Q&A with Palo Alto, Calif., CIO Jonathan Reichental

This inspiring CIO is pushing an aggressive IT agenda that includes open data, cloud solutions and mobile apps.

Jonathan Reichental, CIO for the city of Palo Alto, Calif., is one of a handful of CIOs who maintain active blogs. He regularly publishes his thoughts on a wide range of topics, including open data, civic hacking, social media and innovation. Not only are his posts insightful, many are inspiring. As local governments are forced to make do with fewer dollars in their budgets, leaders like Reichental are blazing trails to leaner, more agile governments.

To get a feel for his approach to IT in government, look no further than the first sentence of a recent post: “In an era of government deficits, it’s comforting to note that there is an abundant surplus of data.” Governments face steep challenges but have the advantage of incredible technology resources. Reichental was kind enough to oblige StateTech’s request for a Q&A following his selection on our 2013 must-read state and local government IT blogger list. Check out our brief interview below and Reichental’s blog here.

StateTech: Why do you blog?

Reichental: My primary motivation to blog is education. I believe sharing lessons learned through experiences in my career can be useful to others. I find it immensely satisfying to share these experiences and observations with others so that they may benefit. I also enjoy the art of writing. Often, I find writing to be a pleasure in and of itself. In addition, writing helps me to coalesce my own thoughts into a more coherent structure. Finally, I blog so that others can get to know me and my views on a wide range of topics. Blogging does build personal brand and can be an asset in developing a healthy career.

StateTech: What are the 3 to 5 sites that you read every day?

Reichental: I like to be regularly apprised of local, national, and international news, so I peruse several common news sites. As a regular user of Twitter, I use tweets to direct me to interesting tech stories. As a result, I tend not to have discipline for a particular small set of sites. I find that the diversity of sites is useful for understanding a range of perspectives.

StateTech: What tech initiatives are in the pipeline in Palo Alto?

Reichental: We have an aggressive three-year roadmap for tech initiatives. The following are just a few examples: We’ll continue to develop our open data work by deploying data sets, making more data available in near real time and codifying into the way the City operates. We will migrate to cloud-based email; deploy more Wi-Fi hotspots around the City; implement more City services on our PaloAlto311 mobile app; upgrade our VPN; further build on our disaster recovery options; and upgrade to Sharepoint Online. We’ll also continue to lead the way in utilizing hackathons, apps challenges, and innovative public–private partnerships to achieve results.

StateTech: Besides budget, what are the biggest barriers to technology in government?

Reichental: I believe that the speed-to-execute is a significant barrier to realizing the benefits of technology innovation in government. In particular, the procurement requirements make it difficult to move quickly on important initiatives. Another barrier is culture. Government life is often dictated by the political agenda and calendar, and this impacts how City staff determine priorities. We often believe in a false dilemma of either addressing basic City needs or investing in innovation that can change the game further down the road.

Oct 21 2013