VIDEO: The Future of Work from the 4th Industrial Revolution Series

April 7, 2019 - 11:06 pm

The future of work from Foundations of The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) by Jonathan Reichental


VIDEO: Government Services in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

March 28, 2019 - 9:27 pm

VIDEO: Discussion on Tech Jobs in 2019 and Beyond

February 14, 2019 - 8:35 pm

TRAILER: Foundations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

February 8, 2019 - 1:52 am

You can watch the full video series here.


New Course Available: Securing Cryptocurrencies

January 23, 2019 - 6:57 pm


Course: Foundations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

January 3, 2019 - 5:29 pm

Upcoming changes with the fourth industrial revolution from Foundations of The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) by Jonathan Reichental


S3 Ep3: Indexing the Brain

December 26, 2018 - 3:52 pm

Jonathan and Tom discuss a variety of topics related to the ethical aspects of emerging technologies. It is a rambling discussion recorded live at the CTO Summit in San Francisco on November 2018. Music credit: Kevin MacLeod.


VIDEO: My TED-Style Talk at Flux About Cities and Blockchain

October 30, 2018 - 10:57 am


PODCAST: My Interview on the IT Visionaries Show

October 26, 2018 - 6:23 pm

Click here to enjoy.


FREE REPORT: The Future Belongs to Cities by Dr. Jonathan Reichental

September 19, 2018 - 4:04 pm

Click Here to Download The Future Belongs to Cities Report


VIDEO: What Problems Might Blockchain Solve for Government?

September 9, 2018 - 11:02 pm


S3 Ep2: The Improv of Life

September 7, 2018 - 3:08 pm

Jonathan and Tom welcome their guest, Dr. Tia Kansara. It’s a wide ranging discussion that includes thoughts on self-driving cars, blockchain, and sustainability. Recorded at a restaurant in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Plenty of laughs and food for thought. Music credit: Kevin MacLeod.


VIDEO: Interview on Future of Cities with Silicon Valley Innovation Center

August 30, 2018 - 6:43 pm


What an Honor! Addressing the United Nations in NYC on July 9, 2018

August 10, 2018 - 5:14 pm


Every disruption demands dialogue

August 4, 2018 - 4:26 pm


A Day Without Teaching or Learning is Like a Day Without Water

July 23, 2018 - 12:48 pm


S3 Ep1: Truth Decay – The Live Show

July 20, 2018 - 7:59 pm

Special live audience edition of Drinking Wine Talking Tech recorded in Sacramento, California on May 17, 2018. It’s raw and unedited. While the recording begins somewhat distorted, it improves later. Jonathan and Tom discuss a wide range of tech issues.


PODCAST: Digital Transformation in the Workplace

July 9, 2018 - 9:59 am


My Blockchain and Crypto Online Courses Rated Best in 2018

- 9:50 am

More info here:


Palo Alto’s CTO: The Smart Future of Cities and Society

March 31, 2018 - 11:11 am


S2 Ep7: [Bonus Show] Is Any of This Real?

December 23, 2017 - 1:29 pm

Jonathan and Tom discuss a wide variety of topics with the leading tech podcaster in New Zealand, Paul Spain. As usual we ask the tough questions and get very few answers. This time we even ask when we will get to experience the matrix. There are a lot of bad jokes.


S2 Ep6: The World of Smart Things

December 19, 2017 - 10:27 pm

Jonathan and Tom welcome guest, Alex Hawkinson, CEO of SmartThings. They talk about the future of the connected home and what it is like to work for Samsung. It is a fascinating journey into the mind of somebody who believes everything that can be connected will be connected. There is lots of wine too.


S2 Ep5: Everything Will Be Connected

December 16, 2017 - 1:30 am

Jonathan and Tom discuss the state of device connectivity with expert, Bill Pugh. While nobody is following the script, the conversation covers some fascinating insights on where we have been and where we are headed with connecting everything. Extensive laughter ensues.


S2 Ep4: How Do You Define Innovation?

December 9, 2017 - 4:55 pm

Jonathan and Tom discuss the complex and poorly understood word innovation with guest Saker Ghani. Saker is a global innovation leader and has worked on the iPod, iTunes, and the Yahoo home page. Currently with PwC, he lives and breaths the topic of innovation every day.


S2 Ep3: Scott McNealy Wants to Reinvent Education

- 3:12 am

Jonathan and Tom welcome Scott McNealy, Silicon Valley luminary and co-founder and CEO of Sun Microsystems. Scott talks about Steve Jobs, the future of education, his family, and why he believes blockchain is a game-changing technology. It is an incredible journey into the mind of a remarkable titan of Silicon Valley.


S2 Ep2: Can We Save the Planet?

November 23, 2017 - 2:07 am

Jonathan and Tom finally welcome their first guest. They chat with one of the founders of the sustainability movement, Gil Friend. They get real answers to our most serious human challenge. And yes, there is wine and a few jokes.


S2 Ep1: Preview of Season 2 – Guests and Drones

November 16, 2017 - 3:00 am

Jonathan and Tom are back for Season 2. Surprised by thousands of listeners to season one, this time they are adding amazing guests and tackling tough technology topics. Oh, and there is some wine too. In this episode they preview the topics and guests. They also chat briefly about a future of drones.


Begun the Drone War Has

November 5, 2017 - 7:01 pm

15-year old Luke Bannister had a proud and exuberant smile on his face. He had just flown the flight of his life hurtling at stunning speeds and taking steep corners, avoiding obstacles, and out-thinking all his opponents. In doing so, he walked away with the $250,000 first prize at the inaugural World Drone Prix in Dubai. His success was witnessed by 2000 spectators and envied by his 250 competitors.

Luke and his teammates are part of a global movement of drone racers, not quite mainstream yet, but quickly emerging as an exciting new sport. All around the world, competitions are being held with competitors of all ages and with drones of all types, big and small. Drone racing requires exceptional skills including strategy, reflexes, and nerves of steel. Leagues are sponsored by brands such as AIG, DHL, and Mountain Dew. The Drone Racing League has a TV rights deal with ESPN. It’s starting to be big business.

A couple of years ago, I attended a smart city event in Yinchuan, China. On one evening at an outdoor dinner, post meal entertainment included what initially appeared to be a fireworks display. Instead, it was an illusion. In place of explosions, a fantastic highly choreographed aerial dance was performed by what appeared to be tens, if not hundreds, of small synchronized drones. In addition to colorful sequences set to music, the drone spelled words and completed gravity-defying stunts. It was spectacular.

[Watch Intel’s 500 Light Drone Show Here]

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. James Klein arrives for his piloting shift in Las Vegas. First for a briefing and then he takes his position inside a featureless building for his 10-hour workday. He’ll spend the day flying a Predator XP drone somewhere over the Middle East looking for persons of interest. He describes his job as 99% boredom and 1% adrenaline rush. Today he’s piloting alone but knows that in a few months he’ll be joined by a co-pilot. Not a human, but artificial intelligence (AI). The military bets that a human and AI can be more effective than either alone.

On this day, if James does launch a missile at a target he’ll have to head to his suburban home that evening and keep it to himself as he shares dinner with his family. Such is the nature of drone warfare in the 21st century.

Hurricane Matthew made U.S. landfall on Oct. 8, 2016. While a category 1, the storm caused significant damage and the worst came days later in the form of flooding. Paramedic Andrew Miller of Horry County Fire Rescue was sent to help evacuate stranded residents. Throughout his engagement he used a drone to help with operations. The drone developed a 360-degree, real-time overview of Andrew’s flooding area. He was able to gain a more complete understanding of the incident, looking at where the floods were, determining the best way to deliver services to those in need and providing critical information to rescue crews—not just verbal information but visual information of the situation they were being deployed to. For emergency workers of all types, drones are transforming emergency response. In industrial and many other organizational contexts, drones have the potential to do the same thing.

In early 2017, ground drones otherwise known as unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) started to appear on the streets of Redwood City, California. These drones were delivering take-out to residents. According to their maker, Starship Technologies, the ground drones are about 15 inches high, can carry three bags of groceries and weigh about 50 pounds when full. Their maximum speed is 4 mph and have nine cameras and proprietary mapping software that’s accurate down to an inch. Among the anticipated advantages, the experimental deployment is hoped to reduce traffic and delivery cost.

It’s All Fun and Games Until…

Unbeknownst to hundreds of workers busily making their way to work on a typical workday morning, a small drone with its noise drowned out by the hustle and bustle, was flying overhead and collecting the private information from smartphones in people’s pockets. It was doing this using software called Snoopy and was leveraging any of the phones with WiFi turned on. The drone captured an abundance of content including the websites that people visited, credit card information entered or saved on different sites, location data, usernames and passwords.

In the years ahead we will deploy billions of devices that will connect to the Internet—mostly wirelessly. In our increasingly connected smart homes we already do it with items such as our thermostats, entertainment, and home security systems. Our cities are becoming smarter with the deployment of millions (and soon billions) of sensors for everything from traffic management to air quality measurement. This Internet-of-Things (IoT) has remarkable advantages and will transform ourselves, homes, organizations, and cities. But they will be ripe for exploitation. And potentially by drones. Research teams from Israel and Canada demonstrated how a drone could exploit a software vulnerability in wirelessly connected light-bulbs and turn them on and off at a distance. Imagine for a moment a drone attack that turns off city lights in neighborhoods or citywide, or worse flickers them eliciting mass neurological responses.

For every advantage that a new innovation has, the bad guys will exploit it in their favor too. That’s life.

The Air Force in the United States, and in many other countries, are working on using drones in swarms. Rather than a handful of drones being used to attack a target, hundreds, perhaps thousands, can be used to overwhelm air defenses or to crash into targets. Technology is now enabling one pilot to commandeer a vast swarm of drones that completely changes air capabilities. But what happens when the bad guys do this too? Not limited to the battlefield, hackers could take over consumer and commercial drones in vast numbers and use them to disrupt public events with tragic consequences. They don’t need to weaponize them, the drone is the weapon.

And Here We Are

Almost unknown in the consumer space until the end of the 1990’s, drones have emerged as a serious industry in the first two decades of the new century. Fortune magazine estimates that from 2015-2025, the drone industry will have an economic impact of more than $82 billion and will create over 100,000 high-paying jobs. What’s responsible for the explosion in drone purchasing and use? For one, the technology has dropped in cost and comes in many shapes and sizes. Drone options range from just a few dollars to thousands of dollars depending on use and interest. Finally, they have incredible diversity of use including those I’ve explored in this article, but many more including capturing live events, delivery mechanisms, hobbyists, making personal videos, and in professional movie-making and journalism. Soon, drones will carry people. There are many more uses.

Regulation is finally catching up and in many countries drone rules are on the books. Some communities are fighting against drones as a noise nuisance, as a danger to humans, and as an expansion of privacy intrusion. Sure, there’s plenty of contention between enthusiasts and legislators and I’d bet that will continue for a long time. Make sure you know the rules and if drones interest you, consider becoming engaged in the debate.

Of course, as you’d expect, in response to the threats posed by drones used for nefarious reasons, a whole new defense industry is emerging that includes hardware and software solutions; and risk management services. Dedrone provides a good example of these types of emergent enterprises. New innovation will be required as the threats continue to speed ahead of the solutions.

For many of us, drones have been a side-show; something interesting but not necessary high on our radar. Those days are over. Drones must be considered in your organizational strategy, whether as a tool to optimize or improve a function of your business, or to understand and mitigate the risks they will pose in the years ahead.

I used to look at drones from a distance. Not anymore.


VIDEO: Smart City Interview on Belgium’s “Steven Talks” Series

October 26, 2017 - 9:15 pm


VIDEO: Keynote at Cybersecurity Symposium, San Jose, CA

September 29, 2017 - 12:59 pm


45-Min Video Interview on CXOTalk

July 22, 2017 - 9:27 pm


My Smart Cities Short Documentary

July 7, 2017 - 4:59 pm

Smart Cities: Solving Urban Problems Using Technology by Jonathan Reichental


Trailer for my New Short Documentary on Smart Cities

July 2, 2017 - 11:28 am


S1 Ep6: Season Finale – The Data Show

June 17, 2017 - 6:35 pm

Jonathan and Tom leave the best to last. This is the show you have been waiting for. It is the data show. But they take a different angle on this popular topic. Per usual you will learn nothing but you might smile. Music: Kevin MacLeod. Give us feedback via Twitter: @Reichental or on our official Facebook page:
Season 1 Episode 6 of 6.


S1 Ep5: The End of Ownership

May 13, 2017 - 3:29 pm

Jonathan and Tom take on the complex and speculative topic of the end of ownership. Why own anything if you can rent what you need when you need it, always have the latest, and not pay for something when not in use? You may not get the answer in this podcast but you will likely have a little laugh. Music: Kevin MacLeod. Give us feedback via Twitter: @Reichental or on our official Facebook page:
Season 1 Episode 5 of 6.


S1 Ep4: What Makes Silicon Valley Tick?

May 7, 2017 - 10:50 pm

Jonathan and Tom do it again. A meandering dialogue of nonsense with occasional moments of brilliance. Today they talk about innovation in Silicon Valley. If you are desperate for something to listen to on the treadmill, you might try this. Music: Kevin MacLeod. Give us feedback via Twitter: @Reichental or on our official Facebook page:
Season 1 Episode 4 of 6.


VIDEO: The Trillion Dollar Smart City Opportunity

February 19, 2017 - 8:40 pm


My Chapter on Smart Cities Now Available in New Textbook

January 1, 2017 - 1:00 pm

Click Here to Preview Contents


PODCAST: My Interview on Cities as the Digital Hubs of the Future

December 24, 2016 - 3:15 pm


VIDEO: How To Be A Chief Inspiration Officer

December 4, 2016 - 5:36 pm



Click on the image to watch the video.


Still Struggling to Understand the Blockchain? Start Here.

November 27, 2016 - 1:17 pm

I’ve been monitoring, evaluating, and deploying new technologies for over a quarter of a century. It’s something I love to do. Monitoring emerging technologies gives us an opportunity to imagine the possibilities of the future. Even better, more often than not, deploying emerging technologies gives us the opportunity to positively change millions of lives. As processing power has skyrocketed, technology costs have dropped, and half the world has connected to the Internet (yup – still 50% of the world’s population has no access to the Internet), the rate of new technologies introduced has accelerated. We quickly forget that Facebook didn’t exist 13 years ago or that the iPhone will only be 10 in 2017. It’s worth noting however, that for all the new ideas that are introduced each year, most don’t succeed. That’s sobering if you’re an entrepreneur and a challenge if some of your success depends on trying to figure out and invest in what’s “next.”

I’ve seen a lot of new ideas. I mean a lot. I’ve been right a few times about what would succeed and been way off quite often. Sometimes my predictions were simply too early. Those that know me may recall that back in the middle 2000’s I was bullish on virtual reality (VR). I spoke and wrote about it widely. Turns out I was at least 10 years too soon with my prediction. Same with voice recognition. I did predict the emergence of social media (then called social computing), but didn’t anticipate fake news and all the other ugliness. I was an early user of Twitter and remain a fan, but it pains me to watch it struggle.

Now as I continue to monitor and evaluate a whole swath of emerging technologies I am particularly struck by this thing called the blockchain. This is a technology with a funny name but with the possibility of significant consequence. I’ve decided to write about the blockchain, something I’ve wanted to do for a while, because so few people know what it is, and what has been written about it is remarkably difficult to understand. As an educator, I want to make difficult concepts accessible to as many people as possible.

Selfishly, explaining things makes me understand them better too.

I don’t intend to get deep into blockchain here. I’ll simply discuss its basic concept and provide some examples of how it might be applied. If you’re not a blockchain beginner, you can probably stop right here.

What problem does the blockchain try to solve?

Let’s begin answering this question by looking at an example. We’ll use an online directory. This directory is simply a listing of people’s names, phone numbers, and email addresses. It is provided by a commercial company. The data in the directory is in a database and it lives on a physical server somewhere in the United States. When a person needs to access this directory and find some personal details, they use a web browser over the Internet. Simple enough.

This basic design has generally worked well for a few decades. However, those of us with experience quickly admit to its significant limitations. For starters, if data is changed in the database, how do we know the change is correct? What happens if that single server is successfully accessed by a nefarious individual or organization? Over time we’ve addressed these issues as best we can. For example, validation of authority can be achieved through producing a social security number. But authorities can create bottlenecks, they can be costly, and they can even be biased. Server security is implemented by any number of innovative commercial solutions, yet everyday we hear about major breaches of systems that result in credit card and identity theft. These problems and solutions all exist because we’ve embraced a database design that is inherently limited. Is there a better design, one that not only eliminates theses limitations but also vastly improves how systems interact and data is managed?

Rethinking the centralized database

Now let’s have a little fun. Instead of the database being on one computer, let’s place it on lots of computers–possibly thousands and eventually even millions. If a change needs to happen in the database, all of the versions of the database on every one of those computers needs to change—and here’s the secret sauce: all those computers have to agree to the change!

Instead of a single database on a single computer, let’s distribute the database onto thousands, even millions of computers.

Let’s explore this a little further. In this new design, there is no central computer or single version of the database. By definition, we are using a distributed database. A transaction such as new data or a change to existing data entered in a copy of the database on my computer–if accepted by all the other computers–will be made in their databases too so that the distributed database is identical in all instances. Making updates, which are encrypted for additional security, that are reflected appropriately across this network of computers is analogous with transactions in an accounting ledger, so we’ve decided to call it a distributed ledger. This distributed ledger adds a new immutable block (one that can’t be changed or deleted) of data every time there is a change. Imagining a long chain of blocks gives rise to the notion of a blockchain!

This new design is equal measure beautiful, simple, and powerful. That’s much of why it is so compelling.

So how does it solve the issues of the central database we discussed earlier? First, the distributed ledger requires that all the participant computers agree to a change. This consensus mechanism almost eliminates the possibility of security issues because the large volume of participating computers would all need to be breached. Additionally, since all the computers need to agree or disagree with a change, the network becomes the authority. Effectively, this new design doesn’t require a central authority. Since the integrity of the distributed ledger requires complete participation, risk is radically reduced, and trust is dramatically increased. As Don Tapscott says in his book Blockchain Revolution, we don’t need to trust each other in the traditional sense, because trust is built into the system itself. This is why we’ll sometimes refer to the blockchain as the trust protocol.

The Blockchain eliminates the middleman

Ok, so that’s the basics. We see how the distributed ledger helps with integrity and security, but what does it enable that wasn’t easily possible before?

Suddenly a completely new set of possibilities emerge. Let’s take something as important as online identity. While some creative solutions exist to this problem, blockchain technologies may be the ideal answer. Since the distributed ledger is the authority, it becomes near impossible to duplicate or impersonate an online identity since this authority ensures a single identify for you. It will reject attempts to foil the system. Done right we could see, for example, online voting on the horizon in the United States. Online identify would also enable better protections from copyright infringement. For example, if you write a song and use the blockchain to record your ownership to that song, we effectively eliminate any question of originality in the future.

With robust strength to authentication and validation in all manner of transactions, the blockchain can be an authority over an enormous volume of activities that today require expensive third-party participants. With the origin of the blockchain in an online currency called Bitcoin, the distributed ledger can eliminate many of the required brokers in moving money from one account to another. Imagine sending money instantaneously to a friend in another country with limited bank engagement and cost (and possibly none at all!)

Helping devices negotiate with each other

If the blockchain takes off, the future doesn’t bode well for intermediaries like brokers, notaries, lawyers, and anyone who makes a commission from transactions.

Now let’s kick it up a notch. Rather than simple transactions happening over this network, let’s imagine entire, complex contracts between two entities being recorded and validated by the network. These smart contracts could have triggers that the network would honor, thus eliminating much of today’s human interaction. All manner of intermediaries could be eliminated. Watch out notaries and lawyers! And welcome blockchain-driven machine actions. What might that look like? Imagine devices on the Internet (the Internet of Things) that need to negotiate together, say, facial recognition that results in the opening of a door. A smart contract would exist on the blockchain that would manage the interaction without the need for a central database or authority. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that future devices using artificial intelligence could create their own smart contracts without any involvement from humans. Jeepers.

It’s quickly possible to see that the blockchain has considerable consequences.

So what might hold the blockchain back?

Like with most emerging technologies a lot of things have to happen to enable success. We’ll need to see the emergence and adoption of standards. We’ll need to ensure integrity and performance scaling to billions of transactions (maybe more) every second at a global level. There’s energy power and legacy technology challenges to contend with there. There will be resistance from impacted industries such as banking and finance. The blockchain’s core quality, that of no central authority, will be challenged and challenging in a world that is designed around the premise of regulation and control.

This all being said, momentum is on the side of blockchain. Radically redesigning technology and the way we think about many of the fundamental processes in our society requires serious understanding and possible plans for action.

Getting a grasp of the blockchain is a first step. But we’ll need to study it closely and try to anticipate implications that may not be obvious right now. Will we get ahead of it’s fake news flaw?

If I’ve helped you understand the basics of blockchain I recommend getting deeper into the topic. Fortunately, there is a lot of industry-specific content emerging and that may be a great place to go next.

I don’t know if the blockchain is the next big thing, but I’m not taking any chances. You?


VIDEO: Talking Startups, Smart Cities, and Open Data on DisrupTV

September 17, 2016 - 2:23 pm

DisrupTV Featuring Dr. Jonathan Reichental, City of Palo Alto 9.16.16 from Constellation Research on Vimeo.


PODCAST: What Will The City Of The Future Look Like?

May 17, 2016 - 2:09 am



The Smart City Opportunity

April 6, 2016 - 11:40 pm

Assuming that current trends continue, our future belongs to cities. Already half of all humans on the planet live in cities, and by 2050 a full 70 percent of civilization will live, work, and play in an urban environment.

To get a sense of the scale and speed of this global transformation, the United Nations says that 3 million more people move into cities per week. It’s creating staggering challenges. Cities already burdened with intractable problems experience a constant stream of new arrivals all requiring housing, jobs, energy, transportation, and so much more. Urbanization has enabled so many of us to rise to a higher quality of life, but it has also created unprecedented problems that are quickly undermining the benefits it once created.

Anyone who lives in a city sees and experiences these issues first-hand. This isn’t an abstract topic. Together we must commit to bold new solutions. To create a future urban environment that is healthy and sustainable will require a new operating system for our cities.

What do I mean by a city operating system?

Every day, in thousands of cities around the world, a cycle repeats itself. For billions there is a march to work, school and other activities. Machines spin up. Transportation systems engage. Energy is produced and consumed. Products are made. Data flows. Buildings heat and cool. Services respond. By evening, we’re home, ready to rest and begin again tomorrow. There’s a complex system of interdependencies that enables this all to function. It’s a city operating system. For most of us, experiencing these mechanics every day is both amazing and exasperating — sometimes simultaneously.

We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to create smarter cities.

Today, under duress, this operating system is largely inefficient and its fragility is glaringly exposed. If you sit for hours in traffic bumper to bumper or press up against one another in a train or circle endlessly searching for a parking space, you know our transportation systems are broken. If you get frustrated attempting to find city information or eliciting a city service or trying to have a voice to influence change in your community, you know municipal government can do so much more to meet expectations. Around every corner, time after time, we all experience the product of an urban environment in desperate need of reinvention. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to create smarter cities.

What will it take to create this new operating system?

First we need the motivation. Are we sufficiently convinced that radical innovation is needed? The evidence suggests that we’re moving in the right direction. From India’s 100 smart cities initiative, to impressive projects in Amsterdam, Singapore, and Palo Alto, California, to new cities like Songdo in South Korea, Yachay in Ecuador, and Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, there’s a remarkable new momentum for change. But these cities and their respective leaders still represent only an elite group that are both talking and doing. It’s a good start.

Here are three areas to begin:

1. Culture

What these first-movers have in common, too, are the unique qualities of leadership, vision, and an appetite and permission for some risk-taking. In other words, they have the prerequisite attributes of culture that is necessary for creating a new operating system for their cities. It’s not impossible, but it will be harder for those cities without these cultural qualities to embrace the essential reinvention ahead. It will come, but it will take time. It’s an opportunity for new leaders and a push from the private sector to enable some of that new culture to emerge.

2. Civic engagement

Next, a new operating system will only emerge through partnerships and civic engagement. Given the huge costs and an almost infinite number of other competing priorities, local city governments will be unable to assume the responsibility necessary for building these smarter cities alone.

There’s ample opportunity for a myriad of partnerships with the private sector, with academia, federal agencies and the local community. Local governments are good at and well-positioned for convening organizations and individuals. Many cities already host challenges, hackathons, and meet-ups; they create incentives and platforms for participation; and they invite problem solvers to co-create. These are great starting points. Ensuring that local government is accessible and open will help get results. Cities with open data portals help to unleash valuable insight that is used to build solutions and drive decision-making.

3. Civic innovation

Finally, we’re going to need a whole new generation of technology innovation. We already see the advantages of mobile apps that help people find parking spaces, monitor and manage their energy use, interact efficiently with city services, make informed environmental choices, cycle safer, elicit medical assistance and so much more. We see how traffic signals will soon work in concert with connected cars to help with traffic flow. We’ve seen cities from San Paulo, Brazil to Los Angeles, California reduce crime by using data and intelligent software.

Forward-thinking cities are experimenting with the Internet of Things to connect all manner of infrastructure to data networks. This connected infrastructure is providing completely new capabilities such as the ability to more easily detect and report water leaks; for empty parking spaces that announce themselves; and for a series of monitors that can initiate the timely dispatch of public safety personnel in an emergency. But this is just the beginning. A new operating system for cities is going to require big thinking, new ideas, and all the attendant new technologies, skills and people that emerge from this innovation.

History demonstrates that the capacity for human ingenuity particularly in the face of overwhelming adversity is a powerful force.

The choice we face

If you’re an optimist like me, you’ll see the creation of a new operating system for cities as an incredible opportunity. There’s a lot to be concerned about as we look out into the future of our cities. We’re facing unprecedented challenges. History demonstrates that the capacity for human ingenuity particularly in the face of overwhelming adversity is a powerful force. Today we face a crossroads. A path that leads to the reinvention of our cities and another which sees the continuation of the rapid decay and decline of our urban spaces. Together we can choose the right path and create a new operating system for our cities.


VIDEO: Meet 7 CIOs That Are Creating Smart Cities in Silicon Valley

February 26, 2016 - 11:16 pm


VIDEO: Brave New Connected World – My Talk at Silicon Valley Forum

February 1, 2016 - 9:46 pm


VIDEO: Creating Data-Driven Cities – ODSC WEST 2015

January 30, 2016 - 11:34 am


VIDEO: What Does a Government CIO Do?

January 27, 2016 - 3:05 am

Video also discusses the role of the Internet of Things in a government and city context.


The Impact of Social Media on Traditional Knowledge Management

December 16, 2015 - 1:12 pm

book-168824_1280Successfully implementing knowledge management, which is broadly defined as the identification, retention, effective use, and retirement of institutional insight, has been an elusive goal for most organizations. Some of the smartest people I have worked with have been frustrated by their efforts, not through lack of trying or ability but by the inherent challenges it presents. Now the emergence and impact of social media and the way it democratizes the creation and use of knowledge in the enterprise is forcing us to rethink our assumptions.

To understand and discuss the challenges of the traditional approaches to knowledge management, I’ve categorized them into two simple buckets: behavioral and technical.

1. Behavioral

In order for a Knowledge Management System (KMS) to have value, employees must enter new insight on a regular basis and they must keep it current. Out-of-date information has limited use beyond being of historic value. Seldom are either of these behaviors adequately incentivized. In fact, by being asked to share their tacit knowledge, many employees believe they are reducing their own value to the organization. In addition, updating the information requires real effort, which is rarely a priority against the core responsibilities of the employee. Even organizations that have dedicated resources for managing knowledge struggle to keep it current and to enforce adherence to their single source of truth.

2. Technical

If you want to find out something about your organization, say, the revenue of the business, it’s often easier to use a popular search engine than to use your own internal knowledge system. Try this yourself.

It’s remarkably difficult to organize information in the right manner, make it searchable, and then present it so the most relevant responses are at the top of the search results. Organizational information is hardly the example of pristine structure. While public search engines use algorithms such as counting the number of web pages that link to other web pages (a good measure of popularity) to function, internal systems have no such equivalent. Unstructured content is the king of the public web, whereas it is the bane of the enterprise.

The situation is compounded when employees are disillusioned by the effectiveness and effort to use the KMS and resort to old habits, like asking colleagues, improvising, or relying on non-official sources. The system often fails to be widely adopted—at best it is used by a small proportion of the organization—and no amount of effort is enough to see success scale.

Enter Social Media: The Changemaker

It may be time for you to rethink knowledge management in your organization. Social media, a disruptive phenomenon particularly in the enterprise, has the potential to completely disrupt traditional knowledge management systems.

In the old world order, knowledge was typically created and stored as a point in time. In the future, organizational policy or insight is less likely to be formed by an individual creating a document that goes through an approval process and is ultimately published. No, it will more likely begin with an online conversation and it will be forever evolving as more people contribute and circumstances change.

Social media takes knowledge and makes it highly iterative. It creates content as a social object. That is, content is no longer a point in time, but something that is part of a social interaction, such as a discussion. We’ve all seen how content in a micro-blogging service can shift meaning as a discussion unfolds.

The shift to the adoption of enterprise social computing, greatly influenced by consumerization, points to an important emergent observation: the future of knowledge management is about managing unstructured content.

Let’s consider the magnitude of this for a moment. Years of effort, best practices, and technologies for supporting organizational content in the form of curated, structured insight may be over. The redo is an enormous challenge, but it may in fact be the best thing that has ever happened to knowledge management.

A Silver Lining

In the long run, social media in the enterprise will likely be a boon for knowledge management. It should mean that many of the benefits we experience in the consumer web space—effective searching, grouping of associated unstructured data sources, and ranking of relevance—will become basic features of enterprise solutions.

It’s also likely we’ll see the increasing overlap between public and private data to enhance the value of the private data. For example: want to know more about a staff member? Internal corporate information will include role, start date, department etc., but we’ll now get additional information pulled in from social networks, such as hobbies, photos (yikes!) or previous employment. Pull up client data and you’ll get the information keyed in by other employees, but you might also get the history and values of the company, competitors, and a list of executives, gleaned from the broader repository of the public web. I’ll leave the conversation about privacy for another day.

It’s likely that social media-driven knowledge management will require much less of the “management” component. Historically we’ve spent far too much time cleaning up the data, validating, and categorizing it. In the future, more of our time and our systems will be used to analyze all the new knowledge that is being created through our social interactions. The crowd will decide what is current and useful.

Of course, formality will not entirely fade away. There will still be a role for rigor. Laws, regulations, policies, training documentation, and other highly formal content will require it. But it will live alongside and be highly influenced by social computing.

No doubt knowledge management is an enormously complex space and the impact of social media magnifies the challenges. However, the time is right to evaluate your knowledge management strategy. It may be time to begin anew.


VIDEO: How smart can a city be? – Jonathan Reichental Discusses with Tia Kansara

December 13, 2015 - 12:16 am


VIDEO: Interview on Apps, Smart Cities & More at WebSummit 2015

December 12, 2015 - 1:49 pm


VIDEO: Talking Smart Cities at Plug and Play Tech Center

November 26, 2015 - 2:36 pm


VIDEO: ESB Leading Lights – Making Cities Smarter with Technology

November 10, 2015 - 10:19 pm


VIDEO: Everything will be Connected (El Pais – English & Spanish Versions)

October 20, 2015 - 10:24 pm


PODCAST: The Future Belongs to Cities – But We’re Not Ready Yet

July 2, 2015 - 9:09 pm


VIDEO: Promo for My Talk at Campus Party Mexico, July 2015

June 6, 2015 - 11:21 pm


VIDEO: Attracting Top Talent to Government

April 21, 2015 - 9:42 pm

Part 1:–xjFoxFM
Part 2: Coming soon.



Open Government Podcast Part 1 & 2

March 18, 2015 - 1:21 am

The open government podcast, a Canadian duo, interviewed me about the work the City of Palo Alto has been doing around government innovation and more. The interview is in two podcasts. Total time is 30 minutes.


CIO: Chief Inspiration Officer?

February 27, 2015 - 7:31 pm

lightbulb-rd“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Some time ago, as a member of a panel speaking before technology leaders from various industries, I was asked what single, most important piece of advice I would give a new chief information officer (CIO).

Just prior to the question, I was struck by how our discussion had been rather sobering in nature. We were dwelling on some of the more challenging issues facing our profession: excessive and increasing demand to deliver more solutions; overworked and under- appreciated staff; and a technology playing field changing the rules with far too much frequently.

Deep inside the discourse on the state of any profession, it’s understandable that the pain points often get all the attention. While careful discussion of current issues is vital, it’s also incumbent on leaders to balance debate. To focus entirely on challenges in this forum risked the potential to miss the complete story: a CIO has the ability to lead important and meaningful business change; to create enormous value; and to impact staff and customers in ways that delight.

The most essential role of the CIO?

When the panel facilitator turned to me to address the advice I would give a new CIO, I wanted to directly speak to what had been on my mind. I responded, “The CIO should not just think of him or herself as simply the chief information officer, but rather as the chief inspiration officer.” I went on to explain that in an environment where it is easy to be dragged down and feel beaten by some of the realities of the job, it is essential to remind staff of the enormous value of technology and the magic it can create in people’s lives and in the function of organizations. My point was that the skills to create an environment that inspires must complement a CIO’s arsenal of genuine leadership abilities.

Inspiring staff by creating a compelling vision and strategy for technology is one of the lowest costs, yet most effective activities a CIO can do.

As a technology leader, there are a lot of pressing priorities and demand for attention is high. Team members feel the burden of delivering increasingly more complex solutions with less available capacity and in faster time. Inspiring staff by creating a compelling vision and strategy for technology is one of the lowest costs, yet most effective activities a CIO can do. A vision that produces positive, tangible results reminds everyone why we all do this work in the first place.

So how can a CIO inspire?

It’s hard to learn inspiration, but if you find a great way to express your passion and have it connect with others, that will usually get you heading to the right place. To inspire requires a person to have relentless positivity. It requires brilliant storytelling. Request bold challenges of your team members. Participate in action. Most of all, a leader must believe in his or her words and it will shine brightly in their face, energy, and manifest in supporting behavior.

It’s also important to recognize that driving inspiration is not limited to the CIO. Regardless of your role, inspiring others has considerable value and it feels great.

Often we each need a reminder of the core behaviors that can make each of us respected and appreciated colleagues and leaders. A long time ago I took my own advice and made inspiration a personal job requirement.

A version of this piece first appeared in O’Reilly Radar and was also the basis for a keynote talk at a technology conference.


Palo Alto Weekly Cover Story: Big Data in Little City

February 21, 2015 - 2:19 pm

The Palo Alto Weekly features a cover story of my teams work at the City of Palo Alto. Click the image to read.


Disruption at a Moments Notice

February 14, 2015 - 5:19 pm

wheel of innovationIn the world of tech, we recognize that introducing a new product or service is often highly disruptive to an existing market and its competitors. What is relatively new is the speed and scale in which that disruption can take place. The torrent of punditry that pre-empts these introductions is notable alone. It has created an unusually unsettled technology marketplace.

The costs of sudden impact

In a hyper-connected world, the immediate reach and impact of the new provider can result in disproportional results from just incremental innovation–whether or not the solution even succeeds. It is the innovator’s dilemma in overdrive. This disruption at a moment’s notice largely eliminates the notion of a first-mover advantage. Flickr and Friendster can both vouch for that.

It would be easy to conclude that this disruption is a destructive force. Sure, there is something to be said for the uncertainty it can sow, and honestly it is impossible to know quite where it will take us. There is no doubt that organizations are being challenged in unprecedented ways and many consumers are riled by the constant volatility. I also have to believe that at some point every one of us has a capped quotient for fickleness.

At its core, the effect of disruption at a moment’s notice is an economic phenomenon. Clearly there is an important technical component, but introducing a new product or service that can have rapid and far reaching impact will shift existing market behavior — even if temporary in nature. In some instances, for publicly listed companies, the business introducing the technology may experience a bump in stock value and its competitors may see theirs experience downward pressure. Organizations too may wait for stability before making investments.

Let’s not be too hasty

When a new online service or app is introduced, pundits are quick to claim the imminent demise of its main competition. These existing organizations have worked hard over several years to earn, for example, each subscriber, friend, and follower. These analysts are often far too hasty and optimistic in their predictions. A sudden injection of viable competition is a great catalyst for innovation. It is one thing for customers to complain about existing functionality in the market leaders service, it’s quite another for that leader to respond to the potential existential threat from a new, disruptive competitor.  Google makes Microsoft a better software company. Tesla makes Ford a better car company.

Understanding the implications

As an example, observing the speed of innovation currently in the cloud computing space reminds us that intense competition and the risk of sudden disruption is bringing innovative, low cost capability to buyers quickly. Take a look at online storage. It’s a moving target, but intense competition and innovation is forcing the cost down towards zero. Disruption is a compelling forcing function.

Currently we see dynamic and healthy competition in the domain of smartphones. But it is also a fragile battle. Now largely dominated by a small set of participants — solutions created by organizations with healthy balance sheets — innovation is alive and kicking. But should one stumble, a dominant player could emerge and we could see innovation atrophy. We don’t want that. Consumers are advocating for disruption; albeit, managed disruption.

Conversely, disruption is causing mainstream businesses to die overnight eliminating any notion of predictability and dislodging people and downstream processes along the way. Robots and artificial intelligence are making us nervous about how their advantages may shrink human participation in the labor market. And a nexus of emergent technologies and behavior is demanding that we think about privacy in completely new ways.

Advocating for disruptive innovation

As an IT leader I encourage rigorous, disruptive innovation and competition as it helps to keep product and service costs low and it can accelerate the introduction of desired functions and surprising new solutions. I also want this innovation to restrict the ability for large, domineering players to create a closed Web or to reduce the very freedoms that make it so empowering.

But with this level of innovation, I’m also concerned by the potential long-term costs and with user fatigue. Organizations and their staff are increasingly experiencing the chaos and downsides of frequent change management.

Disruption at a moment’s notice has the capacity to elicit considerable change in the way many organizations operate and compete. Nobody wants to be Kodak or Blockbuster, both of whom had time to change, but underestimated the disruption to their industries. Everyone wants to be Netflix, who moved in record time from mailing DVDs to streaming online to become a market leader.

Being ready and able to respond to market surprises should be a focus for every organization. Do you know where the next disruption may come from that impacts your industry? Who’s thinking about that in your organization?

What all this means for how organizations function and how consumers respond over the long-term has mostly yet to be determined. Fortunately, whether we act or not, we can rely on the marketplace to largely help sort out what happens next.


Why is Nobody Talking About Small Data?

January 6, 2015 - 7:57 pm

It seems everyone is focused on big data. And why not? Today the world is producing an extraordinary volume of data. Our prolific machines and interactions are now venting a massive scale of data exhaust unprecedented in our short digital history. Big data is spinning up stunning visuals that are providing completely new understandings. Suddenly we’re embedded in the zettabyte era.

But doesn’t all data matter? Might our obsessive focus on big data come at the cost of data at the edges? That’s the small data. It’s the frequently used but largely unglamorous data that exists in every organization. It’s the monochromatic and fundamental storytelling that remains largely untapped. It seems big data has become the main act and all other data has been relegated to playing support.

Big data really is a big deal

No doubt, capturing and analyzing massive scale data is changing the world. That’s not hype. Public safety teams can anticipate crime through predictive policing; public sentiment can be derived with uncanny accuracy on almost any topic; marketers can promote products to potential buyers with pinpoint accuracy; and we’re tantalizingly close to medical breakthroughs only imagined just a few years ago. These are just the tip of the iceberg of the places big data will take us.

An impressive new industry is emerging in support of big data. Remarkable new software tools and an army of newly minted data scientists have come to bear on a flourishing industry. The results are impressive. Everyone recognizes this and there is much work ahead of us.
With big data, the datasets involved have records in the millions, if not billions and likely much more. Our new capabilities mean we can store, organize, analyze, and attempt to make sense of it all. We acknowledge that a large number of organizations have datasets of this scale and they desperately desire the potential competitive advantage of having data science applied against it.

But isn’t it possible that an equal number or more of organizations have datasets that fall well below this threshold and thus may be failing to realize the value in their small data? Will the brigades of consultants and the investments in new big data software pass by the magnitude of little opportunities that exist in every organization and every team?

Small data still runs organizations

Each of us who have, for example, worked in a business, served in government, or had a leadership position in a club, has used or been exposed to small data. It’s the spreadsheet, the contact list, the survey results. Small data is sometimes the by-product of big data, reducing it to tiny chunks that humans can understand. It’s the experiment results, the financial information, the queries, and reports that are so meaningful and so frequently requested. A legion of office workers toil over this data daily often hindered by incomplete skills and poorly understood productivity software. This is the data value that is so often only superficially gleaned. But it’s equally essential data that informs decisions every moment of the day. Sure it doesn’t make the big headlines like big data, but it’s no less important.

Is the value of big data realized at the cost of small data?

Yet, we’re all enamored by big data. We’re simply not talking right now about small data the same way. Of course we have to continue the pursuit of unleashing the full potential of the former. There’s no doubt it’s changing the world and in the months and years ahead it will be decisive in helping to deal with issues of climate change; for our understanding of the Universe; for enabling astounding medical breakthroughs; and to help power our future Smart Cities. But let’s not redirect all our energy such that we lose sight of the innovation necessary in managing and understanding data in the nooks and crannies of every organization.

Let’s also recognize that some of our big questions will be answered in small data. Critical signals in the noise are not limited to the big datasets. There are beautiful patterns in little queries if we know how to look for them.

The bottom line? A pat on the back to us. We’ve recognized the enormous and increasing value of data, inherently acknowledging that all data is important. We can’t ignore this fact in our pursuit of the new shiny thing. We have to continue our relentless innovation and skill building around data and we’ve got to make sure we’re including small data as we do that.


VIDEO: Palo Alto Apps Challenge TV Finale (1-hour show)

June 13, 2014 - 5:17 am


Reinventing Government One App at a Time

April 4, 2014 - 9:43 pm

appsOn one hot day last June, along with civic hacking events in 83 cities participating in the first-ever National Day of Civic Hacking, the City of Palo Alto, California, held an outdoor festival of civic innovation. Approximately 5000 people showed up to discover and be inspired by a wide range of technology-related talks and solutions for delivering government in completely new ways. While some software hacking took place, the focus was on beginning both the education and conversation on defining civic innovation and answering why it is so important to all our communities. The festival was a success and was highly praised by the community and at a special event at the White House later in the summer.

This year, as a follow-up and to coincide with the 2nd National Day of Civic Hacking, the City of Palo Alto decided it was appropriate and timely to move from facilitating the discussion about community-driven civic ideas to helping to provide a platform to build solutions. And from this the Palo Alto Apps Challenge was born.

The motivation to take action

Palo Alto is a small, but notable city just south of San Francisco. It’s the birthplace and heart of Silicon Valley. The city continues to be a place where great ideas emerge and come to fruition. Ideas here change the world. As the local public agency, Palo Alto has both a responsibility to leverage this environment and experiment with delivering services that take advantage of both state-of-the-art technology and local talent. It’s now clear that many other agencies watch us in order to learn what works and what doesn’t; the good and the bad. All of these characteristics form the motivation for the technology-related projects we work on and the partnerships we create.

The Palo Alto Apps Challenge helps to fulfill this responsibility. Through this multi-month, American Idol-style competition, entrants primarily from Palo Alto—but also from surrounding communities–submit app ideas that they hope to build based on the theme of civic engagement. The challenge is managed out of the City Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Other departments assist as appropriate since an initiative such as this requires a wide variety of resources. Funding is largely through sponsors with the City only contributing a small amount for some project management assistance. The challenge is enthusiastically endorsed and supported by both the City Council and City Manager.

How does the challenge work?

The challenge works as follows. Ten finalists are chosen by a panel of judges—all Palo Alto residents with a technical or public policy background—and then the finalists must set about building a working prototype of their idea. Next there is a showcase event where the community is invited to learn about the finalist apps and to provide meaningful feedback. The last event is the grand finale, a televised and Web-streamed show that will highlight the apps and entrants and then elicit the audience and community to vote on their choice for winner using their phones and computers. There will be a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes of $3500, $1000, and $500, respectively. Winners will also be offered free incorporation services should they decide to form a business for their app. Winner retain all rights to their idea and app.

On one level the Palo Alto Apps Challenge is a practical and engaging event that should result in one or more solutions that provide value to the community.  But we believe that this challenge is also about a deeper message.

It’s much more than an apps challenge

The future success of the US has much uncertainty. In the last few decades we’ve seen many of the traditional industries in America either disappear or be entirely reinvented. Anyone in the printed press industry knows exactly how this feels. The change is coming about as a result of globalization and massive automation. While many are pessimistic, within this shift is great opportunity. Automation is resulting in a world that is both software and data driven. Because of this, new skills and talent must emerge. As a nation we have to refocus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)—and by the way, art too! Design is no longer an afterthought. The Palo Alto Apps Challenge is one way that one community can help to inspire a new generation of engineers and innovators. We never lose sight of this critical message and motivation.

What happens next?

At the time of writing, the judges had just announced the top 10 finalists. In total, 74 ideas were submitted and 30% of the entrants were under the age of 18.  The ideas chosen represented an eclectic variety of solutions. There are ideas for making it easier to find parking spaces; an app for giving a voice to youth on City Council items; an idea that adds gamification to the process of learning about the city; and a solution for crowdsourcing places that have good and poor support for physically challenged individuals. Next up, the 10 finalists will showcase their ideas at a community event at the Palo Alto Art Center.

At the City of Palo Alto we’ve decided it can no longer be business as usual. We recognize it’s not just about apps. It’s so much more. We are pushing the envelope on new thinking across our departments while also ensuring the important and routine work of government gets done.

It’s a whole new day in local government and we are firmly engaged.

For more information on the Palo Alto Apps Challenge, go to
A version of this article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of Transformations, the Alliance for Innovation newsletter.


City of Palo Alto’s Historic Open Data by Default Proclamation

February 4, 2014 - 10:23 pm

accepting open data proclamation - reichental and mayor feb 3 2014

Jonathan Reichental (Left) & Palo Alto Mayor Nancy Shepherd (Right)

At a Palo Alto City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 3, Mayor Nancy Shepherd read an Open Data by Default proclamation that firmly established the City’s long-term aspiration to be a model for open government.

While still in the early stages of its evolution, Open Data requires a sustained effort to build momentum and become codified into the operations of public agencies.  To this end, the City determined to move forward to be Open Data by Default.

Under City Manager James Keene, the City had committed itself to be even more inclusive and transparent through the launch of an open data platform back in 2012. This open data platform makes a range of City data easily accessible to the community, and is hosted in a way that makes it easy for software applications to use.

“Our efforts to support Open Data for the long term must include a vision, a set of principles, and the actions to make that happen,” said Keene.  “We’re taking an important step by proclaiming our commitment to build a sustained pathway to openness and inclusiveness. In addition, there is no doubt that Open Data can contribute to enriching our democracy.”

Open Data, first championed by the White House in 2008, has proven to build trust, provide essential transparency into the functions of public agencies, and to spur economic activity.

Since 2012, Palo Alto has expanded its Open Data to include Open Budget, a repository and visualization of a five year period of City budget information, and OpenGIS, an experiment in making City geospatial data more easily available.

For its efforts, the City has been recognized by California Forward who called the City, “a model for transparency in California.”  The Open Budget application has received a state and national award, and the City’s work with Open Data has contributed to its designation by the Center for Digital Government as the #1 digital city in America in its population size category.

City Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental said, “I’m very proud to be part of this effort as we push the boundaries of open government in Palo Alto and create momentum for cities across America to do the same thing.  Our Open Data work means innovators, entrepreneurs, and a wide range of stakeholders can use this data to be informed and build solutions. In addition to the important aspiration of openness by default, Open Data can be a contributor to economic growth.”

A copy of the proclamation can be found here.

Note: This post was adapted from the City press release I wrote for the event.


Why Personal Value Creation is a 21st Century Core Competency

January 2, 2014 - 3:40 pm

Ask yourself how much new value did you create for your organization today? Did you suggest a new way to reengineer a common task that could result in a better outcome? Are your work behaviors keeping you relevant? If these questions are not top of mind for you yet, they will be. Your future employment may depend on being able to answer them with a resounding yes. Why? Read on.

Much of the discourse on innovation has been focused on enterprise delivery to the marketplace. Innovation as a personal daily work behavior has not nearly received the attention it deserves. That needs to change. For one thing, it is intimately relevant to every worker and not simply something that one only observes. I’ve discussed for many years that enterprise innovation is increasingly essential, but I’ve not addressed the one area that each of us has control over: personal innovation.

So what is personal innovation? It contains many of the same elements of organizational innovation. These are qualities such as creating new value and engineering new ways of doing things that result in better outcomes. It’s about taking these concepts and applying them to yourself. It’s possible to test your personal innovation by asking these types of questions and determining whether you can answer them in a position manner: Do I personally add new value each day? Am I perceived by others as an innovator in how I go about my work? And one of my favorites: Do I seek to retool and reinvent myself at regular intervals to increase the value of my contributions?

The author Daniel Pink argues convincingly that the future of employment in American will increasingly rely on right-brained thinking. This is thinking that is complex and creative in nature and not that of the left-brain which is rooted in repetitive, process-driven activities. The premise is that left-brained work is without novelty and can be performed by anyone (and with greater frequency by machines). Right-brained activities on the other hand; tasks such as creative problem solving and idea generation are difficult to codify and package and therefore hold the key to gainful employment and wealth generation in the long-term.

Those in left-brained work must consider whether a partial or full transition to right-brained work makes sense. Those in right-brained work need to ask whether, on introspection, they are just toeing the line. In the reality of our new global economy, personal innovation must be paramount. If you aren’t creating new value, if you aren’t reinventing yourself on a regular basis, and if you’re not being creative in how you approach problems, you are increasing the possibility of irrelevancy. Future success in our post-industrial society will rely on each of us innovating as a core behavior. It’s possible that if you’re not personally innovating every day, you might as well do yourself a favor and go home.


The Structure Show Interview on Open Data

- 3:36 pm


VIDEO: How Data Can Help Create Better Communities

September 24, 2013 - 5:17 pm

dataIn an era of government deficits, it’s comforting to note that there is an abundant surplus of data. But until recently, leveraging value from data beyond its initial creation and use has been difficult. Today, this picture is changing. A combination of new technologies and a more enlightened emerging leadership is finding innovative ways to put data to work. Beyond much desired transparency and accountability, making government data more easily accessible is creating a wave of valuable community applications.  In this video, I discuss this topic, explore best practices, and share my thoughts on civic innovation.

[NOTE: Video is 1 hour 20 mins]

(Backup link if video above does not work:


8-Minute Video: The future of technology is not what we do, but whether we should do it

September 21, 2013 - 2:03 am

ethicsMy 8-minute talk at CITRIS at the University of California Berkeley on September 12, 2013. The day-long conference was titled, “Can Open Data Improve Democratic Governance?” I was part of the day when we were asked to take a broad view of the opportunities and challenges presented by the massive volume of public data now available. We were asked to consider how governments and citizens can mine the advantages of greater information while also attending to concerns of privacy, equity and access?

(Backup link if video above does not work:


Partnering for Success: How the City of Palo Alto Engages its Tech Community

August 21, 2013 - 12:24 pm


Every community makes it their business to know their unique qualities. Great communities systematically leverage these qualities to sustain and improve their city or town. At the City of Palo Alto, California, we are fortunate to have many assets that collectively make our community a desirable place to live, work, and visit. While qualities such as our parks and tree-lined streets are characteristics of our physical environment, Palo Alto is notable for a population with the highest percentage of graduate degrees in the state, an insatiable appetite for entrepreneurship, and a propensity towards technology innovation. This short article focuses on some of our efforts as a municipal government to specifically leverage our technology community.

Creating a focus on technology and innovation

While the City of Palo Alto works diligently each year to sustain an environment favorable to technology innovators; in 2013 the City made two important decisions. First, the City Council voted to make technology one of three priorities for the year, and second, they encouraged the creation of an Innovation Council made up of qualified community members. In both instances City Council demonstrated leadership in supporting from the very top the important role that technology and innovation can play in the advancement of a City and in solving its stubborn issues.

In forming the Innovation Council, the City continued a positive trend in engaging community members in a partnership with City leaders. Purely by coincidence, the Innovation Council was first tasked to be an advisory group for the City’s participation in the National Day of Civic Hacking—itself an exemplar for engaging a community’s technology community. CityCamp Palo Alto, our local event, was a huge success, bringing thousands of community members together to engage in a variety of civic innovation activities including brainstorming ideas for apps that solve local problems. The wisdom and guidance of the Innovation Council proved the value of engaging experts in our community.

The valuable role of technology committees

Other technology committees have been fruitful too. Emerging out of a poorly received municipal website redesign in the mid-2000’s, the City Council asked for the appointment of website specialists in the community to be part of an advisory committee for the next round of redesign. The City’s advantage in having experts in a range of Web skills was leveraged. The committee was made up of experts in navigation, content organization, search, and more. The committee was run by City leadership and staff. This committee was one of several reasons why the most recent redesign in 2012 was well-received by the community.

As a demonstration of our commitment to this form of partnership, as Palo Alto begins to explore the possibility of bringing its existing fiber infrastructure (a service that currently only supports businesses, some government services, and schools) to homes in the City, a community committee will be formed. We’re confident a variety of broadband experts will step-up to help to advise our City Council and staff.

Engaging community expands local democracy

In each of these examples, community is engaged and empowered to be part of policy-making and problem solving. An inclusive decision process means a more informed City Council and a richer, better represented democracy. Community members consistently tell us how much they appreciate the opportunity to be part of the process.

In turns out that a new generation of technologists who by day create solutions for profit, will offer up their time to use their skills for social good. A government agency can convene opportunities for technologists to connect, collaborate, and produce real value for their community. In Palo Alto, using hackathons (time-bound software creation events) such as CityCamp; civic meet-ups (brainstorming between community and government leadership and staff); councils; and committees have, for the most part, begun to deliver on this promise.

We’ve also offered our time as experts in government to start-ups that want to build and experiment with prototypes that can be later developed into solutions for the marketplace. This approach resulted in the creation of a well-received budget visualization tool for the City that went on to win a major national award.


It should be made clear from the outset that there is a commitment required from all participants, both public and private. Turns out this is hard, detailed work. So when people volunteer, be sure to come to a common understanding of the effort expected. When community and local government work together, everyone benefits. Palo Alto’s technology committees, for example, have garnered great results. We learned that they need to have appropriate oversight and a continual flow of quality communication between all participants. But with the right people engaged, committed, and motivated, all of us gain the benefits of the outcomes.



Open Government in a Digital Age

July 14, 2013 - 7:03 pm

The following essay was submitted to the Alliance for Innovation by Jonathan Reichental (Chief Information Officer of the City of Palo Alto) and Sheila Tucker (Assistant to the City Manager) as part of the 2013 Transforming Local Government Conference. The essay summarizes work done at the City that resulted in the Thomas H. Muehlenback Award for Excellent in Local Government.

Open Government in a Digital Age

Government is in a period of extraordinary change. Demographics are shifting. Fiscal constraints continue to challenge service delivery. Communities are becoming more disconnected with one another and their governments, and participation in civic affairs is rapidly declining. Adding to the complexities, technology is rapidly changing the way cities provide services, and conduct outreach and civic engagement. Citizens increasingly expect to engage with their government in much the same way they pay bills online or find directions using their smartphone where communication is interactive and instantaneous. The role of government of course is more complicated than simply improving transactions.

To help navigate these challenges, the City of Palo Alto has focused its effort on new ways of thinking and acting by leveraging our demographic base, wealth of intellectual talent and entrepreneurial spirit to engage our community in innovative problem solving. The City’s historic advantages in innovative leadership create a compelling context to push the possibilities of technology to solve civic challenges.

This case study examines how Palo Alto is positioning itself to maximize the use of technology to build a leading Digital City and make local government more inclusive, transparent and engage a broader base of its community in civic affairs.

At a conceptual level, a digital city is a community where stakeholders (government, residents, businesses, and visitors) have multiple means of easily connecting and collaborating using Internet-based technologies. Data and information freely flows between all parties. The desired result is increased engagement, greater efficiency, more opportunities for public-private partnerships, and potentially lower cost services.

The City is making an ambitious push to use and experiment with many different forms of contemporary technology. These include social networks, micro-blogging services, mobile applications, e-services, participatory forums, and an engaging Web presence. Most recently, the City deployed a platform that makes data that City departments collect and store more easily available to the public. The ease in which this data can be consumed by both community members and computer applications is reflected in its name: Open Data.

Throughout the world, governments are making collections of public data more easily available and consumable on the Web. The type of data is varied and includes information about where taxpayer money is being spent and statistics on just about every aspect of government. This openness has enabled citizens to have greater visibility into the workings of their local, state, and federal agencies.

In August 2012, the City launched its own Open Data platform ( so that the City could make our local government more inclusive, transparent and provide more connectivity to the community.  Our City Open Data platform enables City staff to post valuable, non-private datasets online in a highly usable format that allows our community to explore and work with the data. Among the uses include the ability for software engineers to build innovative applications for use by our community and also for website visitors to delve into the data to find answers to their questions.

This platform provides information through data in demographic, geospatial, and economic form. The site is constantly being updated with new data sets. To advocate and support new ways to use City financial information, in September 2012, the City added a new open budget tool ( Palo Alto’s Open Budget tool provides easy, graphically-based views of five years of City’s financial information. Rich interactivity enables a leap forward from the current static budget document files posted online. Using a filtering menu, users can manipulate the data and create charts of exactly the slice of financial information most useful to them. Customizable views can be exported as a graphic file for use in presentations and documents. Additionally, all views can be exported in a spreadsheet format so that further analysis can be performed on the data or it can be used to power new, independently created applications. Open Budget makes City financial data more understandable, accessible and valuable for a wide range of stakeholders.

Most recently, the City launched an open permit data set.  The open permit data set allows public review of permit data. The data is refreshed daily. A once static set, the new platform continues the City’s commitment to transparency and is designed to engage developers and innovative thinkers to explore and share this valuable public data. This set makes data more readily available for civic innovators and application developers and enhances greater connectivity to the community.

Lessons Learned

Deploying and experimenting with a wide variety of technologies to engage community does not come without its fair share of challenges. However, the City’s early work to use open data to begin to build a digital city has had overwhelmingly positive outcomes. Civic engagement today requires more creative approaches to engender a broader base of constituents. Cities must examine how to leverage the collective expertise, talents, and unique strengths of their communities to solve problems, improve government and create stronger citizens.

Open data broadens the base of democracy and promotes efficiency and effectiveness in government by: involving communities in their government; promoting a shared responsibility for building strong, healthy communities; increasing government accountability; driving improved public services, and; feeding innovation and growth. While open data provides the elements that can be combined to inform the understanding of new problems in new ways, it is important to consider that: data analysis is only as good as the data; privacy issues should be considered at the forefront prior to the release of data, and; there are marginal costs to collect, manage, update and optimize data, and for communities to participate.

While the future can appear to have intractable characteristics, leveraging our city human capital assets in this new era of emergent civic innovation is helping Palo Alto to chart a new course. In Palo Alto’s example, making data more easily available is encouraging application development; and collaboration and trust‐building between government and community. Building strong, healthy communities today requires greater shared responsibility between community members and cities. The emergence of compelling civic technology can offer a platform for this collaboration to more readily occur.



VIDEO: CityCamp Palo Alto & HP

July 3, 2013 - 11:26 pm

On June 1, 2013, nearly 100 cities throughout the US brought together public and private sectors to use software, technology and ideas to build better communities as part of a National Day of Civic Hacking. In Palo Alto, I was the founder and creator of CityCamp Palo Alto, our event on June 1. Here is a video, produced by HP, that focuses on their important contribution and how it ties into their own strategy.


VIDEO: My Vision for Technology Innovation in Local Government

May 25, 2013 - 12:43 pm

The City of Palo Alto is creating social and mobile communities, and collaborating with citizens, volunteers, employees, partners and other agencies to change the way government is delivered.


Why Civic Hacking is Good News for Government and Our Communities

May 10, 2013 - 1:31 pm

Hacking 101

When US Navy warplanes returned to base after bombing missions during World War 2, engineers would use hacksaws to cut pieces off broken aircraft and apply them to good planes to get them to fly again. Thus, it is purported, the word “hacking” was born.

Unfortunately, for many, hacking conjures up images of something sinister. And if it’s criminal hacking—using software skills to steal credit card numbers from banking systems for example—then it is a bad thing. However, the contemporary use of hacking is largely positive. Today, millions of people apply their creativity through hacking to make software and hardware do amazing things for all of us. Hobbyists that hack everyday objects have created a new global movement of “makers.” Engineers hacking at software through twisting and flipping code are churning out innovation from companies new and old, and they are launching hundreds of start-ups each month that will drive America’s future economy.

If we are going to sustain America’s economic prosperity, we’re going to need a lot of hackers. Specifically, we’re going to need to inspire new generations of Americans to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM); competencies largely prerequisites to successful hacking. We’ll also need a healthy dose of creativity that will come from being exposed to various forms of art. So while our future is rooted in STEM, the A from art really makes it STEAM.

While the private sector has thrived for several decades through multiple generations of hackers, the public sector—not an historic context for innovation— is being exposed to the benefits of hacking  for the first time through partnerships with private sector hackers and through making government data accessible by computer programs. An emergent and highly promising hacker movement for government is now well underway. Equipped with empowering skills, software engineers, data analysts, entrepreneurs, artists, and others are applying their profession and passion to helping to solve seemingly intractable civic problems. Bringing together these disparate worlds is, in fact, quite magical and transformational. Public agencies across our nation desperately need help, and a new movement of civic hacking is a bright spot outlier. Through a mix of non-for-profit organizations, motivated individuals, and enlightened public leaders, new solutions are emerging that solve problems ranging from parking to budgeting, from transparency to disaster responsiveness, and from potholes to accountability. It’s early, but the promise is inspiring.

The National Day of Civic Hacking

If we want to change the game entirely for government and our communities, we’re going to have to scale up this new movement of civic hacking. We need to formally launch it and inspire millions to be part of this public-private partnership of action. And that’s exactly what we intend to do on June 1, 2013.

Encouraged by the results of civic hacking events (often called hackathons) across the country over the past several years, including a notable and large event in downtown Palo Alto, California last year, the White House announced a National Day of Civic Hacking for the weekend of June 1 (Learn more here: Loosely guided by a small national team, cities across the country have been asked to consider holding an event that is commensurate with their experience and comfort level. These events can be run out of City Hall or led by individuals or groups within the community. The national guidance was clear: each event would be independent and managed locally.

CityCamp Palo Alto – June 1, 2013

For us in Silicon Valley, and particularly Palo Alto—where plans were already underway for a large hackathon event—we jumped at the opportunity to align our efforts with this historic, national event. A culture where hacking is embedded in its DNA would have to be an epicenter of this movement. As Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the City of Palo Alto, I felt an obligation—supported by our forward thinking City Council, Mayor, and City Manager–to step up and deliver a great event and a potential model for other cities. Our vision was to host an all-inclusive community event. We wanted everyone across our city to participate. Activities would need to be diverse enough to appeal to many different groups.

We pulled together a small core team to get working on the event, and also engaged our recently formed Innovation Council—a group of community volunteers helping to advise on decisions around civic innovation—to assist with idea generation and event planning. We opened up our contact lists to see which local enterprises, community partners, and businesses might be interesting in sponsoring the event.

After several months of planning we’ve designed a wide-ranging day-long festival of civic innovation. Much more than simply a hackathon for software developers, our event dubbed CityCamp Palo Alto, includes arts activities, hands-on making, displays of robots and electric cars, expert talks by notable speakers from across Silicon Valley, an idea hackathon, local bands, local food, and much more. In addition, we’re receiving support in many forms from a stunning array of public and private organizations.

Every event should leverage the qualities of their community. We’re privileged in Palo Alto to have an environment of such quality supporters to promote an event of this diversity.

What Can We Achieve on June 1?

We have three major goals for the National Day of Civic Hacking in Palo Alto.

1. First, we want to support and promote the national movement. We believe in it and want to play an important role in its success.

2. Second, we want to have an inspiring, engaging, and fun event for our community. This will be a first-of-a-kind festival that will be a mix of chaos and wonderment for everyone.

3. Lastly, and most importantly, we want to begin an ongoing effort to connect civic problems to civic solvers. On June 1 we expect that people will discuss, brainstorm, create, and prototype solutions. But what happens the day after and beyond? Of course, we’ll host more events, but our central goal is to inspire the spark that creates momentum all of its own. If CityCamp Palo Alto inspires the creation of even one important solution for our community or one new start-up that focuses on civic innovation, we’ll all consider that a huge success.

For those of us lucky enough to be immersed in this space right now, we deeply recognize that something unique is happening. As more stakeholders get engaged, they are struck by the same thing. There is a lot to be concerned about in our country. There is a lot of negativity. Let’s be honest, there are large, complex problems to be solved. A national movement of civic innovation is a glimmer of positivity and a beacon of possibilities.

Join us on June 1 in downtown Palo Alto from 11am – 7pm. Will you inspire and be inspired?

For more information, go to


Does social computing have a role in government?

April 5, 2013 - 2:04 am

As of early 2013, there are over a billion active monthly users of Facebook and almost 700 million daily users. People from across the world use this social network to share and exchange stories, pictures, ideas, and more. These numbers suggest a compelling platform that is engaging humanity in a manner without precedent. Facebook and its competitors have convincingly demonstrated that people will share and collaborate with each other, and with strangers, in an inclusive manner not just for fun, but to make things happen. And yet, when most of the working population of those users goes to their places of employment, they use technologies that reinforce barriers to collaboration. Email—albeit an important business technology—primarily facilitates sequential and non-inclusive collaboration. Up until recently, the merits of social networking has had the hardest time successfully penetrating the enterprise.

The tide is turning. Today, an increasing number of organizations are exploring, experimenting, and deploying social collaboration tools. They are becoming social enterprises. Why the change? It may be because of better solutions or more leadership support or greater recognition of its potential value. Perhaps it is a mix of all these things and more. But without a doubt, workers rising through the ranks today are more apt to try social networking in the enterprise. They have already accepted and blended the use of technology in their work and home lives.

With enterprise collaboration in the private sector just entering the early majority phase of the technology adoption curve, where does that leave the public sector? As one would imagine, there are only a few innovative agencies that have taken the leap to build a social enterprise. Most notably the City of Boston and the State of Colorado have been pushing the envelope. With the recent deployment of a social collaboration platform citywide, we can now count the City of Palo Alto as one of those innovators.

City Manager Creates the Business Case
It all began in March 2012, when City Manager Jim Keene approached me and asked if there was a way for him to more easily communicate and engage with all City staff. There’s nothing I like better than a tough challenge to solve and this one met that criteria. We sought to keep costs as low as possible and at the same time to try to find a solution that was truly cutting edge. I also wanted to go beyond the original request and find a way not just for the City Manager to engage with staff, but for all staff to be able to connect more easily with each other, to share ideas and documents, and to solve problems together. If we could do that and more, we could create an agency that would have improved access to timely information and a platform to solve problems more quickly. This, we surmised, would have a very positive impact on the services we provided to the community.

At the City of Palo Alto we have the responsibility and privilege to be a role model in how a public agency should use innovative technology to serve a community. As an example, last year we deployed an award-winning open data service. We didn’t just repeat the work of others; we applied new ideas and innovation to our solution. We know other agencies look closely at what we do as guidance for them. So rather than going down the well-trodden path, we often want to chart new territory. Of course, this strategy has implicit risks, but we don’t apply it to everything. It’s a deliberate and balanced approach for the right, qualifying projects.

The City Begins an Experiment
In April 2012, after extensive research, and the application of some of my own personal work experience in this area, my team and I decided to deploy a small, short-term experiment with Salesforce Chatter. While several impressive solutions met the basic requirements, Chatter was compelling because it was closely modeled after Facebook. It was also exceptionally low cost, and being a software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution, it was easy to deploy.

My expectation was that we would run the experiment for about three months and we would have around 50 early adopters. To my surprise many more people wanted to try it out. So the number of users grew very quickly. I then learned something important. With only a few months to try it, most users found this a deterrent since it seemed that it wasn’t worth the effort for the short amount of time it would be available. So I quickly made the decision to extend the experiment through the fall. In no time at all we had over a hundred users. Most were just viewers, with just a handful of staff brave enough to post items. Staff posted pictures and created groups. One particular group was used as a place to encourage members to eat healthier and do more exercise. Another group was for sharing tips and tricks for smartphones and tablet computers. These were not earth-shattering collaborations, but they showed the promise of collaboration in a manner that previously did not exist.

I personally committed to posting and commenting—common features of a social network—and I encouraged the IT team to follow my lead. By the time we were reaching the end of the experimental period, it just seemed too premature to end it. More people were joining and there were good discussions about social networking happening at the organization. In late fall of 2012, we had over 200 people signed up. Again I decided to extend the experiment until early in the New Year. At that point, we committed to making a decision whether to deploy it citywide or shut it down.

The Decision to Deploy Citywide
When my team and I reviewed the metrics in early 2013, the data was not overwhelmingly conclusive, but it was sufficiently persuasive to make a decision. In conjunction with our City leadership team and the City Manager, it was agreed to deploy Chatter citywide for a period of up to 18-months.

On March 1, 2013, almost a year after we started to think about social collaboration at the City, we invited all staff to participate. So far, so good. Lots of curiosity and great questions. It’s far too early to know if we are on a course to change the nature of work at the City. We’ll gather that evidence over the medium-term. But we’re doing things differently and opening our minds to a whole new world. We don’t want to play catch-up, we want to lead. It’s beginning to be clear who gets it and who is still trying to figure it out. Of course, we have plenty of people who don’t get it at all and are not shy to share their view that it doesn’t seem to offer them any value. But isn’t that one of the greatest challenges of innovation? Those of us tasked with anticipating a possible future, even when we have little idea what that future will bring must push forward with our ideas despite enormous pressure from the naysayers and antagonists. If there is success, everyone wins. If there is failure, we learn something and then we apply those lessons as we move forward with other innovative experimentation.

In 2004, nobody thought about Facebook. Nobody knew they would want it or even what value it could have in their lives. Less than 10 years later, Facebook–a social network–is one of the most remarkable phenomena of our time and a billion people discovered a new, fun and productive way to interact together.

Can we do the same at City Hall?


VIDEO: Palo Alto Continuing Open Data Push for City Government

February 23, 2013 - 3:29 pm

California Forward first reported on the city of Palo Alto’s Open Data Platform in August.  The city is using technology to create a more inclusive form of local government.  Months after its launch, we wanted to find out how if citizens are answering the call to become more engaged.


California Forward is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to bring government closer to the people and move the state in the right direction – forward. They believe empowered local communities are best equipped to solve their own problems, and there is a critical link between many of the problems that threaten our future and our state government, which has become ineffective, unresponsive, and unable to fix itself.


VIDEO: Robots, Space Travel, Open Data, and Other Thoughts

- 3:19 pm

Antonio Savarese, journalist for the Italian magazine Data Manager, on a recent trip to Silicon Valley, joined me at City Hall to discuss a wide range of items. His published interview with me is available here. In addition, he recorded an interview which can be found here. His questions allowed me to elaborate on some of the work my team and I are doing at the City of Palo Alto and also for me to provide my thoughts on the future of technology. It is a short 14 minute video.



VIDEO: Streams, Gardens, and Clouds – My Lecture on Open Data at UC Berkeley

February 9, 2013 - 7:50 pm

Data Innovation Day was held on Thursday, January 24, 2013. The purpose of Data Innovation Day is to raise awareness about the benefits and opportunities that come from increased use of information by individuals and the public and private sector. Events were held across the U.S. The following is my lecture at UC Berkeley on that day.


VIDEO: Early Lessons in Using Lean Methods in Palo Alto

January 2, 2013 - 6:43 pm

The city of Palo Alto, Calif., is stealing an idea from the commercial technology industry to improve services for its residents. In this video, city CIO Jonathan Reichental offers lessons learned from Palo Alto’s use of Lean Startup principles during several recent technology projects. The Lean Startup approach — which lets users test unfinished versions of new apps and websites — is routine in the commercial space. Now it’s catching on in government.


5 Steps to Jumpstart an Open Data Capability

December 17, 2012 - 10:56 pm

Making your agency’s data easily accessible to community members and computer applications has the potential to be a public sector game-changer. We call this process and capability: open data. In addition to increasing transparency and accountability–which can lead to greater trust with constituents–open data can enable innovators to build useful applications; analysts to find helpful insights; and innovators to create derivative value. Done right, there is little downside and a high-value upside. Looking across the U.S. today, we’re seeing an increasing number of federal, state, and local agencies embrace an open data future.

However, despite all the advantages, many agencies are deterred from implementation because open data has the appearance of being complex and expensive. At the City of Palo Alto, we deployed our initiative in just a few weeks and at very low cost. Here are the five general steps that we performed. Follow these and your agency could quickly be serving up data to your community.

1. Begin the discussion and get buy-in

In my view, there is no doubt that this is the most important step. Much like any project, if leadership doesn’t get the idea and its value, you are at a significant disadvantage from the outset. Start with an overview of open data. Reinforce it through multiple channels. Facilitate a discussion with your agency leaders. Initially focus on the transparency and accountability qualities (the monetary benefits will likely come later). Get your technology team on-board. Be sure to attain a few champions from across the organization. Ask leadership for support to move forward.

2. Formulate short and medium term plans

By this step, your agency is well underway with its open data project. You will want to acquire some early success, so keep the goals modest and measurable in the short-term. A reasonable plan may take the form of getting a few, non-controversial datasets on your agency website with an accompanying communications plan to get your community engaged. A medium-term plan will likely include posting some of the more valuable datasets such as agency financials. Leave long-term plans as more of a visionary stage. It’s too soon to understand the ultimate impact of open data.

3. Identify your first, easy datasets

The question I get most often is whether open data first-movers are concerned about information privacy. You bet we are! In reality, the bulk of agency data doesn’t have a privacy quality to it. This is data that is fully subject to applicable disclosure laws and is already recognized as useful to your community. In your work to get your open data project up and running quickly, find the datasets that are easy to attain and to the extent possible, have no controversial aspect to them. Fortunately, in an era of deficits, it’s comforting to know we have a surplus of data.

4. Identify a platform

I’ll dispel another myth now. You don’t need complex and expensive software to get your open data platform deployed. In fact, your open data platform could be as simple as a single webpage with a table of links. Don’t get stalled by analyzing the marketplace and then struggling with an extensive procurement process. Sure, there is now a healthy amount of competitors in this space including some open source (usually free and community-built) solutions. Proceed as appropriate for your agency, but don’t be deterred by the technology.

5. Learn and repeat

Moving fast with any project means making trade-offs. The most notable trade-off is having a less-than-perfect product on day one. Some capability–albeit likely somewhat flawed—may be the right price to pay for getting features quickly into the hands of users. That’s a core principle of the start-up community in Silicon Valley and its one that government could benefit from. Once the product is in place, go back and fix issues and implement missing features. Of course, let your community know that this is the approach. They will likely be happy to be part of this iterative feedback process. And of course, continuously learn what works and what doesn’t work along the way.

If you’re uncomfortable with any parts of the plan I’ve laid out above, then to some degree I’ve succeeded. Doing things differently and challenging the status quo should look and feel strange.

The future of successful government requires that we do a lot of things differently.


Check out Palo Alto’s open data initiatives:


Why Every Public Agency Needs a Data Strategy

November 2, 2012 - 2:08 pm

In his second guest column for EfficientGov, Palo Alto CIO Jonathan Reichental looks at the Open Data movement, and the criticality of “open government” in the 21st century.

Despite the fact that we face an increasing scarcity of valuable resources, one area of growing abundance is data. From information-producing activities such as the global supply chain, to our own personal behaviors, the digital world is producing data on a mind-boggling scale. At a recent conference, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google—an organization that knows a thing or two about data—stated that every two days we are creating the same amount of information that we did from the dawn of civilization to 2003.

On this scale, we no longer refer to it simply as data, we call it big data.

As devices and behaviors produce increasing volumes of data, a new visibility is emerging. For example, look at the insight we get from Google searches that result in a better understanding of the spread of seasonal flu. We are able to see formerly hidden patterns and make more-informed decisions. Organizations know more and more about you. Privacy is quickly becoming irrevocably passé. Mass production turns into mass personalization. Data at our fingertips is changing the way be live.

We’re moving from a post-industrial economy to a data economy.

Understanding Big Data

Regardless of whether your agency has 10 or 10,000 people, it’s a safe bet that you’re producing and storing data; it’s the one area where there is no deficit and no future likelihood of one. If we consider data as a valuable resource—which we should—then we’re all in a surplus position. That’s happy news for a sector so beset by negativity. That said, sadly, converting that surplus into value for the communities those agencies serve has not yet been broadly realized.

In short, governments are mostly sitting on an abundant resource, neglecting opportunities that could—if leveraged correctly—produce enormous benefits for their communities.

What is this government data that I’m talking about? On the federal site,, there are almost 400,000 sets of data. These cover every type of subject one could imagine. For example, there is the visitor log for the White House; the register of all federal government contractors; and unemployment statistics. There’s data on energy, health, manufacturing, and education. And these are only the datasets that have been posted for easy consumption; there are many more that still need to be posted.

And this phenomenon is not restricted to the federal level. On the city and county data website for San Francisco, for example, there are local crime statistics, and the location of every movie made there since 1924. My own city, Palo Alto, posts a variety of data that includes details on all our trees—a most revered Palo Alto resource—and demographics. In addition, we recently posted five years of financial information, which is data that taxpayers care deeply about.

Realizing the Value

But what’s so novel about posting government data? Many will point out that we’ve been doing that since the first public Web sites arrived back in the 1990’s.

There is truth in that statement; however, the current trend has a distinctive advantage to it. This data is being posted in a form that can be more easily used by Web and mobile applications. That means it’s more accessible, and this is no small point. It’s called Open Data. If the data is available for software engineers, data scientists, and other interested stakeholders, then all manner of new solutions can be built.

These solutions won’t get built by cash-strapped public agencies; rather, they will be created by the private sector, activists, residents, and other interested stakeholders. Already, citizens from across the nation are applying their skills to build useful applications such as apps for smartphones that have exceptional utility for communities (EfficientGov recently highlighted some of those apps and local efforts, including ours in Palo Alto, here). It’s a win-win: public agencies incur little or no cost, and the community receives the benefits.

Many communities host “hackathons” to promote their Open Data initiatives. These are events at which software developers focus on spinning up new applications—sometimes in a matter of hours—using a variety of datasets made available by the city. In Palo Alto earlier this year, we shut down a city block and 2,000 people turned up to build applications, create art, and network with one another.

We’re only at the very start of realizing the value of Open Data. One could easily imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when data is available to citizens at the moment of its creation. For example, an agency makes a payment for a product, and that transaction is immediately published and available to interested parties. Not only does real-time publishing create unprecedented transparency and accountability, it also makes the consuming applications vastly more useful.

I believe Open Data is foundational to building and enabling a digital city. This Open Data drives the development of useful applications; it is a convener of public-private partnerships; and it is a prerequisite to open government. And if your goal is to simply enable a lower cost and efficient manner to deliver your public agency services, then Open Data is still foundational.

Making It Happen

I’m often asked if Open Data is purely a product of Silicon Valley and its technically proficient community: “Isn’t Open Data only within the reach of tech-savvy communities like Palo Alto?”

Absolutely not.

Believing that Open Data requires significant technical expertise could not be further from reality. The biggest hurdle to enabling Open Data is recognizing it as an important part of your agency’s future, and then acting on it. Then focus should be on data value, not the volume of datasets.

There are many vendors ready to help any size agency, and the costs can be low enough for most to afford. In fact, with a little technical help—either from within your organization or by a willing volunteer in your community—there are Open Source solutions that can be deployed at negligible cost. Open Source is not the solution for everyone, but it’s certainly an option.

I’ll concede that this is a complex space, and any discussion here can only be superficial. While the dialogue is underway in some niche circles, I think it’s time for a broader national movement. We have to get the data topic on the table and start talking about how we can make it work for our citizens.

That’s my goal here: raising awareness to provoke you to learn more.

Let there be no doubt: Managing data and its value represent a core competency for both private enterprises and public agencies, from now and into the foreseeable future. Those that recognize this and assign priority to a data strategy will soon see benefits.

Are you ready to make data a priority?


CBS News Radio Interview on Open Budget Sept 20, 2012

September 20, 2012 - 10:00 am


Palo Alto’s Open Data Platform: What Transparency Looks Like?

August 3, 2012 - 9:15 pm

Pete Peterson, Executive Director, Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine’s School of Public Policy; his essay on his discussion with Jonathan Reichental on City government innovation and, in particular, his observations on Palo Alto’s open data work so far.

Read here:


Interview with Mashable on Palo Alto Open Data Initiative

July 31, 2012 - 10:21 pm

Mashable spoke with Palo Alto’s Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental and City Manager James Keene, who are at the forefront of the city’s open data initiative, to learn more about the project.


How Palo Alto is leading the digital city movement [GovFresh Interview]

June 17, 2012 - 1:43 pm

Luke Fretwell, founder and editor of GovFresh, conducted an interview with me on the work we are doing at the City of Palo Alto in rethinking and reinventing the delivery of local government. In a wide ranging discussion we cover topics such as open data, hackathons, cultural change, and the importance of leadership support.

You can listen to the interview here: CLICK HERE.


Palo Alto Weekly Cover Story: Building a Digital City

March 30, 2012 - 12:34 pm

I am thrilled that our vision for Palo Alto as a leading digital city is a cover story today in the Palo Alto Weekly. The story does a great job of covering the highlights of our work over the past few months. We’re experimenting with new ways of delivering service in local government and it’s getting the attention of media, our community, and other cities. Mayor Yeh, City Manager Keene, and I couldn’t be more pleased with our progress. We’re ready to take this work to the next level. Links to story attached.

Virtual Version:


Spoiler alert: The mouse dies. Touch and gesture take center stage

September 29, 2011 - 9:00 am

The moment that sealed the future of human-computer interaction (HCI) for me happened just a few months ago. I was driving my car, carrying a few friends and their children. One child, an 8-year old, pointed to the small LCD screen on the dashboard and asked me whether the settings were controlled by touching the screen. They were not. The settings were controlled by a rotary button nowhere near the screen. It was placed conveniently between the driver and passenger seats. An obvious location in a car built at the tail-end of an era when humans most frequently interacted with technology through physical switches and levers.

The screen could certainly have been one controlled by touch, and it is likely a safe bet that a newer model of my car has that very feature. However, what was more noteworthy was the fact that this child was assuming the settings could be changed simply by passing a finger over an icon on the screen. My epiphany: for this child’s generation, a rotary button was simply old school.

This child is growing up in an environment where people are increasingly interacting with devices by touching screens. Smartphones and tablets are certainly significant innovations in areas such as mobility and convenience. But these devices are also ushering in an era that shifts everyone’s expectations of how we engage in the use of technology. Children raised in a world where technology will be pervasive will touch surfaces, make gestures, or simply show up in order for systems to respond to their needs.

This means we must rethink how we build software, implement hardware, and design interfaces. If you are in any of the professions or businesses related to these activities, there are significant opportunities, challenges and retooling needs ahead.

It also means the days of the mouse are probably numbered. Long live the mouse.

The good old days of the mouse and keyboard

Probably like most of you, I have never formally learned to type, but I have been typing since I was very young, and I can pound out quite a few words per minute. I started on an electric typewriter that belonged to my dad. When my oldest brother brought home our first computer, a Commodore VIC-20, my transition was seamless. Within weeks, I was impressing relatives by writing small software programs that did little more than change the color of the screen or make a sound when the spacebar was pressed.

Later, my brother brought home the first Apple Macintosh. This blew me away. For the first time I could create pictures using a mouse and icons. I thought it was magical that I could click on an icon and then click on the canvas, hold the mouse button down, and pull downward and to the right to create a box shape.

Imagine my disappointment when I arrived in college and we began to learn a spreadsheet program using complex keyboard combinations.

Fortunately, when I joined the workforce, Microsoft Windows 3.1 was beginning to roll out in earnest.

The prospect of the demise of the mouse may be disturbing to many, not least of whom is me. To this day, even with my laptop, if I want to be the most productive, I will plug in a wireless mouse. It is how I work best. Or at least, it is currently the most effective way for me.

For most of us, we have grown up using a mouse and a keyboard to interact with computers. It has been this way for a long time, and we have probably assumed it would continue to be that way. However, while the keyboard probably has considerable life left in it, the mouse is likely dead.

Fortunately, while the trend suggests mouse extinction, we can momentarily relax, as it is not imminent.

But what about voice?

From science fiction to futurist projections, it has always been assumed that the future of human-computer interaction would largely be driven by using our voices. Movies over decades have reinforced this image, and it has seemed quite plausible. We were more likely to see a door open via voice rather than a wave. After all, it appears to be the most intuitive and requires the least amount of effort.

Today, voice recognition software has come a long way. For example, accuracy and performance when dictating to a computer is quite remarkable. If you have broken your arms, this can be a highly efficient way to get things done on a computer. But despite having some success and filling important niches, broad-based voice interaction has simply not prospered.

It may be that a world in which we control and communicate with technology via voice is yet to come, but my guess is that it will likely complement other forms of interaction instead of being the dominant method.

There are other ways we may interact, too, such as via eye-control and direct brain interaction, but these technologies remain largely in the lab, niche-based, or currently out of reach for general use.

The future of HCI belongs to touch and gesture

It is a joy to watch how people use their touch-enabled devices. Flicking through emails and songs seems so natural, as does expanding pictures by using an outward pinching gesture. Ever seen how quickly someone — particularly a child — intuitively gets the interface the first time they use touch? I have yet to meet someone who says they hate touch. Moreover, we are more likely to hear people say just how much they enjoy the ease of use. Touch (and multi-touch) has unleashed innovation and enabled completely new use cases for applications, utilities and gaming.

While not yet as pervasive, gesture-based computing (in the sense of computers interpreting body movements or emotions) is beginning to emerge in the mainstream. Anyone who has ever used Microsoft Kinect will be able to vouch for how compelling an experience it is. The technology responds adequately when we jump or duck. It recognizes us. It appears to have eyes, and gestures matter.

And let us not forget, too, that this is version 1.0.

The movie “Minority Report” teased us about a possible gesture-based future: the ability to manipulate images of objects in mid air, to pile documents in a virtual heap, and to cast aside less useful information. Today many of us can experience its early potential. Now imagine that technology embedded in the world around us.

The future isn’t what it used to be

My bet is that in a world of increasingly pervasive technology, humans will interact with devices via touch and gestures — whether they are in your home or car, the supermarket, your workplace, the gym, a cockpit, or carried on your person. When we see a screen with options, we will expect to control those options by touch. Where it makes sense, we will use a specific gesture to elicit a response from some device, such as (dare I say it) a robot! And, yes, at times we may even use voice. However, to me, voice in combination with other behaviors is more obvious than voice alone.

But this is not some vision of a distant future. In my view, the touch and gesture era is right ahead of us.

What you can do now

Many programmers and designers are responding to the unique needs of touch-enabled devices. They know, for example, that a paradigm of drop-down menus and double-clicks is probably the wrong set of conventions to use in this new world of swipes and pinches. After all, millions of people are already downloading millions of applications for their haptic-ready smartphones and tablets (and as the drumbeat of consumerization continues, they will also want their enterprise applications to work this way, too). But viewing the future through too narrow a lens would be an error. Touch and gesture-based computing forces us to rethink interactivity and technology design on a whole new scale.

How might you design a solution if you knew your users would exclusively interact with it via touch and gesture, and that it might also need to be accessed in a variety of contexts and on a multitude of form factors?

At a minimum, it will bring software developers even closer to graphical interface designers and vice versa. Sometimes the skillsets will blur, and often they will be one and the same.

If you are an IT leader, your mobile strategy will need to include how your applications must change to accommodate the new ways your users will interact with devices. You will also need to consider new talent to take on these new needs.

The need for great interface design will increase, and there will likely be job growth in this area. In addition, as our world becomes increasingly run by and dependent upon software, technology architects and engineers will remain in high demand.

Touch and gesture-based computing are yet more ways in which innovation does not let us rest. It keeps the pace of change, already on an accelerated trajectory, even more relentless. But the promise is the reward. New ways to engage with technology enables novel ways to use it to enhance our lives. Simplifying the interface opens up technology so it becomes even more accessible, lowering the complexity level and allowing more people to participate and benefit from its value.

Those who read my blog know my view that I believe we are in a golden age of technology and innovation. It is only going to get more interesting in the months and years ahead.

Are you ready? I know there’s a whole new generation that certainly is!


Will your business survive the digital revolution?

June 3, 2011 - 9:00 am

Over the last few years we’ve watched in giddy disbelief as a web-based social network launched from a dorm room at Harvard University unexpectedly found its way to be an enabler of a Middle East uprising. We’ve seen how new types of media have propelled people and events into the spotlight and even helped elect a U.S. president. We’ve looked in awe as mobile devices connected to a ubiquitous network have brought global commerce to the most remote parts of the developing world. We’ve seen 100-year-old businesses vanish as cocky upstarts replace their once unshaken dominance. We’ve delighted as citizens have been empowered by a new ease in which to leverage recently liberated stores of data held by governments.

With just these few observations it’s clear to all of us that technology is no longer just in support of our lives and organizations; it’s taking a commanding and empowering position. And it’s vital that we all fully understand just how profound these changes truly are (and will be). The very survival of your organization likely depends on it.

Are we at the start or the end of this technology revolution?

We observe these incredible events unfold and this may lead us to believe we’ve reached a new pinnacle of technological innovation. Many of us might believe that we’re peaking in our capacity to make amazing things happen. To them I say: we’ve barely even started.

From economics to democracy, from health to entertainment, from retail to education, and everything else in-between, something remarkable is happening.

In my view the events described here are just the beginning of a seismic shift in our human experience. Indeed, these innovations are not reserved for a single nation or continent. This technology-based revolution is the first to quickly reach and impact every corner of the planet.

Every generation believes it lives through remarkable and changing times. And that is probably true. But the large transformations, most recently like those of both the agricultural and industrial revolutions, don’t happen that often. These changes are a railroad switch that shifts the course of human destiny. Some have coined our era as the information revolution. But the emergence of the information age has merely been the precursor and a glimmer of things to come.

The true revolution is the convergence of many things. Revolutions require more than just a few elements to be in place. Historically they have required a unique alignment of qualities such as economic and political conditions, readiness for change, demographics and a catalyst.

We see much of that today. Of course, today the catalyst is the Internet. It’s also the ease in which so many of us can now produce digital innovation (creating new value through electronic, non-analog means). It’s also about the availability of low-cost, ubiquitous global communication networks with an abundance of devices connected. It’s close to zero-cost cloud-based storage. With low cost storage comes the easy retention of massive volumes of data and when it’s coupled with the fact there are so many opportunities to collect that data; new uses and value can be derived from it.

There is a new world order that is unique to our time that is also enabling this change. Not least the emergence of prosperity in many part of the world and the breathtaking rise of the BRIC nations and others. This prosperity is creating a new class of educated, global participants. This means more competition and it means more innovation. It’s all these things and more converging to produce a significant technology-based social and business disruption.

As this technology revolution unfolds, does your business have a survival plan?

The evidence is clear

The signals are in both the destruction of existing paradigms and in the creation of completely new ones. We’re watching entire industries disappear or be reinvented through digital transformation: newspapers, books, movies, music, travel agents, photography, telecommunication companies, healthcare, fund-raising, stock-trading, retail, real estate, and on and on.

Digital innovation has few geographic boundaries, so the disruptor can emerge from almost any place on earth.

Completely new models are emerging: location-based services, mobile apps, gamification, payment systems and new forms of payment, cloud computing, big data analysis and visualization, recommendation engines, near-field communications, real-time knowledge, tablets and other new form factors, augmented reality, gesture-based computing, personal medicine, large scale global social networks, microblogging and more. Many of these did not exist five years ago and many more will exist in the next five years. In fact, the next major disruptor is probably already underway. This kind of change is equally exciting and terrifying for organizations.

Why it is different this time

When the Walkman became the Discman, the music industry flourished. But when the digital MP3 player was introduced, the music industry was fundamentally and forever reinvented. Digital transformations are not subtle or calm. They are equal measure painful, chaotic, and exciting.

When mobile phones were introduced they enabled people to untether themselves from a fixed wire and talk almost anywhere. That was useful and convenient. But when smartphones freely enable the coordination of people and events that facilitates the overthrow of a corrupt government, this is not business as usual. That’s a fundamental shift in how humans communicate and coordinate their activities.

It will be a rough ride

Sure it won’t all be rosy and bad people will do bad things using more of this technology. But that’s certainly not news. The vulnerabilities will grow but so will our ability to fight attacks. Opportunities in security will remain in high demand.

There will also be booms, bubbles, and busts. That’s a normal part of the economic lifecycle. In fact, outside of the obvious pain it causes, a bust can be a valuable response to irrationality in the market. We will see many of these cycles through this transformation, but I believe we will net out with a continued exponential growth in digital innovation.

The big stuff is yet to come

When you observe how digitization causes significant economic restructuring and the emergence of completely new forms of business, and you factor in an entirely new level of social connectedness, it’s hard not to conclude that big things are ahead.

It’s also easy to be unfazed by the digital change underway, particularly if you’re working deep within it. In addition, it’s equally easy to become fatigued and even cynical about further change. But stop, elevate yourself above the chaos and noise, and the digital transformation is a palpable societal disruption.

At the heart of this blog is not a regurgitation of change that many of us already recognize and embrace; moreover, it’s about urging each one of us not to underestimate this transformational shift. It’s also neutral on the subject — but recognizes — the social and economic negatives that may result. Big shifts like these do evoke, for example, strong feelings of nationalism (somewhat ironically). But I’ll steer away from this subject for now.

Failure to anticipate, prepare and respond sufficiently is a significant organizational risk. In other words, delivering your product or service to the market of yesterday and today without constantly exploring reinvention for the market of tomorrow may be certain business suicide. And while that’s largely always been true, it’s seldom been so necessary and urgent.

Once we recognize the magnitude of change that digital innovation is causing and may bring in the months and years ahead, it will help us to think bigger and to think in ways that may previously have seemed absurd.

As inventors and facilitators of the future we would do ourselves a great injustice to underestimate the change.

The digital revolution: my own personal experiences

Let’s just take a quick look at my world for a moment. In many areas of my life it’s fascinating comparing how I did things in 2001 vs. how I do them now in 2011. By the way, it’s worth noting that while I immerse myself in technology and innovation through my work, I’m not particularly unique in the way I use technology outside of work.

So let’s take a look at some of the changes over the course of 10 years: I no longer wear a watch. No need, I get time from my smartphone. I got rid of my landline phone. My phone is my smartphone. I never go to a bank. Done online. I don’t know anyone’s phone number by heart. I select a name and my phone dials the number. Outside of a radius of a few miles, I don’t know how to get anywhere anymore without my GPS. I never use a map. I barely mail a letter. My use for stamps is diminishing. I seldom print anything. Everything that can be reserved, I do online. I don’t watch scheduled TV. I watch shows off my digital video recorder or computer when I want (in HD, no less). I use my smartphone for less and less voice calls. I text. I read, take classes, post photos, write, research, play, watch movies, listen to music, comparison shop, order insurance, complain and more all online.

I’m pretty sure your experiences are fairly similar.

Perhaps it is a little bit of an exaggeration, but I mostly only emailed and consumed static content online in 2001.

Almost every one of these areas represents an industry. And as a result of these enabled behavioral changes over the course of a mere 10 years, within these industries many organizations have been created and destroyed.

If this kind of transformation can happen in the past 10 years, with everything we know about how things are trending, what might our lives look like in 10 years from now? While not necessarily a novel question, I’m simply suggesting each of us are being forced to think bigger and more innovatively than ever before about the realities and possibilities of the future.

So what should organizations do?

I’m confident most enlightened organizations have some form of a strategy in place. That’s good news. For those that don’t or are hesitant, it’s time to act. In either case, the following are just a few fundamentals worth considering:

  • Recognize the magnitude of the digital revolution in acceptance and in action.
  • Invest in understanding how your organization can anticipate and respond quickly to change.
  • Monitor and interpret trends and new technology entrants.
  • Audit your vulnerabilities and score progress and risk on a regular basis.
  • Prepare by taking greater risks.
  • Innovate as standard practice (this doesn’t just happen, you need a strategy).
  • Make bold changes in order to continue to succeed when disruption is a certainty.

Technology used to be the domain of a few. Now it’s the fabric woven into how we all live, work, and play. Today it has the power to create and destroy value in an unprecedented manner. That’s a big deal for every organization.

It’s likely a very big deal for you, too.


My top 5 predictions for CIOs in 2011

December 15, 2010 - 9:00 am

We are living in amazing times. Technology is changing the way we work and play at a considerable pace and there is no letup in sight. Rather, the change we anticipate ahead will be greater and more profound than anything that has come before. If you, like me, are lucky enough to be part of implementing that change then you’ll likely agree that we are extra fortunate.

To me, being a CIO in the early part of the 21st century couldn’t be further from being in “just a job.” If you’re doing it right and having fun while you’re doing it, you and your team can be inventors of the future. And that’s really important and interesting work.

As we look to 2011, the to-do list and choices for CIOs are getting longer and more complex. The pace of change is adding a level of uncertainty that doesn’t make any specific path clear. Knowing this, as most of us do, is not particularly helpful. But that’s not the point to focus on: the enlightened CIO must help go after the most valuable projects and be a trusted adviser to those who commit dollars to organizational goals.

It’s in this context that I present my top 5 predictions for CIOs in 2011. I’ve pondered whether they should be characterized as predictions. Regardless of what we call them, these areas will be featured on most CIO agendas in the year ahead. Think of them as unavoidable big ticket items that will consume considerable discussion and may be deserving of a deliberate strategy.

1. Cloud computing enters the mainstream

Okay, so one doesn’t need to be a soothsayer to know that cloud computing is at a point of inflection. Emerging from a period of hype and niche investment, cloud computing is positioning as a transformative and central technology in the arsenal of enablers of value.

Worthy of particular note, with mobile increasingly at the center of our computing future, a strategy for the mobile cloud will be an essential subset of this space.

I’ve said it before, if the CIO is not driving the agenda on cloud in 2011, there are many in the C-suite who will be. This is because cloud computing provides solutions for reducing cost, simplifying and optimizing infrastructure, and shifting the role of the CIO from back-office manager to enabler of business opportunity.

The risk is no longer the cloud. The risk is not having the cloud as a priority in your strategy.

2. Real business intelligence

I have a term for business intelligence that I prefer and I believe conveys a more urgent sense of its value: I call it unleashing data. Somewhere on some system in your organization lie answers and patterns in data that could be worth millions of dollars. In an era where we create more data every two days than was created from the start of recorded history to 2003 (apparently that’s about five exabytes of data), to say data is underutilized is a gross understatement.

Now, more than ever, we have tools to mine organizational data — whether structured or unstructured — and unleash its enormous value. What strikes me about business intelligence is that the CIO doesn’t have to create anything new; it’s about using what already exists.

3. The cost and value of technology

A notable manifestation of our recession recovery is the absence of rigorous business investment. Put another way, businesses have been shell-shocked into hoarding their profits at the cost of spending on necessary technology maintenance and new systems. Rather, the modus operandi is conservative spending and trying to get more technology value with less cost. CIOs are feeling it.

The year ahead will likely continue this trend as the economy remains unstable and uncertain. It’s not the end of the world for CIOs, but it does mean that more work must be applied to developing watertight business cases and for increasing the innovative use of technology. For many CIOs, this trend will require necessary business skills that will be challenging. Break open that old college business textbook. You might need it.

4. Integrating social into the enterprise

While I don’t think that integrating social computing deep into existing systems will hit an inflection point in 2011, nonetheless I believe this will be the year where the subject gets increasing attention both in the CIO discourse and in the emergence of new supporting technology.

The business advantages of social capabilities such as internal crowdsourcing, collaborative virtual spaces, video-on-the-desktop, social network analysis, creating serendipity, and consensus building are being gradually proven out on an ad hoc basis. The future will demand that a deliberate and rigorous plan be applied to it. The time to begin strategizing on a path forward begins now.

5. Temporary staffing

If you’re an IT contractor, 2011 will likely continue to be a good year for you. Closely aligned with prediction No. 3, CIOs are increasingly reluctant to fill openings with full-time employees. Loath to risk further layoffs in the future, they continue to be highly conservative about growing the ranks. Market confidence will need to be restored before we see a sizeable shift to full-time employee hiring in the IT sector.

As a result, CIOs will be managing more hybrid-staffed organizations. These organizations will constitute full-time employees, contractors, and outsourcing. While not radically different from many IT organizations today, what makes 2011 different is the uncertainty around the extent and duration of the contractor requirements. Will it be permanent? What effects will it have on institutional knowledge, loyalty, and existing staff?

You may agree or disagree with my predictions and you may believe I left something big out. I’m confident that’s true. So I’d like to hear from you. Add your comment below if you think there is another prediction that every CIO must be aware of for 2011.

As I did in 2010, I’ll revisit these in late in 2011 and make an assessment of how they fared as the top ticket items for the CIO during the year.


5 cloud computing conundrums

November 3, 2010 - 9:00 am

With all the attention being paid to both public and private cloud computing these days, it would be easy to believe that it offers a panacea for the woes of every CIO. If only! The reality of designing and implementing a cloud strategy, particularly the public component, is far more complex than any technology vendor or analyst paper would have you believe. Faced with an array of trade-offs, public cloud computing is creating considerable challenges for CIOs and their teams.

Like every new technology paradigm that has come before, cloud computing presents both clear advantages and near-term limitations that need to be addressed ( I deliberately say near-term, as IT innovation has a neat way of figuring stuff out eventually. Sadly, not always when you need it, and certainly not for the benefit of early adopters.)

With the C-suite continuing to apply pressure to get more value from IT and reduce cost, moving technology services into an externally hosted environment or subscribing to an online business solution can be a quick and convenient win. But can a strategy like this be applied successfully in a repeatable fashion without significant trade-offs?

While every business needs to consider public cloud computing in the context of its own needs and risk profile, I’ve identified a sample of puzzles that most CIOs will likely need to address. There are many others of course, but these should be sufficiently provocative.

Puzzle #1: Create flexibility by being less flexible

Moving capability to the cloud can provide clear advantages such as storage elasticity (the ability to increase or decrease needs as necessary and only pay for the amount used) and pay-per-feature options. But these flexibilities may come at the price of vendor lock-in and limiting feature sets. Will this compromise be acceptable? Difficulty level: Medium.

Puzzle #2: Determine the cost of an existing IT solution

Whether an IT service should remain internal or be hosted in the cloud requires a level of cost accounting (the true costs of labor, utilities, backups, disaster recovery etc.), which is seldom applied to the cost of running a technology service. This puzzle requires the CIO to understand and allocate the appropriate costs for each service being considered for the cloud. Hint: Don’t forget to include opportunity costs. Difficulty level: High.

Puzzle #3: Simplify the environment by introducing more complexity

Move a complex business process to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider and you immediately eliminate the complexity of developing, managing, and hosting the solution internally. However, move lots of processes to a variety of providers and you may introduce challenges in getting these applications to interface with each other. You also provide a considerably less unified experience to the user. While standard APIs ease the flow of data, supporting disparate vendor solutions adds a new level of complexity. Difficulty level: Medium.

Puzzle #4: Provide assurances of sustainability in a domain of uncertainty

Public cloud solutions remain largely nascent and unproven over the long term. With the benefits so compelling, it can be hard to resist moving forward with what may appear to be a great fit. With little ability to ensure that the solution will be available in the long-term, the challenge is to receive and provide assurances to already skeptical stakeholders. Difficulty level: High.

Puzzle #5: Maintain security while reducing it

Providing a secure computing environment is the priority of every CIO. With threats increasing and becoming ever more elaborate, this is a space with little room for error or oversight. By moving services to the cloud, you may essentially be outsourcing your security. Difficulty level: High.

One could assume from this posting that I’m not supportive of the movement to the public cloud. But nothing could be further from the truth. The opportunities such as lower cost, increased agility, and new business possibilities are obvious and compelling.  Given what’s at stake, a deliberate and diligent approach is absolutely essential. It’s clearly not all or nothing; migrate only what makes sense. Since moving services to the public cloud is often a unidirectional process (they’re unlikely to move back in-house without significant cost and serious disruption) it’s important to avoid buyer’s remorse.

If you’ve solved some of these puzzles I’d love to hear how you did it and any trade-offs you had to make. I’m also interested in other conundrums that cloud computing presents. Tweet to @reichental.


Can predictability and IT innovation coexist?

October 25, 2010 - 9:00 am

Organizations that succeed in consistently converting ideas into value, and then profiting from them — the art and science of innovation — are often those that have balanced rigid process with agility. The reconciliation of predictability and innovation is at the heart of many IT transformations, even if it isn’t an overtly focused intent. In other words, leadership wants more value from IT and more contribution to the bottom line, but they want it without compromising the core business functions that technology supports.

Typically, IT transformations try to achieve two things:

  1. Improve existing services by increasing quality and capacity while finding ways to radically reduce cost.
  2. Spend less time managing and maintaining back-office systems and redirect resources and capacity in order to enable new business opportunities.

To address item 1 usually requires the implementation of optimal processes, and to support item 2 necessitates innovation. Unfortunately, in the effort to ensure the compliance of processes, an organization can stifle, or in the worst case, create high entry barriers to innovation.

As an example of rigorous process, IT project governance often requires a level of analysis and support that just isn’t available to risky new ideas. Since the absence of concrete evidence can be a showstopper for many decision-makers, ideators are deterred from proposing their ideas in the first place. After all, who would want to expend energy and enthusiasm championing an idea when there is a very good chance it won’t even be entertained?

An IT organization can overtly follow a path that is predictable (read: rigidly process driven) as it may be right for its profile. Think about financial organizations like banks and insurance companies, or the constraints of regulation in healthcare industries. These types of organizations lend themselves to a sharper focus on process.

Then there are businesses that make innovation their modus operandi. I think about technology-based start-ups and industries where complacency means certain obsolescence. For example: miss a beat in the fast moving mobile phone domain and you’re toast.

Lastly, there are a large percentage of businesses that want to be both predictable and innovative. Most importantly: they don’t want one aspect to trump the other.

Today, every IT leader needs to consider this dichotomy for the business domain in which their business competes: whether to run an IT organization that is equal parts predictable and innovative. Strategies that can reconcile these two agendas have positive observable and measurable results. At the same time, organizations that don’t reconcile these aspects often see lower levels of IT innovation. I’d bet that we each know the category in which our own organizations belong.

In O’Reilly IT, ensuring that we achieve the right degree of process while charting an innovative course is an important part of our transformation journey. As I’ve written before, it begins with winning over your IT staff and your internal customers. Then it’s about clearly defining the limits of process within your organization. What will the culture permit?

When process overrides its benefits, it couldn’t be clearer: your business stakeholders will reject it and it will fail. So tread slowly. Look for those organizational signals. Examples will include decreasing participation in process-based meetings; non-responded emails; and missed deadlines. Above all, when you begin to find the right balance, loudly communicate the benefits of the process. It needs to resonate with the participants. When it does, you know you’re headed in the right direction.

If you’re unsure whether your IT organization reconciles predictability with IT innovation, test it. One of the simplest ways to do this is to ask. You might be surprised at what you hear.


The 3 tensions of internal IT innovation

August 8, 2010 - 1:12 pm

Internal IT innovation is all about converting ideas, those specifically supported by new technologies, into business value. These innovations often focus on needs such as improved internal processes or alternative and creative ways to support market activities. Four years into leading PwC’s IT innovation efforts, I’ve certainly observed enough of what works and what creates challenge to write a book on the subject.  For this blog posting I’m going to briefly discuss an element of what I’ve experienced. It’s what I will call the 3 tensions of internal IT innovation.

1.    Technology is inherently innovative, so why have an IT innovation team at all?

When I formed our IT innovation team, this was the first question that needed to be answered. It’s a core tension: IT already innovates so don’t create confusion or competition by introducing a separate innovation team. It’s true that by default, deploying technology in an organization usually results in innovation. The existence of that new technology generally brings new capabilities and as a result new value is derived.  However, there is an important characteristic of IT innovation that makes it unique. It is the quality of embarking on an effort when there is a significant chance of failure. Normal, business-dependent projects never kick-off with this premise. It would be unacceptable.  Since IT innovation projects often deal with speculated outcomes and unproven, immature technologies, most of the time you’re spending money with the knowledge that the purpose of the effort has more value beyond successful deployment. If you can get this to work within your existing IT structure, then you’re more progressive than most organizations. In my experience, the separation of the team is essential to strike the right tension. The takeaway here is to get your leadership and participating teams to understand and accept the premise of this tension from the outset.

2.    IT innovation projects fail more often than they succeed creating a negative perception of value.

The previous tension provides the necessary background to this second tension.  Simply stated, if we accept that the value of IT innovation often transcends successful deployment, then we must manage the incorrect assumption that failure is bad. If those writing the checks only measure IT innovation project success by deployment success, then a negative, ultimately destructive, tension will exist.  To strike the right positive tension, I believe IT innovation success must be measured in ways not normally associated with technology projects. By its very nature, IT innovation has many unknown characteristics, for example: will it even work, will people ever use it? By engaging in an IT innovation project we hope to answer these types of questions regardless of the desired outcome. These insights can create competitive advantage and should be used to inform decision-makers and feed into other projects.  To get this tension right, you have to proceed with project success in mind, but balance it with communicating the value of the spin-off insights that result from failure.

3.    Essential IT projects to run the business almost always trump internal IT innovation projects.

There is likely no organization that exists where the available IT supply exceeds the demand. More likely, every IT organization deals with a magnitude more of user needs than they could every meet.  This is why effective IT project governance that results in prioritization is so important. The most valuable projects are given preference which often results in the more discretionary and apt-for-failure IT innovation not meeting the priority list. To address essential business needs while also spending on speculative IT innovation is probably one of the hardest of the tensions to reconcile.  In my experience I’ve seen at least two prominent approaches. The most common is to have a separate budget for IT innovation. This way, they get to operate without the burden of producing elaborate return-on-investment projections and competing with projects that run the business. The challenge is, of course, that every group wants its own dedicated budget and singling out the IT innovation team can cause an organizational backlash that relegates the IT innovation team to the periphery of the action. On the other hand, the benefits if you can make it work are abundantly obvious.  The second approach is to have the IT innovation project proposals go through the standard IT projects governance process.  The premise is that IT innovation project proposals should be subjected to the same evaluation and diligence as every other project and move forward based on relative value. Where do I stand on this?  While a brief response can’t address the deeper discussion here, I believe that you need both approaches but with specific demarcation.  IT innovation teams should have a budget to just enough to cover the analysis and feasibility of an effort. Often this is sufficient to glean the insights that make more work unnecessary. However, if money is needed to build a prototype or to run a pilot, then I think it’s reasonable to run the proposal through the IT governance process.  A great internal IT innovation project proposal should sell itself on its merit.  Positive tension in this instance is getting decision makers to carefully balance necessity with speculation.

Let’s be clear, understanding and addressing these three tensions in the right manner will largely depend on your organization. But I’m confident you have had to or will have to address some manner of them. While certainly not an exhaustive list, at least if you can get these three right early on, you have a good foundation for future success.

What has been your experience with these three tensions?


Innovate or go home

July 13, 2010 - 1:07 pm

How much new value did you provide your organization today? Did you suggest creative ways to go about a common task that resulted in better outcomes? Are your work behaviors keeping you relevant? If these questions are not top of mind for you yet, they will be. Your future gainful employment may depend on being able to answer them with resounding positivity. Intrigued? Read on.

Much of the discourse on innovation has been focused on that which takes place within the enterprise. Innovation as a personal behavior has not nearly received the attention it deserves. For one thing, it is imminently relevant and personal to every American and not simply an abstract concept that they can mostly only observe and barely influence. In previous blogs I’ve argued that enterprise innovation is increasingly essential, but I’ve not addressed the most intimate of all innovation: that of personal innovation.

So what is personal innovation? It contains much of the same elements of organizational innovation: qualities such as converting ideas into value; creating new ways of doing things; and creative problem solving. It’s about taking these concepts and applying them in a personal, individual manner. Testing personal innovation is about asking these types of questions and answering in a position fashion: Do I add new and increasingly more value each day? Do I use creative thinking to solve complex problems? Am I perceived by others as an innovator in how I go about my work? And one of my favorites: Am I looking for ways to regularly reinvent and brand myself consistent with the needs of my organization or the marketplace in general?

The author Daniel Pink  argues convincingly that the future of employment in American will increasingly rely on qualitative right-brained thinking.  That is, thinking that is highly creative in nature and not that of the left-brain which is rooted in repetitive, process-driven activities. The premise is that left-brained work is ripe for outsourcing since it can be easily replicated outside of the U.S. Right-brained activities on the other hand; tasks such as creative problem solving and idea generation are difficult to package and ship offshore and therefore hold the key to gainful employment in the long-term.

Those in left-brained work must consider whether an evolution to right-brained work makes sense.  In our new business environment reality, personal innovation becomes paramount. If you aren’t creating new value, if you aren’t reinventing yourself on a regular basis, and if you’re not being creative in how you approach problems, you are certainly increasing the possibility that you may become irrelevant. And if you’re irrelevant you might as well go home. And that, my readers, is my point; future success in our post-industrial society will rely on each of us innovating as a core behavior. Therefore, it’s completely possible that If you’re not innovating, you might as well do yourself a favor and go home.


Can cost-based innovation help solve our debt crisis?

June 21, 2010 - 11:38 pm

Each of us are painfully aware of the new economic reality in which we find ourselves: national, state, and local government debt is skyrocketing. Simply put, it costs a lot more to provide and maintain government services than is taken in through taxes and other sources of revenue and thus we are forced to borrow to cover the difference. Every commentator on this subject offers essentially only three near-term solutions to the problem: raise taxes (some argue for lowering taxes), cut services and programs, and reduce the civil service payroll.  And while all of these have historically played an important role in some form of debt remediation, I’m struck by the absence of the role of innovation in this national discourse. I’m not talking about entrepreneurial innovation which of course is a considerable generator of income and taxes; I’m talking specifically about cost-based innovation.

Cost-based innovation is all about applying ideas to reducing the cost of a product or service while still providing a similar or acceptable outcome. For example, during the great recession businesses didn’t stop having regional and national meetings (although they had less), they did them differently. Instead of flying all participants to a location and paying for the transportation, lodging, and food costs, they had participants attend the meetings virtually (more than ever, cost-based innovation often relies heavily on technology innovation). The outcome resulted not just in considerably lower meeting costs, but staff enjoyed the convenience of attending from their office, and businesses could claim an attendant reduction to their carbon footprint.

States are struggling with the costs of critical services such as healthcare, education, fire services, welfare programs, and infrastructure upkeep. With a public increasingly opposed to tax increases (I often remind my friends that when America was booming in the 1950’s, the highest tax rate was over 90%), governments have been reduced to eliminating services, programs and cutting payrolls (might there be higher unanticipated costs in the long run as a result?). Okay, so it may be prudent to cancel some nonessential programs. In many cases that’s the right thing to do even when the economy is good! However, instead of such radical measures, where possible, could we ask some probing questions: can the service be provided differently? How can we approach the problem from an entirely different perspective? Cost-based innovation is used in business all the time where it is often applied as a matter of survival. Shouldn’t the same principles apply to government?

Let’s assume most of our politicians are bright and well-intentioned individuals and let’s assume that they largely hire competent and energetic teams. Even these great leaders and teams may not have all the solutions. For this I propose that they ask the electorate for ideas. This is called open innovation. Granted, many governments are experimenting with this approach, but it remains as yet a largely untapped strategy. To solve the BP oil spill, people from all over the country have been submitting thousands of creative ideas. We are increasingly seeing business after business tap into their customers for ideas on improving and creating new products and services. This combination of cost, open, and technology innovation offers great potential to help solve our debt crisis. And don’t stop there; let’s use this approach to solve lots of problems. For every problem that our country or state has, I’m willing to bet people have good ideas to address them.

The problems we face and those we anticipate in the future will not be solved by business-as-usual. Regardless of political persuasion, all of us and our elected officials are going to have to do things differently. And doing things differently is what innovation is all about.


First impressions of the Apple iPad

June 14, 2010 - 8:00 am

An Apple iPad is currently selling at a rate of one every three seconds. Since its launch in April, over two million have sold. These are numbers for the United States alone! It is only beginning to become available in other countries, so the pace of sales will gather further speed. In a good economy this kind of sales volume would be good. In a bad economy that’s close to phenomenal.

Of course, because of my work and interest in new technology I had to get one too. There is an obvious attraction to gadgets and new shiny things for many of us, but it seems to me that the unprecedented interest in the iPad goes way beyond a niche level of curiosity. The iPad, despite some early criticism about its name and some folks saying it was simply “a big iPhone,” has emerged victorious in the battle for hearts and minds (and frankly people parting with their cash). Apple are tapping into something important and those of us in the technology sector had better figure it out soon.

I will admit I am impressed. Apple, among a relatively small set of organizations consistently delivers a high quality product. The iPad does not disappoint. I don’t intend to review the product here, but simply convey some of my initial observations.

The iPad is certainly not a replacement for any other device that I have. That’s not a surprise. Apples intent, as well as others entering the Tablet computing space, is to deliberately create a new platform and not replace an existing one. Yes, it creates a new revenue channel for these providers, but it also fills some gaps that neither the PC nor the smartphone can easily meet. The iPad positions itself for easy consumption of content, whether text, audio, pictures or video and it is simple enough to pick-up, boot in a few seconds, and use without instruction. The beautiful screen, the touch-screen interface, and its overall ease-of-use, are highly attractive features. Surprisingly, it innovates by doing less and doing it better. The product isn’t perfect and as a technologist who likes to personalize his computing environment it feels more like an appliance with limited ability to customize. However, as a version 1.0, it’s pretty slick.

To compliment the hardware, they have created and championed an ecosystem of third-party developers that are deploying highly innovative solutions that are, once again, generally easy to access and use. Apple won’t be the only player in this market, but for now they have a considerable head start. Keep an eye out for other big technology shops making announcements in tablet computing. The competition will be robust and ultimately healthy for the consumer.

While it is too early to tell, the real promise of the iPad is yet to come. It will be used in ways that none of us can think of right now. To me that’s the most exciting thing about new technology: it creates the turns that guide the future. I can’t wait to see what’s next.


Essential innovation: Essennovation Part 2

May 28, 2010 - 8:00 am

In a recent blog I argued that in order to prosper as an IT professional in the new, sobering world of alternative sourcing, new skills may be necessary. These skills are being necessitated by the changing role of IT within organizations. While it is possible to outsource much of the commodity technology and related services required by organizations, there is an increasing need for creative, complex problem-solving technology skills. This layer of technology need requires high doses of innovation and the attendant right-brained skills to make it happen. Rather than discretionary innovation for both the IT professional and IT organization, I called this essential innovation and coined the term essennovation. While my intent was to bring clarity to a common theme currently being discussed within IT circles and in board rooms across the world, I was delighted by the high degree of new conversation the blog provoked.

There was broad agreement with my thesis. Across social media sites and at water coolers, people said that, with a few exceptions, IT innovation was essential. When describing the ideal new-era IT professional, I said that business skills were a bonus. Many corrected me and said business skills were essential. I agree. What was clear–and certainly my intent–was that my blog focused on a very thin slice of essennovation: the IT professional and the role of IT. However, it got me and a lot of other people thinking: what other areas of an organization require a posture of essennovation and even more importantly, what industries are required to essennovate?

In several follow-up forums I suggested that industries such as healthcare and mobile clearly survive because of essennovation. I maintain that innovation is part of their DNA. Resting or gloating in market share does not cut it, lest a competitor quickly out-innovate them. Others chimed in with an interesting counter-point that caused me to pause in thought: did an industry or business exist where innovation was not essential? Upon reflection, I determined my response as yes. But it is a conditional yes and I dedicate the remainder of this blog to its defense.

The answer lies somewhere between my definition of innovation and the maturity of innovation leadership and processes adopted within organizations. First, to address the definition: I generally support the theme that the conversion of ideas into value is a decent description of innovation. But does that mean that process improvement or re-engineering initiatives are also innovation? Somewhat.  When we implement Six Sigma initiatives, for example, are we innovating? Maybe. But, inversely, when we innovate are we delivering Six Sigma initiatives. Probably not. This takes me to the second point, the context in which I consider innovation. To me, innovation is a deliberate and mature set of processes in and of themselves. Couple that with sincere and focused organizational support and leadership and you have my view of innovation. In this context, let’s go back and review the question that was posed: Did an industry or business exist where innovation was not essential? Sure, many organizations have process improvement activities, or they look for ways to improve products and services, but do many of them have mature and supported innovation processes? In my experience and observations working with a vast array of businesses and industries, the conclusion is that many don’t.  Often, the way in which they are tackling the marketplace is working just fine; essennovation is not a factor. For others, it is a matter of education and understanding; they just don’t have the skills or haven’t yet recognized a need to have a mature innovation process. And then there are many who are trying and having limited success. Essennovation belongs to those organizations that live and die by innovation. Essennovation belongs to those who have aggressive revenue growth and performance objectives and they execute upon them by having deliberate, leadership-supported, mature innovation processes. Thus, I conclude that for some decent chunk of organizations, essennovation is simply not a factor.

For me, this provokes a new question: under what scenarios or triggers does an organization move from a non-essennovation state to one of essennovation?  Let me know your thoughts.


Essential innovation: Essennovation Part 1

May 7, 2010 - 8:00 am

It’s likely not lost on many of us that large chunks of the internal information technology (IT) department at businesses are being outsourced. Rather than a new phenomenon, strategic sourcing–a term that covers the myriad ways resources and services can be alternatively provided by vendors– is picking up pace. We’re seeing more and more organizations choosing to move many of their technology functions to an external provider.  Among many factors, increasing commoditization of technologies and services make them easier to offload to someone else. When we say commoditization in this context, we mean, for example: standard hardware and software, and services that can be relatively easily documented, then duplicated and repeated.  Think about common technology needs such as data storage or software testing.  By outsourcing, organizations can take advantage of, for example:  lower labor costs; larger pools of scare talent; and the ability to easily increase or decrease needs, and subsequent cost, based on demand. In fact, strategic sourcing has been a boon for these types of business objectives. Only in the long term will we be certain of the wisdom of this strategy, but there is no doubt that short-term value is being recognized. At some point, one could certainly conclude that IT is simply becoming a utility and from a strategic perspective, ‘IT may not matter.’ But this conclusion, in my view, would be wrong.

It’s become clear that most business functions now depend on technology in some form or another. If there is any doubt, just look at what happens when email is unavailable for 30 minutes.  Indeed, in the absence of technology, strategic imperatives such as reengineering efforts and the introduction of new products and services become almost impossible. In this equation, it is possible to separate the use of commodity technology and resources from the technology and resources needed to innovate. Nobody is asking for IT to be eliminated as an internal function in its entirety; moreover, most business leaders are recognizing that IT is essential for success and are willing to pay a premium for it; we just have to spend the right amounts on the right things. IT is being tasked with flipping the cost model from a typical maintenance-value ratio of 60/40 to 40/60 or better. Not a simple task, but a reasonable objective assuming you have the right strategy and leadership in place.

And herein we identify the opportunity for technologists everywhere. If we recognize that the IT needs of organizations going forward will be increasingly focused on innovation, creativity and  other right-brained activities, we soon realize—assuming, if necessary, we invest in personal retooling—that the future is indeed much brighter.  Organizations will retain and promote those that are best suited for this type of new IT work.  Where there are gaps they will need to recruit a different type of IT individual. In addition to a basic computer science foundation, this person will be increasingly skilled and educated in some creative field, and for added bonus, will have an acumen or experience in the business side of the house. The traditional technology professional such as those in system administration, software development, and call support, will still have opportunities and those needs will continue to be sought by organizations. But that workforce will be considerably smaller and will live with some ongoing vulnerability.

It’s my view that the future of IT is solidly rooted in innovation. The quicker both the IT professional and the organization realize this, the better the long-term outcome will be. For both parties, significant investment will be required.  Future organizational success will be more dependent on IT innovation than many have yet to make a bet on.  While some may argue the validity of innovation in certain scenarios; in my opinion, IT innovation is not an option. It is essential innovation and that’s something I call Essennovation.