San Francisco’s Tech Innovation Journey – What’s Next?

A few cities are moving fast to open up their buried troves of data, enabling higher levels of citizen engagement, embracing app development, and encouraging start-ups. San Francisco’s tech pioneer will fill in the details on how his city has built a fiber network to link people and city agencies to each other. Jon will disclose how, through the city’s open data policy, San Francisco made it possible to attract entrepreneurial talent to become one of the world’s leading tech hubs.San Francisco is expanding its reach beyond its borders by collaborating with other large U.S. cities in a new city-to-city tech network called the G7. The new network brings together CIOs from other large U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, New York and Boston. Jon will share lessons learned through the G7 and how this new city-tocity peer learning exchange is leveraging the best ideas and innovations on a national scale for the first time.


Introduction by Gordon Feller

We’ve had tech geeks up here. We’ve had policy wonks. We’ve had Colin who combines the best of those worlds. We have somebody else who actually is a bridge between those worlds. Jon Walton, as you heard from Chris Vein this morning, is acting now in the role that Chris had for some years before Jon Walton. The Chief Information Officer in this particular city where we are today is always an innovator. I think Chris has ensured that anybody who sits in that seat is a hot seat. They’re chairing the committee on information technology which brings lots of city agencies together to figure out how they can harness the power of both wired and wireless networks to make the city well run and as interesting and engaging as it is. So Jon Walton, please give us the secret sauce.

Jon Walton

Thank you, everybody. I hope I don’t have to give out secret sauce recipes because I’m not much of a cook and you’d be all vastly disappointed if you try to take cooking tips from me. First, thank you all very much for being here in San Francisco. We love having you here. It’s great to see such a full room and such an engaged audience about this conversation.

I do want to talk a little bit about where we’re going in San Francisco. As Gordon said, this is a bit of a speed dating session. So as I was sitting there listening to the other presenters and thinking about what I want to say, what I thought to myself is if this is speed dating, you really don’t want to −as my date today− hear just about me and what we’re doing. If I do this right, hopefully we can quickly go through my slides which you can download at your leisure and read this evening when you can’t fall asleep. You can ask me some questions and sort of Stomp the CIO if we can go through it fast.

Just to set the stage, San Francisco, some of you live here and some of you are visiting. It’s a combination city and county government. It’s large. It’s complex. It’s decentralized and very dynamic. It’s an exciting place to work. I’m sure you’ve heard from the Mayor already that we see ourselves as an area where we could do innovation and cool, new, interesting things because we don’t really see any boundaries to it. We see ourselves as innovators and forward thinkers. I put these slides together from several different presentations because I was thinking to myself, “What do I want to say about San Francisco? What do I want to say about our innovation journey −our journey to the cloud and where we’re going in city government?” There are a couple of themes I wanted to touch on so these slides are less to read and more to illustrate a few points.

One is why is the cloud important to government? Why is cloud important in general? I was in Cloud Upon last week in Oracle Open World talking about this. There are a lot of reasons to go to the cloud. There are drivers for it. There are inhibitors to it. There’s ROI to it. You can talk about all these pros and cons about going to the cloud. There are a lot of reasons and paths to get to the cloud. What I came to the conclusion of last week when I was talking to people is I realized −after giving all this “We saved this much money” and “This is much faster-to-market” and “We have DR now”− to me, what it really boiled down to is about access. As the government starts to move its information to the cloud, its systems to the cloud, to systems that are more easily accessible from around the world from different devices, to me, that’s really the game-changer. The cloud is great in and of itself. It’s fantastic. We all love it. We embrace it. We’re using it but it’s really about accessibility. It’s taking the old silo systems we had in government that were in closed data centers and closed systems that only like 2 experts in the world could access. If you want the information off those systems, you got a printout and reentered it to some other system. It’s about accessibility. By moving things to the cloud, what we’re doing is breaking down a lot of those technical barriers that we traditional have in government where things are stuck in some secret hole somewhere that you have to go dig out when you want them. For me, the whole cloud conversation is really about access which really feeds into my next point is how do you access it? Just like when we were talking about cloud and I reflect back when I was going to government conferences 3 or 4 years ago, there was this active conversation about should we go to the cloud, when are we going to the cloud, is the cloud safe. It’s interesting that it’s all spilled milk now. Everybody’s in the cloud. We still talk about security and accessibility. The vendors are doing a great job working with the Feds to make it as secure as possible but I would submit the cloud is a given. We’re there. We’re going to continue to go there. We’re going to continue to build on that.

The other part of accessibility to me then is the devices. How are we accessing the cloud? Just like 3 or 4 years ago when we were talking about going to the cloud, one of the things that was interesting to me was if you go the cloud, everyone’s going to be on their PCs at home accessing websites to get this information. With the release of the iPhone a few years ago and Android coming out, it just blew that whole model up. Nobody goes home anymore and sits in front of their computer and types on it. I must have 3 or 4 computers at home that I haven’t turned on in a year because I’ve got a tablet. I’ve got a smartphone now. The idea of actually going up to my office and sitting at my desk and booting up my computer and logging onto a website, there’s no way I’m going to do that. I don’t have time for that. I don’t have an interest in doing that. I’d rather lay in my bed with my Blackberry, hold it up, type something and do my work that way. That’s how as a government we have to adapt: how our customers want to access applications in the cloud. So we started changing government and how we did things in our technology departments around the city about how do the citizens want to interact with us. Now that we’re putting all the stuff in the cloud −data, applications, services− we need to be creating those tools where they can easily access it. So we started transforming our workforce, retraining them, retooling our skill sets to focus on mobile application development and really trying to learn about how to better interact with the citizens. If they’re not going to be coming to counters, if they’re not going to be coming to websites or opening their mail and mailing back things to us, how can we better interact with them? So we started some experiments where we tried to create applications that are tailored around how we provide services to those citizens on a mobile platform. Again, it’s about access. It’s about how we’re doing it.

The other piece that you hear a lot of talk about in government is open data. Why is data important? We’ve got the application layer in the cloud now. We got the services in the cloud. We figured out the device piece. We know how people want to access that information. For me when I talk about data, data are the building blocks. You need to have the data out there because it’s all about content. I’m a big Amazon user. I love Amazon. I have 2 Kindles; can’t live without them. As good as that interface is, as much as I love the predictive analysis of it telling me what book I want to read next, if they didn’t have all the books behind the scenes that I want to access or all the movies that I want to watch in my Amazon Prime account, it wouldn’t matter to me. It’s about content. To me, data is about content. We took the old problem where everything we had is in silos, we had all these hardcopy data, it wasn’t integrated, it wasn’t accessible and we just started blowing that model up. Chris Vein and Jay Nath that you’ll hear from tomorrow and others, they were real leaders and innovators in that space. The one thing that I learned about that that I thought was really interesting because I come from hardware −I’m an ex-Unisys guy, old-school about how I do things− was not to predefine what’s going to happen. People were asking me −I was one of the askers− what’s going to happen? You put all your data out there, then what’s going to happen? I was struggling to come up with the answer. What’s going to happen? That’s a good question. I need to know the answer. For me, the important part is not to predetermine what the answer is. Just put it out there. Let people have at it. What happened was Chris, Jay and others started standing up these open data websites around the cities around the country. You build it, people will come. We started coming to the websites. We started having hackathons. We started bringing in the community to solve problems. Traditionally in government, we would have written an RFP. It would have taken 2 to 3 years. It would have been over-budget. It would have been late. People would have been frustrated. There would have been newspaper articles written. There will be lots of finger-pointing. Luckily, I’m out of that business now. I make the data available and the people come and they build the applications they need based on the data. I provide the building blocks; they build the houses. There are all these great applications now, not just in San Francisco but in Boston, New York popping up in small cities. People realize the power is provide the data and you’ll have smart innovative companies and people out that there that will take that data.

Technology is really demystified now. We talk about geeks, czars of things, experts and things like that. Really, I would submit to you, data is very demystified. People can access data through easy tools now and build their own apps without having to come to an “expert” like me to do those things for them. I think it’s great. The thing I keep trying to reinforce because I get asked “Open data is dead. We did it.” I don’t agree. I would say in government, we probably released a very, very small fraction of the data we could. What we see is there are always these plateaus. You release a dataset, new applications get built. You release more, more is built. It’s about data. The more data you can release, the more spikes you’re going to see in new and innovative applications that are created. Government should just be throwing as much data as they can out there. You’ve got to protect privacy. You’ve got to protect confidentiality. We’ve got to unlock the floodgates because that’s what’s going to drive innovation.

Where are we going next? We’ve got 3 minutes. I’m trying to stay on track and leave a minute for questions. Here’s what I would submit to you. Here’s the challenge I would throw out. Typical of government and I see this at local, state and federal level, we tend to think in silos of our organization. So I’ve got San Francisco data and an app that’s written for San Francisco. Where we’re going with that and how is that useful? I have the good fortune of working with some other CIOs around the nation, the G7, with Chris at the federal level and what we’re trying to do is envision where we’re going next. I would say to you it’s about sustainability. It’s about taking that city model which has also become potentially a silo or a state and started to think about it on a national or global scale. We started these data-sharing sites where people can go to and collaborate. We can all put up our data on these data-sharing sites, have easy APIs. I think that’s important because one of the worries and concerns I have as a CIO and a leader in this area is sustainability. Where are we going? What’s next? One of the things that keeps me awake at night is what if there’s this great app Mom Maps or Next Bus has an app or something like that? What if at some point somebody comes back to me as a government and says, “OK, you need to take that app over because everyone loves it. That company or that person who wrote it has decided not to support it anymore but the users want it.” Can I do that? I’ve effectively −I shouldn’t say outsourced; it’s a bad word in government− I’ve outsourced my application development to the public, right? What’s the sustainability model? I would say to you it’s about data-sharing. If you can get companies or individuals to develop applications that don’t work in just one city or one municipality but start to work across the nation and the world, they’re going to be self-sustaining. I think that’s what we want to create. We don’t want to have to be worried about who’s going to run it, who’s going to own it. We need to create a self-sustaining, self-perpetuating model. To me, if you have accessibility through mobile, if you have the data that people want and you can create this synergy between government −state, local, federal− where the applications work all across the nation, that’s what the goal is.

So here’s my challenge the group and hopefully, you guys can come up with the solution to this. This is all very theoretical. I can show you a hundred slides of great applications people have developed. Here’s what I want. I was standing and listening to some conversation at the break. I was listening to transportation. Like any Californian, I drive a lot. Here’s what I want. Google Maps is one of my favorite apps. Why do I love Google Maps? Not because I get lost all the time but because I can do a layer that shows me traffic. So I’m driving down the road −I shouldn’t but I do− I look at my phone and OK, where’s the traffic backing up? I’m coming to a fork in the road and I have a choice. Am I going to take 101 or 280 today, right? I want to see the traffic. I want to see the next generation. I want Google Maps. Why do I like it? It works anywhere in the nation. What do I want? I want a public transportation app. We have 20 public transportation agencies in the Bay Area alone that I know of; I’m sure there’s many more. When I travel −and I travel a lot, like you do− what I want is 2 things. One, I want to have an app like Google Maps where I can say, “I’m here and I want to go here. I don’t want to drive. I’m not from this city. They drive on the wrong side of the road in this country. I don’t trust myself. Just tell me how to get there.” It will tell me how to get there. That’s great – the directional piece. I know that a lot of you are people that deal with directions. To me, the second most important thing is the transactional piece. That’s the thing I really want. I got to tell you all how to get some place. I can probably figure it out on my own. How to pay all these different agencies drives me crazy. I’ve got a Clipper card. I’ve got a Fast Track. When I go to another city, I’ve got to buy a pass. I’ve got to have exact change. I’ve got to have the local currency, right? We all have smart devices. What I want is a single integrated payment transaction system for all public transportation systems around the nation and world. No matter where I go, I’ve got my phone. I boot it up. I’ve got Bluetooth. I’ve got RF id. I just walk around and it just auto-deducts from my credit card. I don’t have to worry about do I have the right pass? Did I buy a day pass or a one-trip pass? It figures it all out. I can expense it out when I get home. That’s all I care about. If you’re going to do anything, figure out the transactional piece for me. Figure out some way I can travel −whether it’s Hertz or Muni or the Metro in DC− that the transaction is taken cared of when I figure out how to get from point A to point B. Thank you very much for the time this morning.

Conclusion by Gordon Feller

So we have a Walton challenge. I want to see a show of hands, how many people are ready to talk to him about the challenge? Roadify is ready to talk. We’ve got a couple of companies that are ready to talk to you about it. He’s not technically outsourcing. He’s looking for solutions.

We have the Netherlands up on the screen in a minute so we’re going to hold off questions because they’re actually waiting for us. It’s actually Geneva, I’m sorry. Thanks so much, Jon. That was great.

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