California Highway Patrol (CHP) CIO Scott Silsbee rose up through the ranks not as an executive, but first in a police uniform. Announced as the CIO in March 2012, Silsbee thinks of himself as “just a cop who likes gadgets.”
Since starting his career by working on the roads of Los Angeles and Oakland for seven years, his promotions and leadership positions have had a great deal of variety: at one time he was an assistant legislative representative, another time as a Special Operations Team Commander deployed to the site of Hurricane Katrina.
Silsbee oversees 350 employees in the Information Management Division of the CHP and has a budget of $35 million. The division provides the department and officers on patrol with technical support. He has been in charge of several major projects, including the California Highway Patrol Enhanced Radio System (CHPERS) to overhaul the old radio system used by officers and the $28 million Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software to improve communication between dispatchers and officers to reduce response time and increase officer safety.
What are some major projects are currently working on?
We have several projects in the pipe that we are all very proud of. Probably most notable, if only for its size and scope is the California Highway Patrol Enhanced Radio (CHPERS) project. It’s essentially a complete overhaul of our 25 year old radio system that will give us improved radio communications and much improved interoperability with other first responders. It’s a massive undertaking that could not succeed without a monumental effort from our friends at the Public Safety Communications Office.
Along similar lines we recently updated our Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software in all our 25 communications centers statewide. The first site, Sacramento Communications Center, began production use of the new system, in a pilot mode, in April of 2011. After hundreds of system tweaks, we began rolling it out to the other 24 communications centers in January of 2012. By July 2012 my co-workers, in collaboration with the vendors (Xerox and TriTech), had completed the statewide roll out which included installing over 600 CAD workstations and training over 1000 dispatchers on the new, and very different, system. The new system improves our operation and efficiency on many, many levels, but suffice it to say that the greatest improvement is the fact that dispatchers can now see exactly where officers are located on a map and then dispatch them by proximity. Clearly this will reduce officer response times which will help to clear traffic and save lives. Equally important is the positive impact on officer safety. In the past, for example, if our officers found themselves in a shooting and they didn’t have the opportunity to give their location on the radio or they were injured and unable, we would spend valuable time trying to “guess” where they were so as to provide back-up and or medical assistance. With the new CAD, our dispatchers know exactly where the officers are and can send help directly. In our 84 year history we have lost 223 officers and I am confident this system will help to slow that pace.
I’m proud to say that this very successful, $28 million dollar, multi-year project came in under budget and on time (I say “on time” because it was only extended by a few months). In fact it was so successful the Department of Parks and Recreation approached us about a collaborative effort in updating their system. Essentially DPR, rather than re-inventing the wheel and wasting time and money, is going to use our CAD in their communications centers throughout the state. So not only does it save money and improve DPR’s operation but it also improves the communication between our departments and how we respond to critical incidents. And since DPR provides dispatching services for DFW, this new CAD truly is a multi-agency, collaborative “win” for all of us.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our new data center. As we, the CHP, were preparing to move from our old Broadway HQ to our new campus on Richards Blvd, my predecessor, Chief Reggie Chappelle, recognized an opportunity to build a much needed Tier III data center on site. It made sense because AB 2408 was mandating improvements in the data center world and it would be cheaper to roll it into our new campus while it was being built. I’m happy to say that Reggie’s vision materialized in November last year when we became the first in the state to obtain a Tier III certification from the Uptime Institute. We are confident the new data center will greatly enhance our operation and our network security. We are even toying with the idea of making it a collaborative law enforcement data center in the future but it’s really just an idea right now. First we’d have to dial our essential needs in and then we will talk to CalTech to see if the idea has merit. It should be interesting.
Can you discuss any challenges you have had to overcome?
How much time do you have? The biggest challenge is that I’m not an “IT Guy.” I’m really just a cop who likes gadgets. I can keep up with most tech jargon but I haven’t come up in the IT world so it is definitely tough. However, I love a challenge and I’m surrounded by amazing IT and telecom professionals who keep me knowledgeable enough to make the necessary decisions and work very hard to mitigate problems. Plus CalTech and my peer CIOs are always very helpful whenever I ask. The job really comes down to making informed decisions and getting the most out of our limited resources.
The other huge challenge has been the Change Management piece. When you change the radio system of over 7,000 officers or the CAD for over 1000 dispatchers or the email application of 11,000 employees you’re going to hear complaints. It’s human nature to resist change. Throughout these changes I’ve learned that absolute transparency is imperative to success of any program. Yes it might hurt a little at first to disclose problems but the reality is that there are going to be bumps along the way and the end user is going to notice. If you don’t openly acknowledge the issue up front, and show a plan to mitigate the problem, you only give the “nay-sayers” the ammo they need to potentially cripple a multi-million dollar project. It’s a challenge I impress upon my co-workers daily and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of improving transparency.
How many IT staffers work in your department?
My Division, Information Management Division (IMD), is responsible for the Department’s IT and telecommunications. IMD is broken into 4 sections and 1 unit with a grand total of 350 employees. They are: Information Technology Section, Telecommunications Section, Communications Center Support Section, Support Services Section and the Computer Crimes Investigations Unit. Each Section provides operational support through their technical and administrative personnel to meet the demands of the Department and ultimately the officer on patrol.
What is the size of your IT budget?
My budget is approximately 35 million.
Who is on your leadership team?
Assistant Chief Nick Norton oversees the IT and the computer crimes side of the house and Assistant Chief Lori Young is primarily responsible for the telecommunications side. Lori came up through computer crimes and telecom while Nick came to us from the Central Valley where he was a commander in the field. Lori brings IMD specific knowledge and history while Nick brings end-user insight and a great deal of accountability. I’m blessed with a very strong team.
What is your approach or philosophy in leading the team?
The key for me is Trust. There’s a great quote that essentially states, “in order to make a man trustworthy, you must first trust him.” In other words, once you show someone you trust them, they will likely trust you. This concept plays out every day in the project driven world of IT. Every time we give someone the responsibility to take on a project, we are essentially telling them that we trust them to do the job and that we expect it will be performed satisfactorily. So, if we are constantly hovering and micro-managing the individuals we really aren’t developing their trust. In fact, I believe, we are telling them we don’t trust them. Ultimately, they begin to operate out of fear, rather than pride, ownership and loyalty. Looking back over my career, the thing that drove me not to fail on any given project was the desire not to break the trust that was given to me.
Can you describe the career path that led to you being the CIO of your agency?
Well, I obviously came up through the uniformed side so it is much different than your typical CIO, but I’ve been fortunate to have been assigned some very unique jobs within the CHP, all of which have uniquely prepared me for this position. I worked the road in LA and Oakland for 7 years before I began promoting to my current rank. Along the way I served as the Department’s assistant legislative representative, as a field commander in the Yuba-Sutter office, as a Special Operations Team Commander deployed to Hurricane Katrina and as the CHP’s Labor Relations Officer just prior to taking on the role as CIO.
I have served 25 years with the CHP.
What advice would you give to other CIOs?
Don’t be shy. Reach out to your peers, to CalTech and to business leaders. As an outsider to this world, I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of collaborative thinking that exists in the government IT world and everyone’s willingness to help one another. While I still don’t know everyone, I’ve learned to rely on other CIOs and business leaders, along with friends at CalTech who are always willing to give me advise and/or talk me off the ledge. The relationships really are what help me to maintain my sanity in this resource challenged IT world.
What do you do in your off time?
I’m not familiar with the term…. However, when it happens my family is usually happiest when we are on a lake.