Q&A with Dr. Jonathan Reichental

Anna Stafford

Dr. Jonathan Reichental is the founder of Human Future, a global business and technology advisory, investment, and education firm. He’s also the author of Smart Cities for Dummies and, more recently, Data Governance for Dummies. He was also CIO of the City of Palo Alto for seven years. We caught up with Jonathan to talk about his new book. This conversation has been condensed for clarity. 

CA: Who is the book for?

JR: When business leaders are asked what kind of organizations they want to be, 90% are now answering that they want to be data-driven. They want to make sure that they use data to drive growth, ensure they’re compliant, and have good cyber security.

They want data governance. They don't know how to do it. And many that do it actually fail. The rate of failure is extremely high. So the audience is business leaders who want to run data-driven businesses, and they want to know how to do it.

CA: How do you define data governance?

JR: Data governance is managing data well. That's the real high level. Recognizing that data is now the most important asset in your organization. Data governance refers to the rules, the guideposts, and the policies around how you manage data. So who's responsible for data governance? The answer is, today, in the 21st century, everybody in your organization has a responsibility. 

CA: What does this mean for cities?

JR: People need to trust the government. We need the government to collect, create and host massive amounts of very different data. Everything from police camera data to permits for your house, to health care and birth certificates. In this case you're running and hosting the systems that help to run the city. Anybody can turn up at City Hall on any given day with a question or an issue, and it’s life and death. It’s about public safety, energy, health care, and transportation. This is important stuff. 

CA: What does it look like when a city fails to manage its data, compared to when it does it well?

JR: The first thing is this: are leaders able to relatively and quickly get the data they need to make data-driven decisions? Next, if you are having, on a relatively frequent basis, breaches or unauthorized access to data in a city, if your systems allowed someone to see somebody’s social security number or their address, and they shouldn't have, you're not governing data well. 

If you can't produce regular reports because data is not current, or the quality is not high, you have challenges with data governance. And then, lastly, maybe, cities have lots of compliance requirements. You have to deliver certain information on a regular basis. If that is hard and expensive every month, you don't have good data governance. 

In a city that has great data governance, data-driven decisions can be made quickly. There are high levels of confidence that the data is high quality. If data needs to be shared with another stakeholder and I can quickly export that data, package it up securely, and send it, I’m functioning really well. My team members know how to use basic data analytics tools. They can write a sequel statement, perhaps, or they can use tableau.Or even more simply, they know how to sort and develop data in excel. That's generally well understood and executed in my organization. That means you're doing better. You're doing well. 

CA: What can city leaders expect to learn from your book? 

JR: I think the core thing is that it's easy to read for anybody and it is very actionable. In this book I tell you how to build a data strategy, like here are the steps: A, B. C. D. Exactly how to do it.

CA: Can you summarize how to build a data strategy? 

JR: What are you trying to achieve with data? That's the first question. Do you want more trust in your city? Do you want better quality data? Do you want your data to be more secure? Figure out your big picture goals and create a vision around that. You need a north star. 

And then you move to the building. Your data strategy probably focuses on data management, which is really the technical aspects of working with data. The governance is more about how you make sure it's being done well…the policies and procedures around it. Now you have to assign responsibilities. Is there going to be a Data Governance Council? How often will they meet? What will be the roles? Responsibilities include data custodians, data owners, and data stewards. Then, finally, all good projects and programs need metrics. You have to have determined and defined metrics, and a way to communicate those, monitor them and update them. And if the program is not working, you'll know that through the metrics, and you have to then redefine the program. Finally, you operationalize it. Now, it's just a part of how you run the city.


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