From City CIO to City Consultant

Chris J. Moore works with AcuitasGov to create an open, transparent, and responsive public sphere

When Chris J. Moore left his position as CIO of Edmonton, Alberta, to start his own consulting firm, the news was met with mixed reactions. Some thought his idea to create a consultancy catering to government needs was innovative and brilliant. Some thought it was crazy to give up his prestigious position. “I think it was the right thing to do,” reflects Moore. “I wanted to leverage my experience to help other organizations.” Criticism didn’t deter him, and after five and a half years with the city, he was ready for a new challenge. “I’ve learned that there are always going to be detractors, in any organization, in any role,” Moore adds. “They need to be heard and respected, but you can’t let them distract you so much that you don’t reach your goals.”

Though he has taken his talents to AcuitasGov, a new venture that develops and strategizes open-government policies using technology solutions, Moore says his proudest moment in the tech sphere was the work he did with his team at the City of Edmonton. A talented team, ample political support, and administrators who believed in the IT branch’s goals helped Moore build an open-government strategy to be proud of. He emphasizes that this was not done alone. The City of Edmonton partnered with other city governments—Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver—in a commitment to create an environment of open government. “We leveraged the power of the collective,” Moore says. “I’m one person, and I can only accomplish the work of one person. But by getting hundreds of people to work together, we could achieve so much more.”

The major difference in an open government is the availability of data. In days past, the media would call information or press officers to ask for statistics and news. Now, both the media and citizens have the same access to sets of data that demonstrate what’s happening in the city and how the government uses its resources.

Moore faced challenges at Edmonton, and the greatest of these were rooted in a mind-set that balked at the idea of changing processes that had always existed in city government. This is a symptom of operating in the public sector, Moore says. Businesses are more likely to want to adapt and keep up with the latest technologies to stay competitive, but governments may approach the same problems with a “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude. Moore emphasizes that technology can do more than fix something that’s broken; it can take what already works and make it more efficient and useful than it was ever able to be before. For example, in April 2013, one of Moore’s major projects as CIO of Edmonton saw him switching more than 11,000 city employees from Microsoft Outlook to Google for Work, a major change that could have stalled at several junctures. Moore and his team worked with Google Guides to lead them through the transition, and now communication is much more efficient for the city. Employees can access their files and e-mails from multiple devices and locations, making these operatives more effective by far.

“If people don’t believe that government is running effectively or efficiently, they’ve always had the ability to say so. But now people have a much larger audience to say that to.”
It wasn’t just the mind-sets of people within the organization that threatened some of Moore’s plans. While a business answers to shareholders or a board of directors, a city government answers to its voters, and that cast is diverse in terms of need, opinions about the role of government, education, and many other factors. “Many people think government workers are lazy or don’t do enough,” Moore says. “I’d say 99 percent of people who work in the public sector want to make a difference, improve communities, and serve the public. But even what that means is open to interpretation.”

There are some, both inside and outside the government structure, who do not agree with the idea of an open-government strategy in which records and data are easily accessible. Moore vehemently opposes this. He says the government has an obligation—and if he could find a stronger word, he would—to use technology to create a transparent environment.

If an individual opts out of using the technology, such as e-mail and Facebook, to stay connected to his or her peers, that person quickly becomes, in Moore’s words, “irrelevant.” They are unable to connect professionally or personally and can be overlooked. That can and does happen to governments, too. “If people don’t believe that government is running effectively or efficiently, they’ve always had the ability to say so,” Moore notes. “But now people have a much larger audience to say that to.”

Moore is always looking forward in terms of technology, mind-set, and planning, but it’s hard to say what is up next for him, AcuitasGov, or technology itself. What Moore wants is to drive a hover car. He’s thought about them since he was a kid, and the possibility of an airborne traffic system doesn’t seem nearly as implausible as it did back then. The future, whether of cars, communications, or governance, is frightening. Moore knows this. But that fear can’t be allowed to stall governments any more than it can businesses. “You can’t stay in the past, and governments need to know that,” Moore argues. “The future’s scary because no one’s been there yet, and the past is safe because we’ve all experienced it. But we need to not be afraid.”