eventual winners, you know, what was the thing that was the most exciting to you as part of this process, and they listed a couple of things but in the top three was the ability to work with you know some of the finest software engineers in the world for several hours, so they could comment on code, they could do white boarding sessions. They really liked that and that really in many ways you know epitomizes what’s pretty neat about living and working here.

Michael Krigsman:

(08:14) Now, you’ve been very involved with this idea of digital transformation in cities also known as smart cities. Tell us about that, so to begin with what is a smart city?

Jonathan Reichental:

(08:30) Yeah, we’re getting into this topic in a big way. It does start with digital cities, so we started the journey about four years ago, around the time I joined. You know, the city manager approached me and said, Jonathan what’s a bold vison for tech at City Hall, and you know I was doing my own work, and I was researching and talking to a lot of colleagues and talking to a lot of people outside the city. And we basically settled upon the idea of creating, building and enabling and leading a digital city in the United States.

(09:04) And digital cities is just what it sounds like. It’s using the internet to provide city services, so it’s taking a lot of paper based services and putting them on the internet, on website, deploying lots of cell phone capabilities and smart phone capabilities, having a more open government and making available data in machine consumable formats as well as other formats. A whole collection of internet related digital related areas.

(09:38) By the way, we started that journey in 2011. In 2013, the center for digital government based out of Sacramento named Palo Alto the number one digital city in America for our size. So we were thrilled to get that recognition of our efforts. It was not a recognition that we’d finished the job. If anything it was a recognition that we had started the journey and were heading in the right direction, and each year since then we’ve been named in the top five most digital cities in America.

(10:11) But if I could get to the heart of your question which is smart cities, smart cities is really the next generation for this. In digital it is really about moving from analog to bits, and in smart cities it’s not only the sort of digital world, but it’s the physical world too.

(10:33) So if I could sort of summarize, we have significant challenges in our cities, whether it’s great transportation options, whether it’s the impact our cities are having on climate change, and they happen to be the number one most important place for making a difference. Whether it’s energy and energy solutions, whether it’s better buildings, more health, better public safety, all of these things are going to benefit from an improved and innovative technology.

(11:06) So if we bring together massive city problems – and these are tough ones. We bring together innovative technology, data, civic engagement. If you kind of mash that together you really have the beginning of a definition of a future in which cities just operate better; they create a better quality of life. And I think if you can distil out of that in somewhere there is a definition for what a smart city is.

Michael Krigsman:

(11:35) Give us some examples, this is pretty interesting. So you’re bringing together massive problems, data, and innovative solutions, so give us some examples of how this actually makes life better for the people who live in Palo Alto.

Jonathan Reichental:

(11:54) Okay, so I’ll use two examples; one relatively simple and one more complex. You know when you enter an urban environment and when you come into Palo Alto, there is a lot of traffic in the Downtown areas. The general number that’s thrown about is that about 40% of the congestion are people looking for parking spaces, 40%. And this is pretty consistent worldwide; this is not an American or Californian phenomenon. This is a global phenomenon. So we go find ways for people to identify available parking spaces so cars can go directly to them, I think we can extrapolate potentially you can reduce the amount of overall urban center congestion.

(12:44) So a smart city approach would say, well how do you make available this knowledge that a parking space is available. Well you might have a sensor and yes, in Palo Alto we are experimenting with sensors in parking spaces. And once a sensor knows whether a car is in that space or not that information then transmits to some cloud resource, which in turn is consumed by an app, and then the app will inform the driver.

(13:13) So that’s one that I think everybody can relate to this one, but let’s continue the thought around transportation because it happens to be definitely among city governments among the top five big challenges.

(13:30) In the city of Palo Alto we recently have gone from analog traffic signals to internet protocol based traffic signals. So traffic signals become nodes on a network, they become potentially more intelligent. We can control them through software.

(13:46) Now there’s lots of advantages. People get frustrated by traffic signals, maybe a light, a very popular intersection; the light is too long at red. Perhaps it’s too brief and it could be dangerous. So now we can do a few things now with this new network. For one, we can have a dynamic and we’ve got dynamic across the entire city, so it changes based on conditions. So that’s one and that’s not entirely innovative, that’s happened for a while even on the analog systems but we can have a granular level of managing those signals.

(14:23) The next thing we can do we can start to have a series of sensors on traffic signals that can count traffic, you know count different types of traffic. Is the traffic bicycles, pedestrians, cars, trucks, and the sensors can tell us what direction are these different entities going.

(14:41) Once we are able to collect that information in real time, 24 hours a day, we can start to inform the decision makers about how we plan our infrastructure, how we can redesign dangerous intersections or make them more efficient. So we’re working on that, so that’s smart transportation. That’s having the infrastructure respond to human and human needs in a much more organic and intelligent way.

Michael Krigsman:

(15:10) So the sensor data enables the beneficiaries immediately like in the case of parking, or people that are circling around trying to find a parking space, and yet you can also use that data for broader strategic planning within the scope of city planning departments.

Jonathan Reichental:

(15:35) I think that’s exactly right and think of these things as sort of the near term opportunities. I mean if we can get both of these things right and we’ll tweak and calibrate as we work through this work, there’s going to be obvious advantages to the community of Palo Alto and other communities to do this.

(15:54) But let’s start to think even further; we’re going to be collecting an enormous amount of data with these traffic signals. There might be other stakeholders who are interested, and we’ve already met with some of the car companies, many of the global car companies have innovation labs in Palo Alto or close by and they’re interested in traffic information. They’re really interested in real time traffic information that we can potentially send o the cloud over our network and then it can be consumed by a whole range of stakeholders because we’re basically going to make it all available. And so you can imagine a leading car company might want to understand traffic patterns in a particular urban area.

(16:45) If we even go further maybe the car company wants to feed that data to the cars, the cars can be more intelligent and more informed and I start to think about a world potentially in the next decade or beyond where we have self-driving cars and cars on demand, data is going to be really important. Rich, real time environmental data will really contribute towards safer traffic, easier flowing traffic and our hope and I think everyone’s hope is just a smarter traffic network.

Michael Krigsman:

(17:22) Jonathan, we have a question from Arsalan Khan on Twitter who asks, is there a smart city model that you have used or learned from as you’ve been constructing your smart city in Palo alto.

Jonathan Reichental:

(17:40) Thank you so much for that question. So one of the qualities that the city of Palo Alto adheres to and certainly a personal quality is we’re going to be transparent about everything, and we’re really at the start of this smart city journey as are most cities despite that some claim differently. We’re all figuring this out together.

(18:09) The way I would define the state of Palo Alto today is we have a couple of handfuls of initiatives and projects underway that meet the definition of smart city initiative. I’ll say to you today, we don’t have a cohesive multi-year strategy yet. So it’s December 2015 if Michael you and I talk a year from now, I hope my answer will be different I think it will be.

(18:37) I’ve been charged to work with some of our city leadership to start to craft a framework for what a smart city strategy looks like in Palo Alto. And I’m going to say this right now that I’m going to share it with whoever wants it. We’re going to be open about it and publish it, and so at the right time and when it’s ready and others want to review it and even use it. Part of the privilege of working for the birthplace and heart of Silicon Valley is that people look to us, and are interested in what we’re doing and we can create positive models for local government.

(19:14) So it’s not the best answer your Twitter follower wanted but it’s a honest answer in where we’re at in this journey together.

Michael Krigsman:

(19:26) Well clearly you’ve done a lot, but clearly it’s still early days for all of this and then there’s sensors, an Internet of Things, everything you’re talking about.

Jonathan Reichental:

(19:35) Yeah, so what does it mean early days, what it means is there’s enormous opportunity ahead. There’s an enormous amount of opportunity for those people who want to make a difference, those people who want to participate from a social good perspective. It’s early days for entrepreneurs. And you know, as we look out and I listen to some of the analysts who are well informed of this, this is a multi-billion dollar opportunity and over the course of a decade or so, it’s multi-trillions of opportunity to effectively rethink, redesign, reengineer and rebuild our cities.

(20:16) Some countries have the luxury of building new cities, that are being built from the ground up as smart cities, but sadly that won’t be the case for the mass majority of cities of the world. We have to change the wings on the plane as the plane is flying. We don’t have the choice to shut down a city for a few years to do the retrofit; we have to do it while it’s on the way.

(20:45) So you know, I would encourage so many people to think about how they can be part of this as a long-term employment opportunity, even a short-term employment opportunity, how businesses can get engaged. This is going to be high value work in the future. You know, we’re entering a world in which we’re thinking about what will humans do when robots and artificial intelligence are contributing to so much of what we do. It’s got to be high value, good work for many of us. And if you want to look at one of the sectors, you know I’m really excited about the possibilities for cities and what we can do.

Michael Krigsman:

(21:27) Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about how you go about these projects. It requires infrastructure, technology, there’s a cultural dimension I’m sure inside the city. There’s getting the public to use this. I’m sure that along the way because you’re in government and because you’re transparent you must have critics that say no, no, no, don’t change because that’s the nature of the beast; you’re doing something new. So how do you go about doing this.

Jonathan Reichental:

(22:01) Oh it’s so easy! I’m just kidding of course. There’s many parts to that question; that is an insightful question. You know, if we never did anything with tech at the beginning we’d still have a lot of work to do on culture, and we do have to educate city leaders, elected officials, city managers, commissioners, the people who are in a position of being able to make the important decisions that lie ahead.

(22:39) There is going to be a period of education. You know, that fact that we’re just having this conversation today and we’re talking about what a digital city is and what a smart city is, we’re already ahead of the curve. You know, many people don’t understand what this is and many people don’t understand how the things we’re talking about fit into the context of other city priorities,

(23:02) We still have you know, here in Northern California despite quite a lot of affluence, we have a housing crisis and we have a homeless crisis, I mean we have drought. We have very fundamental challenges that when you talk about digitizing and smartness, people might say, well wait a minute; we’ve no patience for that. that might happen in a different time you’ve got to solve these other issues.

(23:28) What we have to do as leaders, technologists, and entrepreneurs and innovators is educate and then being to build the storyline around how a smarter city actually helps to solve some of these other issues like better use of water.

(23:50) If we have sensors on water water systems for example, that are small and cheap, we can detect leaks easier, and we can solve those leaks so we don’t lose as much you know fresh water as we do when we distribute water around cities. This is a big problem in the US, but it’s a huge problem in places like India, China and across the world, so let me be clear that the challenges ahead are not, even for an enlightened and educated and engaged community like the city of Palo Alto.

(24:28) Let me just give you just one quick sort of idea of that. one of the things people challenge me with when I’m in conferences talking is they say well it’s so easy for you because you’re in the city of Palo Alto. Well there’s a little bit of truth to that. I certainly have people who will listen to these ideas because they’re in tune with tech. but we’re also careful and pragmatic about taxpayer money. We also have a lot of priorities. So often when I come forward with an idea or my team does, particularly when that’s pushing up against the edge of innovation.

(25:08) You know, when we first proposed our open data platform there was a lot of resistance, and I take that responsibility to be able to educate, build a strong business case in support of something like this, really focusing on value and benefit. So I don’t get a free ride. It’s a little easier that it would be perhaps in a different city without the technology ecosystem we have here. But the onus is on us as leaders to use the same quality we use in the private sector to convince people of value and move forward with the tough work ahead.

Michael Krigsman:

(25:48) Tell us about, let’s talk about the data aspect of this, the type of data you can collect and the ways that you can use it internally, but also in the ways that you can share it with the public to make that open data accessible to other people who have good ideas and might want to use it.

Jonathan Reichental:

(26:07) Thanks for that question. We really started our open data work around 2011 and we were modest in our aspirations at that point. There was no platform so I wanted us to deploy a platform. I wanted us to get some basic data sets on it, demographic information, some energy information; after all Palo Alto is a full utilities city. We provide electricity, gas, water and other utilities.

(26:40) We wanted to experiment and get some experience in taking data from our enterprise systems and making it available to the public. At the time we really characterized it as a – first of all a responsibility. Government has to make available most data anyway through both the Federal Assess to Information Act, Freedom of Information Act or here locally the California Public Record Act. So we have to do it anyway mostly, so this was a way of saying, we’ll get ahead of the questions and make the data available; makes for a richer, more open democracy.

(27:28) You know when we put our salary information on open data, the day we did that really changed in many ways the relationship between the city and the media. This was an area that historically was contentious because sometimes you know, many many years ago the city would make available a PDF file and when the media wanted to publish salaries, and the PDF file wasn’t exactly the most fun to work with when you want to slice and dice and analyze data. So today you can do that we make it a machine consumable format so you can take a look at that data.

(28:10) But as the years have passed we’ve matured our open data platform, the value proposition has grown too. Just a couple of years ago we posted our permit data. And permit data is very valuable and very interesting to a large number of stakeholders. And actually we just published in in near real time, so I think at the time once every 12 hours. If you went in on Monday morning to our development services center or actually go online and request the permit for some construction in your house, by night that information which is public record would already be on our open data system.

(28:53) So we started publishing that and a number of companies decided to build applications around it, by consuming that permit data and building solutions for lots of people who are interested in it. Think about that, all we did was make the data available. These companies on their own volition and own budgets built solutions that ultimately are actually quite useful to our community and to our city staff.

(29:21) So we started to enable an ecosystem of external private entities to build solutions that we may have ultimately had to build or perhaps we would like to build but never got to it. And so today, it’s quite a rich interaction between the data sets we have and the stakeholders from private businesses to academics to community members, who consume and use that data for a whole host of things.

Michael Krigsman:

(29:53) I think that this whole notion of the combination of processes for example like parking, how can we do parking today, how can we think the way that we do parking being enabled by sensors and by data, woven together through the cloud is so interesting. Do you have other similar examples of things you’ve either done or would like to do?

Jonathan Reichental:

(30:27) I’ll give you another example and I’ll also kind of issue a challenge to entrepreneurs. So the backdrop of your question is here we see the emergence of the Internet of Things, right, this idea that we’re going to be able to not only have almost every device and piece of infrastructure collect information and be able to produce information, to create an enormous amount of data, send that to the cloud, have that consumed, have machines make decisions independent of humans.

(31:09) We’re creating this you know an enormous amount of new capabilities. If the first sort of phase to the internet was about connecting humans to computers, and then the second phase was about using the internet to connect humans to humans, this third phase which is connecting machines to machines is going to be much bigger and transformational than those two first phases.

(31:40) And if you think about what that means when you embed an Internet of Things in a city context and the city ultimately is a collection of things we can only anticipate that we’re entering of what potentially could be a series of revolutionary changes in the way our cities operate. So I want to really stress the opportunity that the Internet of Thing presents in a city context a lone.

(32:10) The other example I’ll give here moving away from transportation is around energy. Cities need to think deeply about how they’re going to be powered and provide the quality of life that every human wants around the world as we are now an urban planet and the entire planet will live in cities by about 2050 and energy needs are going to be enormous. So we have to be thinking and acting on different way of providing and consuming energy.

(32:49) By the way a slight segue, we’re very optimistic about the role solar will play now. I think we’re moving from solar being a novelty, to solar becoming a real viable option and then potentially leading the charge in decades ahead.

(33:09) So when we look at energy there is a concept called Smart Grid, which really reflex the very best of the Internet of Things. Rather than your house being a I call it respectively a dumb entity on the edge of an energy network, your house becomes a treasure trove of data around every socket and every device you use, your washing machine, your television, you know every one of your iPads and other devices. And if we can start to collect that at the device level, and we do as an experiment we’re starting to do that in Palo Alto here, we have a small smart grid, we start to aggregate that and we can do lots of things with that data.

(33:58) So at the house level, right down to the home and family level an enormous and interesting amount of data can be produced and actually delivered back to the family in a way that they can understand their energy consumption behaviors.

(34:14) But we can also take neighborhoods and aggregate this information such that now we can see behavior across neighborhoods, now we can look for opportunities for improvement. When we feed that information in an anonymous fashion back to neighborhoods people become quite competitive. We start to gamify how they use their power. So if you are a outlier and you see houses and homes of similar size and you’re an outlier, Then perhaps would be an incentive there to understand more, like what are we doing different to our neighbors and perhaps  encourage positive behavior.  So you know, you can see the range of possibilities here and I’m only touching on it very lightly

Michael Krigsman:

(35:09) How do you sell this inside the city, because as you said there are all of these different priorities and here is Jonathan Reichental who is the CIO of the city going before the city council or to whatever group it is that needs to fund this and approve this, and you’re talking science fiction and they’re saying, well what are they saying?

Jonathan Reichental:

(35:39) Well hopefully it’s not all science fiction. You know when you’re a leader you do have to paint a vision for the future and sometimes you can lose people that way of course, but other times you have opportunity to inspire. So some of the things we do we try to be as practical as possible. I mean we’re only given a little bit of space to think big and to envisage the future. We have to make it real quickly and so that’s what we try to do.

(36:17) Now, this is not a mission for me alone. One of the important qualities for being successful in beginning the journey towards smart city is that everybody’s involved. And so the messaging has to come across departments, whether you’re the public works department, the utilities, the parks department, even our police chief and even libraries, we all have to be part of this dialog and not only champion positives across departments, but champion the positives that are relevant to individual departments.

(37:07) I’m looking forward to your follow there, I would just say that, let me summarize by saying we have little room for science fiction but we have to be visionary, bold, but we have to be almost always practical and this voice from change has to come from across the organization.

Michael Krigsman:

(37:28) So this type of innovation, the only way to make it happen from what you’re saying is to develop a consensus or at the very least a collaboration around some goals that goes across different departments in the city.

Jonathan Reichental:

(37:49) I really do yes that’s exactly right. You know let me give you two quick little thoughts here. One is on the broad topic of innovation and I’ve been one way or the other involved with innovation for almost 25 years is innovation doesn’t belong to a department or an individual. Companies and organizations that have Chief Innovation Officers need to be real careful about how that’s implemented, because what happens is the people will see that somebody else owns that responsibility and that will allow them to be not a participant in innovative things.

(38:33) Now that said, clearly the Chief Innovation Officer has a significant role to play but it has to be collaborative at heart. It can’t be a center; it has to be collaborative across the organization. And the other thing I want to share, I think I’ve lost my train of thought on that but let’s continue.

Michael Krigsman:

(38:58) Yeah, the whole idea of collaboration and on that topic and unfortunately we’re drawing to a close we have another five or 10 minutes left. What advice do you have to people who are listening who are maybe not in a location like Palo Alto, which in it’s DNA seems open to many of the things that you’re talking about, but who are listening and hearing what you’re saying how do I do this in my city? This sounds great but where do I start?

Jonathan Reichental:

(39:36) Yeah, firstly if they’re asking that question I’m super excited because that is the first right question. You know, it’s going to start with a conversation and a conversation with many people. As we go into 2016, a couple of big themes are emerging around tech and our society and organizations. We are well under way now with the digital transformation.

(40:06) You know the digital transformation is so quick and so aggressive the big domains and organizations that we’re so familiar with are quite scared. You know are quite scared about the change ahead. They come to Palo Alto and they set up innovation labs just to try to figure out you know how to shift gears and become part of the digital transformation. It’s changing everything from healthcare to hotels and taxis, tourism, publishing; there is not a domain in our society and in our economy globally now that isn’t impacted by digital transformation.

(40:50) And the second phenomenon is the Internet of Things and how this may be and will likely be bigger than the opening acts of the internet over the last 30 years. So you’ve got to have the conversation and you asked me, what are the steps to take, if you’re hearing silence in your organization whether it’s a private company or a government organization that should be a little bit of a red flag for concern.

(41:26) You know in the private sector in a big way because that’s an existential threat; your business won’t survive if you’re not embracing the digital transformation. In the government it will be a matter of you know, quality services, it will be a matter of meeting community expectations. And the government is going to be about having the kind of cities we want to live in. so you’ve got to start this conversation.

(41:49) Now the next thing to have is a vision, what is that vision for your city. And building that vision you’ve got to bring in the right stakeholders. It could be that the discussion starts at the CIO level. Now by the way, lots of cities don’t have CIOs or CTOs, so if you’re a city manager, or in fact if you’re just a person who is passionate about this space you’re the one who should probably raise it if it’s not being raised and get it to the attention of executives.

(42:22) From there you’ve got to build a vision, even if you are not intending to build or to start the work next year or the year after, what is the comprehensive plan over the next 15 years. The vision will reflect your challenges, so every community, every city is different and so you’ll want to focus on the things that are really important. Is it a better economy for which many cities that’s a driver? Is it more housing options? Is it transportation which I’ve used as a theme throughout this conversation today? You know, identify those areas and wrap around that with some form of strategy.

(43:01) To the extent you can and the extent you have tech communities, as tech organizations in your community, I think there is an opportunity for some outreach and building a workgroup of both city leaders and other stakeholders within your city or organization, the tech community and the other private organizations that have a role to play, and community members. You know we’re all about digital but you’ve got to get in a room you know, at the community center and have a debate, you know bring forward what’s happening in other communities like Palo Alto and others where there are positive changes happening.

(43:52) And I wouldn’t worry about the funding right away. Right, there’s a lot of work to do and it’s going to take a long time. I’d really be concerned right now in those initial steps; the right stakeholders, a vision, and a rigorous debate as you  work towards developing your vision and strategy.


Michael Krigsman:

(44:10) So one final question then related to this because unfortunately we’re just running out of time. What advice do you have to innovators in the government facing resistance, what should they do?

Jonathan Reichental:

(44:32) And I have empathy for them, because I know that they do get this resistance. You know I think they could look to good examples, do their homework and show the possibilities. Look for champions. You know in organizations when you want to get things done that are complicated and there is a chance for resistance, some of those strategic moves you can make are defined as allies. Find out who is on the same page with you, take people to lunch, have coffee and begin to build a network of people who support you.

(45:14) If it’s just you and you’re an alone voice that’s going to be hard and it is hard. You know so, this is not easy and I know some IT managers somewhere in the United States is watching this video live or will watch it as a recording and say you know, Jonathan, he’s in Palo Alto, he’s got all these advantages. You know I have a high degree and empathy for that. So start the hard work because it’s worth it, it really is worth it. We have to together recreate our cities. We can’t apply the solutions of the 20th Century with 211st Century problems. It’s going to require bright and motivated individuals.

(46:08) So you have my support, I reach out to people that could help champion, and that could be me but it could be somebody in a city that’s closer to you that you admire, and know that when you do succeed and it’ll be worth the effort and the difficulty it is right now.

Michael Krigsman:

(46:32) Okay, well what an insightful conversation that we’ve just been having with Jonathan Reichental who is the Chief Information Officer fo r the city of Palo Alto. Jonathan thank you so much for taking the time today to share your expertise with us.

Jonathan Reichental:

(46:52) Thanks Michael, I have enjoyed it and I’m always surprised how quick the time goes. By the way, I’m thrilled with the work you’re doing and I think these videos that you do, these conversations are valuable. I’ve watched many of the interviews you’ve done and you get incredible people on your show, so keep it up and thank you it was a privilege to spend some time with you today.

Michael Krigsman:

(47:16) Thank you you’re very kind, and I hope you’ll come back and we’ll do it again.

Jonathan Reichental:


Michael Krigsman:

(47:21) You have been watching episode number 147 of CXOTalk with Jonathan Reichental, who’s the CIO for the city of Palo Alto, and boy oh boy, this 45 minutes has gone by quickly. Everybody, thank you for watching and thank you to Jonathan and we’ll see you next week. Bye bye.


Companies mentioned on today’s show with Jonathan Reichental:




Hewlett and Packard: 

O’Reilly Media:             


Follow Jonathan Reichental:

LinkedIn :



Published Date: Dec 11, 2015

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 306