Lost Opportunities in Government – The CDO

Just read a great blog post by Logan Kleier, the Information Security Officer for the City of Portland on the lost opportunities that US cities face because of how the CIO role in most cities has devolved. Chief Information Officers are present as senior or cabinet level technology professionals in many large cities and counties, many are incredibly innovative and forward thinking individuals, but as Logan very cohesively states:

“In order to manage this transformation of computing and storage power, city governments followed the private sector’s lead and created Chief Information Officers (CIOs). However, something went wrong. CIOs started managing the infrastructure and not the actual information. No one was managing the lifecycle of the data. In fact, an environmental scan of the 20 largest cities technology initiatives shows that most of their work isn’t around improving data access or decision-making. Instead, it’s about managing device and network lifecycles.”

His summary rings true with my experiences partnering with many municipal agencies. It’s even worse in places like Oakland where we don’t even have a CIO level position- technology just gets relegated to a “fix my computer, nerd” type of role in government, and this is both stupid and counterproductive. Instead of realizing technology as a huge leverage point for cities, we label tech folks as nerds and never really capitalize on their abilities or potential.

So many cities and counties appear to be crippled by the lack of strategic use of data and information (and tech too, different tale though), and to me this stems from the way we’ve relegated IT to a desktop support role.  Time after time I’ve seen agencies struggling to manage their data, operate in complete ignorance of what other agencies may have, use clunky, time wasting tools to “analyze” their data and make poor decisions as a result. It’s so clear to outside data geeks when cities present poorly synthesized data to support a policy or decision. Yet our elected leaders don’t seem to connect this consistently poor planning and research with the fact that they have no-one responsible for managing the rich data resources the city generates, nor for leveraging those resources in strategic ways.

When data does get applied to a decision making process it also seems to lack any level of contextual awareness from the users- again something that is abundantly clear to external planners, researchers and analysts. To me this results in a continuous stream of poorly reasoned, barely supported by data, in-justifiable policies. And it doesn’t need to be this way. When we devalue Information, bundle it with technology support and cripple it with siloed responsibilities we cannot expect more from the outcomes. Our municipal leaders need to recognize the huge strategic and operational benefits of thoughtful data use in government, and take steps to leverage this resource. As I’ve said before, the first step is to appoint a Chief Data Officer for the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda. Both these government bodies would realize enormous benefits from investing in this position. I’d ask the elected leaders in these governments to take a quick read of Logan’s post to see why this really matters, from a very independent source!

The Case for a Municipal Chief Data Officer.

Logan is twittering from @PortlandInfoSec


It’s always been there,” O’Leary said. “Our goal is to curb it or displace it. We’re not going to make it go away entirely and I would be a fool to say that we are.

Mission Local.

I’m not sure this cop was meant to really say that. An amusing admission of the real inability of our law enforcement strategies to actually prevent or reduce crime- almost all the current efforts used in Oakland are the same- at best they just displace crime, so it’s easier to say hey, we dropped crime on this corner, just don’t ask us about where it moved too ok. thanks. Of course we need and want police to respond to deal with crime in progress and to protect our society, but do we ever ask what we are expecting of our law enforcement, and are we holding them accountable for what does or does not improve in our communities? Crackin heads doesn’t seem to be much of an effective prevention strategy either, given the size of our prison populations 😦

How to (not) support new business in Oakland

There’s a lot of excitement in Oaktown lately, lots of amazing national press coverage about how amazing our town is, how great and diverse the food and culture is, the art and music scene and the bustling new venues to enjoy. People in city hall and various chambers are talking about new business opportunities here and are optimistic about the chances for a real retail and commerce boost to this wonderful but struggling city. I’ve been chatting with people about the ways to enable and encourage new business start-ups, in both the tech and regular retail/commerce world, lots of folks are positive about spaces being leased and used from Jack London to Uptown. Then I ran across a hackathon (that is sadly fully booked, say what?) with a focus on building opportunities for commonly disenfranchised and discouraged communities to help establish new businesses in their communities, very cool TED. And I started thinking about how a new entrepreneur goes about finding the space for their new business in San Francisco, and conversely how they would do the same in Oakland. Profound differences.

In SF you quickly stumble upon the official SF Prospector, an online tool that is old and clunky from a UI point of view but never the less allowed me to pick some square footage requirements, select an area of interest, a leasing rate and some other sensible variables and then to automate the process of finding possibly suitable sites. For my theoretical new photography studio I found a good location, that happened (by pure luck I’m sure) to be on a block with several other photographic studios close by, so fortunate locality with related traffic in the area, awesome.

But if I wanted my new site to be in sunny Oakland, to establish my new business in this side of the bay? Good luck. Leg work, connections, various real estate and small business sites with no real info and no leads. Nada from the city or the county. So we have a new dream team of the city administrator Deanna Santana, well reputed deputies in Scott Johnson and Fred Blackwell and zero ability for new business owners or expanding ones to find possible new locations quickly and online and at no cost. I was really stunned, nothing official, nothing to make the path smooth to help business locate in our town. WTF.

We recently soft launched www.infoalamedacounty.org as a web mapping and data viz tool to allow people to combine public data from multiple city and county agencies, all in one place, to promote data driven decision making and real, informed planning decisions. We aimed at our main partners in the CBO community, organizers and policy makers needing better access to data. But it may be that we need to load in all our countywide property data, connect up the foreclosure filings (which are privately held and sold by the way, or scraped…) and wait till the city releases all the current business permit data and vacancy info so we can just build this ourselves. The technology is no longer a real barrier, building interactive, responsive, usable tools to support our community should be a no-brainer for our governments, but it seems very slow in coming in the east bay. Technology is an enabler, but only if you choose to use it that way.

PS If you do know of a web based tool that does help businesses plan and launch in Oakland PLEASE let me know, I’d be happy to eat my words and let people know that it is actually possible!

Calling on the Mayor – Show coders some love!

Once again, in another California city not too far, far away, a city is showing leadership and is capturing the talents, passions and excitement of an incredibly valuable, natural resource- the tech community. Sounds like San Diego had a cracking hackathon last month and some interesting new tools were built, but most importantly this event was endorsed, supported and the key apps from the competition will be sustained with help from the Mayor of San Diego, Jerry Sanders.

In Oaktown we have seen some interest in this world expressed by a few city councilors so far, although barely two city staff attended the main Code for Oakland event last year and none attended the OpenData Hackathon later in 2011. It seems our new deputy city administrator Scott Johnson is interested in the developer world and how it can benefit our city but once again, to really move stuff we need the support of our Mayor. Please understand the huge potential for the city and it’s residents. This is not a bunch of OWS hackers looking to jack with the system, we’re (others at least are…) a community of immensely talented, broadly experienced, civicly interested software developers, coders, builders, engineers, scientists who would love to get some love from our city leaders.


Just had to vent a little. I hate wasted opportunities 😉