Less than a year after Palo Alto, Calif., CIO Jonathan Reichental was appointed to office, the city is set to launch an open data platform next month.

On Aug. 1, data.cityofpaloalto.org will go live in an effort to make city data sets more accessible to the public. Reichental, who took his position as CIO last December, said the city will deploy the initiative as an effort to play catch-up but also fulfill more big picture plans.

Reichental said after joining Palo Alto, he spoke with City Manager James Keene about where city governments were heading and what would be part of future public-sector IT. Originally the concept of strengthening mobility in the city — better connecting citizens to city services with mobile devices — was a possible IT focus, but Reichental had a bigger plan for Palo Alto.

“I said, ‘Let’s think even larger than that,’” Reichental said. “Mobile can be a subset of other things that you’re doing.”

Because there’s currently a push to increase government transparency and open data initiatives in federal, state and city governments, Reichental felt Palo Alto should develop its own open data initiative as a big picture priority. Once an open data initiative is in place, subsets of other technologies such as mobility can emerge from it, for example, through building mobile apps from the open data.

To carry out the initiative, Palo Alto isn’t working alone. Reichental said the city contracted with Junar, which is based in Palo Alto, to host the open data platform for one year.

The data is set to be rolled out on the site through a phased process, so not all the information that is expected to be on the site will be available on Day 1 of deployment. Reichental said residents should expect to see city tree data available on the site upon the launch, in addition to other data sets. However, financial data is expected to appear through a phased process.

But is software as a service always the best route for deploying an open data platform? Reichental said IT projects developed in-house often take longer to complete and can be more complex to carry out. And while many cities rely on data centers, local governments may benefit from steering away from that approach. 

“I don’t think cities should be in the data center business,” he said, later adding, “I think governments get bogged down in procuring big systems, deploying a data center and hiring staff to support them.”

Conversation starter: Is it better to develop open data platforms through software as a service or should they be done in-house?

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.