Q&A with David Ihrie, Chief Technology Officer at the Center for Innovative Technology

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January 29, 2019

Q&A with David Ihrie, Chief Technology Officer at the Center for Innovative Technology

Recently we sat down with David Ihrie, CTO at the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT). David leads a program with DHS Science & Technology Directorate to bring leading-edge innovation to the First Responder community and has partnered with Smart City Works to create the world’s first infrastructure focused business actuator. Currently, he is co-leading Virginia Smart Communities initiatives, and along with CIT Broadband is helping bring this new generation of capability to all Virginians.

You’ve been the Chief Technology Officer at the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) for seven years now. Can you tell us about your role and what kind of work you do there?

CIT works on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia, tackling a broad range of activities that are important for economic development in Virginia. I’m responsible for our strategic initiatives, so I’m looking forward – to the next three to five years – and figuring out what will be the important economic trends that Virginia should be positioned for.

It’s a little bit crystal ball and it’s a little bit pulling together groups of stakeholders who are interested in a certain area and then formulating strategic plans and executing on those.

We’ve stood up several early-stage accelerators like our cyber security accelerator, MACH37, the first and now the longest running cyber security-focused accelerator in the world. We have also been working with DHS on wearable devices and other technologies, specifically around information processing, which supports public safety initiatives. We are involved in a broad range of activities, now including both broadband and autonomous vehicles.

Presently, smart communities have been my primary focus. From CIT’s broadband initiatives we have a lot of experience working with municipalities and understanding what their priorities are. We provide technical expertise and work with them through the concept development process to the point where they can engage in a highly productive way with the companies that are going to ultimately be providing the services.

Can you expand on the relationship between CIT and the Commonwealth?

CIT acts as an extension of the state government in that our core funding comes from appropriations. We report up through the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, but we operate as a stand-alone not-for-profit.

That’s important because it gives us some flexibility that government agencies don’t necessarily have. For example, we work very extensively with early-stage companies or startup companies. We’re able to have those discussions in a way that keeps their business plans proprietary as opposed to exposing them to the public. Those kinds of things are some of the authorities that we have as a result of operating as a not-for-profit rather than a state agency.

One of the initiatives CIT runs is the Virginia Smart Communities Working Group. Tell us a bit more about how this supports communities and municipalities throughout Virginia.

From the start, the critical focus for us and this working group has been so-called ‘smart technology’ – the use of data, use of sensors, Internet of Things, etc. We are very conscious of wanting to make sure that the economic development opportunities associated with those technologies are available to every locality in Virginia, not just the higher density more urban areas.

The Virginia Smart Communities Working Group has seen a lot of industry and community participation. We work directly with as many municipalities as we can. A critical tenet is community driven innovation. Instead of being driven by specific company offerings, we want communities to think about their priorities first, the issues that they face, and then we can work with them to identify relevant solutions and get something started.

CIT has connections to national level activities as well, so we can bring in best practices from the National Governors Association or from the Smart Cities Council and provide that kind of expertise to help communities get started. We already have about a half dozen different municipalities that we’re working with on pilot activities, including the City of Fredericksburg.

CIT was involved in providing the funding to get a pilot for the Virginia Community Analytics Platform (VCAP) in Fredericksburg. What was it about VCAP and this initiative that made CIT want to get involved and what advice do you have for a community or municipality that’s looking to embrace smart communities?

Well, before we entered the picture, Fredericksburg had already started thinking about what they could do. They were already an engaged municipality, and that was important. And we were happy to work with Qlarion (who developed a platform on which VCAP is built) because of their experience and expertise – having done similar work for the City of Boston. Fredericksburg and Qlarion already had all the right ingredients so we were glad to provide some funding and give them a little push to reduce the perceived risk of getting started.

What Fredericksburg is doing, taking city data off of their Excel spreadsheets and putting it onto a data analytics platform, is the kind of thing that communities all over Virginia could benefit from. The hope is that over the next year or two we’ll build up substantial pockets of expertise around a whole variety of different technology implementations.

As far as advice to other cities, I’d say, “Take that first step.” There is support out there. There is expertise. It’s not just about accommodating population growth. When you listen to the national discussion and you look at what people are talking about, it’s really about improving the livability of communities, improving the sustainability of communities, making them places where people want to live, want to be.

There’s a huge set of interconnected benefits that are out there and it’s not a technology issue. Those solutions exist, so again, just take those first steps. I think we’ll prove pretty quickly that the economic benefits and the opportunity for a new generation of jobs and all the secondary benefits about better places to live and better places to raise your kids will really start happening.

What are some examples of activities happening around the Commonwealth?

I am really excited and gratified by the amount of interest all over the state. There is really great stuff happening. You go to Hampton Roads and 12 communities have gotten together to collaborate on a high-speed fiber ring. In Martinsville, Virginia, a small community, they’ve used online gamification to increase community engagement by pointing out places of interest in the community that people hadn’t heard of.

Certainly, in Northern Virginia, there is a lot of great activity going on with autonomous vehicles and other things. We’ve had a couple conversations with communities looking to rebuild their town centers and make the centers smart. Exciting things are happening all over the Commonwealth and not just in the big cities, but in smaller areas as well.