Uniting IT with Business

The CIO of Roseville, Calif., discusses how this growing city has transformed its IT department, choosing to integrate with other city departments rather than remain separate.
by | July 6, 2012 AT 5:02 PM

In late 2009, the northern California city of Roseville knew it wanted to change — it wanted to grow, to drive innovation in the city, and to focus more on customer service. Ultimately, says city CIO Hong Sae, Roseville wanted to unite its IT department with its various business departments, to change the IT team’s skill set to fit the city’s current business needs.

Roseville is just 16 miles from the state capital of Sacramento, and is located in Placer County at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills. It has an estimated population of 118,788 residents as of July 2010, and in 2009 was considered the sixth fastest growing city in the nation.

In this edited, abridged transcript, Sae, who was brought to Roseville in January 2010 to make transformative and innovative changes, discusses the city’s efforts to integrate IT into everyday business — and the difference it makes in operations. If the IT world and the business units are not united, Sae says, then the organization is investing in technology that doesn’t help the city to achieve its goals. “The project may ultimately fail,” he says. “So it’s more important for us to be working together in a team concept to achieve a commonly shared vision.”

Before you were brought in, how did the IT department operate?

In the previous regime, the perception of the IT department was that it was very much technology-oriented — we were not customer-service focused. Our technology governance process was very rigid and there was no flexibility.

What sorts of things have been done to change this?

The first year we adopted the Lean Six Sigma efforts. We have multiple “voice of the customer” meeting sessions to get the customer to tell us what we need to do to transform ourselves. The most important thing was that people were calling for leadership; people said communication skills sets, technical education and a customer-service oriented environment would help improve the business knowledge.

So we took that and made a change in the department; [we got] the right people in the right positions. We set up a lot of customer service initiatives in the first year and held them accountable on performance measurement, and then in the second year, 2011, we went revamped the mission and vision statements. Ray Kerridge [the city manager], who has been here for about 2 years — his mission and his vision is, “We’re one city and we're open for business.” So we conducted multiple audits and continued to transform our team on changing the skill set to fit what today’s business needs. And this year is the year of creation and a year of building — we took our vision statement and start building a business model for each of the departments that we have out there. He challenged each of the directors and also the assistant city manager and said, “What should your department look like?” So we took our strategic plans and our resource management to the next level.

Since these changes have been implemented, how does an IT person interact with someone in another department and how is that different than before?

In today’s world, we have the technology governance process in place, so when a project has arrived or when an idea is submitted, IT members are immediately involved in the project. They’re asking the types of questions more like a facilitator or business analyst: What are the business needs? What are the requirements? And then we come back and start creating or drive a concept paper, and we create what we call a test solution to see if it is embedded in the business, if it will drive the business to grow. Then we go back out to the team and propose a solution to them.

We don’t go to them and drive the business need. We listen to the business need and we support them by creating solutions that are best for their environment. In the past, we were more like system analysts — you tell us to report and we quickly come out and create a report. We would create the project for you without asking what the real business requirements are.

How easy or difficult is it to change and incorporate business into IT?

It really depends on your business practice and the culture of your organization. The same type of environment may go faster or it may go a little slower depending on adaptation of change in your environment. If customers don’t have the mindset or the leadership doesn’t embrace the change of the new business model, then your organization won’t go anywhere. A lot of people have the misconception that IT hates the end user or the end user — the business —doesn’t work well with IT crew. But once you put the two together, you will be very surprised that we both are on the same team; we both work for the same company.

In what other ways did you transform the IT department?

There were five different strategies that we put together; one is customer service, second is the project management, the third is the communication strategy, and then fourth and fifth are more of a business strategy and the security strategy. So the second year, we created different audits and different “voice of customer” sessions to get feedback on how the techniques and service delivery changes were received. The first year, after all the changes, our customer service satisfaction was 77 percent citywide. Customer service satisfaction on technology implantation on a product went up to 89 percent customer satisfaction. So this year — and this is the year I call “the year of creation and innovation” — took all of the business models that we have. We now start creating strategic planning and now we start to measure the resources that we need to complete our project.

At what point do you think you’ll reassess customer satisfaction?

It will be at the end of the calendar year. But we don’t wait for just the end of the year; what’s unique about Roseville is we have three different levels of working group committees and we have what is called the Technology User Group — all 16 departments have the ability to provide input on the day-to-day technology decision-making processes.

How does incorporating big data, the cloud, social media and mobile devices into your strategic planning effort help in building relationships with the business side?

Social media, mobile devices and cloud computing — they’re just one shape or form of consumer technology. But they are driving the biggest growth of our business. So the big data, our GIS information data sets, has always been pushed out there, but the biggest question now is how do we get that GIS information to transform into useful datasets that people can use? And the city of Roseville is an early adopter of this consumer-centric technology.

Social media, one of our e-government administrators, Lon [Peterson], [says] social media is about a consistent message posted out on the internet much earlier than any newspaper and marketing site can get to it. The Roseville Galleria fire happened about a year and a half ago. Twitter, the social media website for the city, is the biggest and quickest way to communicate a consistent message to our constituents, and it was hit so hard that we struggled with trying to simply inform with all the questions we had coming in.

In cloud, we have approximately eight applications out in the public the private cloud so far in the city of Roseville and the biggest return is environmental and administrative friendly. We no longer have to have all the high-end equipment. So customers are actually being able to repeat all of this consumer technology and being able to use in the real world and they are very happy and satisfied with the division so far.

What are some concrete benefits of uniting business with IT?

A much stronger partnership; we have trust of the cross functional team. You put 10, 15 departments working together — the team immediately starts building trust. And the trust is unbreakable, because they are much stronger than just one department. Another thing is IT is now becoming as a strategic partner at the executive level — it is no longer considered a break-and-fix department. Another benefit of uniting IT and the business is the technology investments are more predictable because all the resources systems priorities are set up front. The bottom line is that your team is more business centric, but they are more technology-driven.

We have to be careful though, because eventually we may not have an IT department — eventually we will be supporting the business unit out there. The IT folks are no longer in managing the larger infrastructure; we are now transforming into more of a diverse centric department. IT teams need to be learning how to become business analysts rather then an administrators or system analysts.

But you’ll still have jobs — you’ll just be more valuable.

Thank you, that is what we are trying to do to transform our team — to become more valuable in our organization. I have peers in Texas and on the west coast, and they don’t really understand that we as technology people are here to deliver to you. And if they don’t change that mindset, eventually they will get eliminated. We aim to become a technology leader, and I think you can kind of see that we’re moving toward that.