Former US CIO opines how tech, data can improve city planning

The former U.S. chief information officer presented how data collected from millions of Lyft rides -- then analyzed by Salesforce.com -- can help cities plan better.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO---When Salesforce.com executive Vivek Kundra moved to the Bay Area a few years ago, one of the first things he did included pondering how he was going to get from home to work on his first day.

Coming off a stint working for the White House to a city teeming (if not overwhelmed) with tech startups and everything they were selling, Kundra admitted the old economics of commuting didn't work anymore.

Quite simply, he found it was actually more expensive to park his car than take popular ride-sharing, mobile-first services like Lyft or Uber.

"When we think about the future, we're thinking about massive disruption in how citizens are interacting with everyday services," said Kundra while speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Friday.

The former United States chief information officer presented how data collected from millions of Lyft rides -- then analyzed by Salesforce -- can help cities plan better.

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When Lyft developers looked closer at the results based on the data generated from rider experiences, it motivated the private company to develop Lyft Line, a cheaper line of service that has since become financially competitive per ride with local city bus services.

That fundamentally changed the economic model and role of government in rethinking city services, from healthcare to retail, Kundra observed, admitting such developments present new challenges to all of the municipal leaders in the room.

For consumers, Kundra suggested the answer these days is usually "there's an app for that." In government, he continued, the response is "there's a form for that."

"Think about the movement of democratizing data in cities across the country," Kundra remarked, pointing toward some more prominent private tech companies like Airbnb and Square as further examples of sources for such data.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of work and analysis to be done as Kundra cited 90 percent of all data ever created was in the last year -- but only one percent of it was actually analyzed.

The role of CIO at the federal government level is a relatively new one.

Kundra was the first one to hold the job after being appointed in 2009. However, he resigned within two years for a new position as a joint fellow at the Kennedy School and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.

Kundra was then followed by Steven VanRoekel, the country's second CIO who left his position in September to serve in the same capacity at the humanitarian organization USAID.

After a headhunting search spanning several months, the Obama Administration found a new federal CIO earlier this year with the hiring of VMware CIO Tony Scott.

Kundra eventually landed squarely back in the tech industry in 2012 as executive vice president for emerging markets at Salesforce. He later shifted over to serving as EVP for Salesforce's new industries-focused unit in 2014.

While introducing President Obama ahead of his keynote on Friday afternoon, Kundra reflected on his tenure working for the Commander in Chief.

"He has been able to turn the federal government into the hottest startup we've seen," Kundra quipped.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke earlier in the day about the digital divide and need to improve infrastructures nationwide. The former Speaker of the House explained this isn't limited to just improving power and water systems, but Internet connectivity as well.

Insisting municipalities need to take the lead, Pelosi posited solving the opportunity gap starts with education, which can be improved through modern technologies, specifically broadband deployment.

"Nothing brings more money to the U.S. Treasury than the education of the U.S. people," Pelosi argued.

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