Features

Eric Tenfelde – City of Chicago

Innovating for Chicago's future

The IT director of a major American city plays a crucial role in ensuring the smooth functioning and advancement of technology systems and services within the city’s infrastructure. This demanding position requires a deep understanding of various technologies, including software and hardware systems, cybersecurity measures, network infrastructure and data management. Luckily for the City of Chicago, a seasoned professional like Eric Tenfelde is on the job.  

Eric Tenfelde | Director of IT | City of Chicago

Eric Tenfelde | Director of IT | City of Chicago

Charged with spearheading a transformative journey, Tenfelde stands at the forefront of re-establishing the city’s Department of Technology and Innovation.  

His mission transcends mere administrative duties; it encompasses a commitment to optimizing operations within the city to cater more effectively to its diverse constituents. Embracing a visionary outlook, Tenfelde is driven by progress, seeking to integrate cutting-edge technology solutions that enhance efficiency and propel Chicago toward a future defined by innovation and digital advancement. 

“Our mission is clear: to lead our transformative journey by streamlining operations and harnessing cutting-edge technology solutions. By doing so, we aim to better serve the diverse needs of our city’s population and drive impactful change for our community,” Tenfelde says. 

Transforming technology 

One of Tenfelde’s key initiatives revolves around merging technology and mobile solutions to create an enterprise mobility solution. This endeavor keeps Chicago ahead in technology and serves as a magnet for younger talent, contributing to the city’s progress. 

Under his guidance, the department has revamped the permit process, now known as Express Permits, by moving it to a new platform. This strategic shift prioritizes time to permit, a critical factor for stimulating growth and development within the city. With over 3,500 test cases, this project exemplifies the department’s commitment to efficiency and innovation.  

Tenfelde collaborated with City project managers Samantha King and Modena Reynolds and Department of Buildings’ leaders Commissioner Marlene Hopkins and Deputy Commissioners Grant Ulrich and Martha Reynoso. 

Eric Tenfelde | Director of IT | City of Chicago

Another significant project led by Tenfelde involves paring down the application portfolio to focus on enterprise solutions. This approach enables enhanced system functionality, workflow, and the utilization of business intelligence and data solutions. The department aims to increase transparency and engage stakeholders by reducing application customization and fostering agility and flexibility. 

Tenfelde’s vision extends beyond technology, emphasizing collaboration and partnership within departments. He underscores the importance of commitment and enthusiasm in delivering successful projects, ensuring value creation for all teams involved. 

Tenfelde envisions further technological advancements, including leveraging AI to enhance user interactions and support departmental processes. Projects in 2024 include upgrading the electrical permit process, aligning with the department’s commitment to digitization and efficiency. 

“Through strategic initiatives and a forward-thinking approach, we are steering Chicago towards a future where technology drives progress and innovation fosters growth,” Tenfelde says. 

Team leadership 

Tenfelde leads a dynamic team comprising three city employees and 30 consultants from various firms, including Catalyst Consulting Group and Infor. Under the new leadership of City of Chicago CIO Nick Lucius, Tenfelde’s department is undergoing a modernization process, implementing best practices in service delivery through updated titles and a RACI matrix. By aligning titles with industry standards and offering competitive pay, the department aims to enhance retention and attract top talent. 

Balancing agility and governance, innovation and standards, and managing costs while staying ahead of evolving technology presents Tenfelde with ongoing challenges. Tenfelde relies on project management tools, SharePoint Power Automation, and list-making tools for prioritization and decision-making. 

Eric Tenfelde | Director of IT | City of Chicago

What Tenfelde values most about his work is the power of teamwork. He believes in leading by example and finds immense satisfaction in accomplishing tasks as a cohesive team. Witnessing the tangible benefits of their efforts, whether in streamlining processes for users or delivering solutions that stakeholders take pride in, fuels momentum and confidence within the team. 

“Teamwork drives progress. As we navigate challenges and pursue innovation, I’ve learned the power of collaboration. Together, we’re solving problems and shaping the future,” Tenfelde says. 

Throughout his career, Tenfelde has encountered the challenge of timing. Recognizing that there’s rarely an ideal moment for change, he emphasizes the importance of seizing opportunities and initiating projects promptly. Drawing inspiration from the first sutra of yoga, which emphasizes the significance of acting in the present moment, Tenfelde approaches technology change with a sense of urgency and determination. 

From journalism to technology 

Tenfelde’s fascination with technology originated from his journalistic background, where he specialized in technology trade journal articles. With a communications and media studies degree from the University of Michigan and technology certificates from DePaul University, Tenfelde merged his passion for journalism with his interest in technology. 

Beginning his career as a software developer at BP, Tenfelde honed his programming skills before transitioning to SAIC, where he spent over eight years as a senior project manager, gaining expertise in leading complex IT projects. 

In July 2008, Tenfelde joined the City of Chicago as a project manager, eventually rising to the role of director of IT in December 2016, showcasing his dedication, expertise, and leadership qualities. 

Eric Tenfelde | Director of IT | City of Chicago

Beyond work, Tenfelde leverages skills and inspiration from his hobbies. As a yoga practitioner and weekend DJ, he values presence, adaptability, and audience engagement, which translates into his role in IT leadership.  

Tenfelde’s commitment to personal and professional growth is evident in his willingness to embrace new challenges, such as considering acting or improv classes. His proactive approach to learning and development underscores his dedication to success in personal and professional spheres. 

“Merge passions with purpose for innovation. I’ve seen the power of blending diverse interests from journalism to technology leadership. At the City of Chicago, I foster collaboration and creativity, drawing from my hobbies in yoga and DJing. As I embrace new challenges, I’m committed to bringing creativity and passion to every endeavor,” Tenfelde says. 

View this feature in the Spring I 2024 Edition here.

Published on: April 24, 2024

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