Public sector CIOs have a tough job

Public sector CIOs have a tough job / San Jose’s winding road toward “smart” / Bill Schmarzo

It’s hard to get things done in the public sector, says the data industry’s “Dean of Big Data,” Bill Schmarzo. That’s one big lesson he’s learned in his first six months on a Silicon Valley tech advisory board. What do you do when your city wants to be “smart” but your budget doesn’t add up?

Smart strategy

San Jose, California is on the long road to becoming a “smart city.” The city is already pretty smart in the old sense of “smart.” For one thing, it’s got within it a bounty of tech-industry pros, such as Schmarzo. Early this year, the city recruited him to serve on its seven-member Innovation and Technology Advisory Board. San Jose also got some of the best educational institutions in the world within a few minutes’ drive. The San Jose State University computer engineering department, for example, is a seven minute walk from the San Jose city hall.

But getting to the new kind of smart, where sensors inform decisions, from the mundane to the sweeping, is tough. “You don’t have the kind of budget you need for these projects,” says Schmarzo.

He comes from the private sector. There, he explains, you can usually get money for worthy projects much more easily. He’s spent 36 years in senior-level tech-industry positions and is now CTO of Dell EMC Services.

The creative CIO

In the public-sector, the CIO has to be creative. Where a private sector CIO just goes out and hires a team, the public sector CIO has to think hard how a paltry budget will meet obligations. One popular strategy among U.S. cities is to enlist a computer science department at a nearby college. Many up-and-coming data scientists like to dive into public-sector projects.

That hasn’t always worked out so well, Schmarzo says. The work tends to be undirected, and worse, those clever students move on. Public sector CIOs realize quickly that it’s not data science they need first, it’s project management and a collaborative framework. Only with that can one group of students hand off their work to the next.

One especially creative public sector CIO, says Schmarzo, is San Jose’s, Rob Lloyd. As tight as Lloyd’s budget started out in 2014, his progress on an open-data platform soon faced an extraordinary challenge when a major flood hit the city. The crisis was expensive and not budgeted. Every one of the city’s departments had to contribute much of their budgets.

Datadoodle hopes to hear much more about that from Lloyd.

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