Government Technology

Homegrown CIO



July 30, 2007 By News Staff

In September 2005, I became the city of Riverside's first CIO.  It was one of those opportunities so few people in this business ever get - to do an important job in a place that is important to me. Riverside is where I was born and raised, where my wife and I chose to raise our family and where we always wanted to stay.

What I didn't realize was how quickly we could accomplish the kind of overhaul that fundamentally improves a city - both in City Hall and out on the streets - without adding a cent to the city budget.

 

City Life
Located roughly 60 miles east of Los Angeles, Riverside has always been a place with plans. It has a rich history, having led California's lucrative explosion into the citrus industry a century ago and becoming at one time a premier spot in the country for the wealthy to live and play.

Today the city features a diversity of population nobody could've predicted in Riverside's heyday when presidents and movie stars hung out at the famous Mission.

Now Riverside is mostly Hispanic, but it also includes black, white, Japanese and Korean citizens who lend the city its cultural richness that cities often strive for. Then there are the 40,000 college students who call Riverside home, a group divided among four nearby universities. A big part of my job is helping them see Riverside not just as a college stopover, but as a place to call home once they've graduated.

The formation of the city's independent High Technology Task Force and its September 2004 recommendation to hire a CIO were strong signs that City Hall was ready to take the major steps needed to harness all that potential. And when I arrived a year later, it was clear that readiness would be tested.

 

A Whole New IT Plan
I quickly formed a vision for my first three years on the job: Root out inefficiencies and waste that were holding the city back and streamline the organization accordingly; identify and put in place the necessary management team to do that; and finally, start aggressively implementing the new ideas, technology and programs that would've been impossible before.

Two major things would aid the process. One was being the first person ever to hold my job. With no predecessors to be compared to, and no previous barriers to break down, it's easier to implement drastic change. And with my hiring, the ball was already rolling.

The second element was our Executive Technology Committee, which consists of the city manager and 12 department heads. I lay out the strategy, and they ultimately approve the moves or make alternative suggestions. Everybody plays a role, and everybody has stayed willing to listen to each other.

That willingness was crucial as we embarked on our citywide IT renovation.

One big problem was that the IT department was outsourced to an independent contractor. Worse, the contract manager was also acting as the city IT department head. The arrangement had been in place for eight years, but this clear conflict of interest made for technology decisions not always in the city's best interests. In addition, technology purchases were made by the city's individual departments - if they saw something they believed filled a need, they bought it. Central oversight and coordination were sorely lacking.

Not surprisingly, this structure made for too much waste and too little IT cohesiveness. Worse than the citywide inefficiency, however, was the lack of any long-term vision for the future. The city needed a whole new IT plan.

 

Calling the Shots
Among my first moves was to bring in four city employees - experienced managers who would provide


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