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Key California CIOs Look Ahead, Offer Advice to Vendors

In breakouts of e.Republic’s “Beyond the Beltway” virtual conference Thursday and Friday, the chief information officers for San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles County – Linda Gerull, Rob Lloyd and Bill Kehoe, respectively – talked about how dramatically the abilities of local governments have changed in the year since the COVID pandemic struck.

This story has been updated to correct vendor references. 

Three key government IT leaders in California offered some free advice this week to private-sector technology vendors: Do your homework, and work more closely with other vendors when proposing solutions to government.

In breakouts of e.Republic’s “Beyond the Beltway” virtual conference Thursday and Friday, the chief information officers for San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles County — Linda Gerull, Rob Lloyd and Bill Kehoe, respectively — talked about how dramatically the abilities of local governments have changed in the year since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Lloyd set the scene: “We were all working on certain things, and then there was an accelerator function (COVID) — but then there was also an opportunity to do things differently. And for us, everything from our partnership with Zoom and our ability to turn our Emergency Operations Center virtual in the space of a day, and our organization virtual in the space of three days, those seeds were laid.” And that change and the new urgency for more digital government services, he said, were a driver for positive change.

He cited “the ability to use a partner for VSOC (Virtual Security Operations Center), so that we could watch the security that was impacting us in a different way. Language translation in our partnership with Google and SpringML and others, to be able to make that public engagement piece — where we used to have six, 12 people (attending in-person City Council meetings) on a regular basis, all of a sudden we had hundreds, and instead of dozens of comments, we were getting thousands. And the language and access barriers were laid bare, and we had to resolve (them). For us, the innovations are in how we opened things up so that people could continue to do the work that they were used to; then the tools and technologies that allowed us to collaborate and find each other and work better.”

When the pandemic struck, Lloyd said, “We had just signed and awarded a contract in March for business process automation … to take a lot of our processes, public and internal, into the digital space so that people could have even better access. And so all these things happened to line up right. … Those technologies are still there. The two boundary ones that I think we’re going to have to address is more of the perception and quick response to cybersecurity, and the digital services/digital strategy piece, because that’s what transforms government into what people are asking for and the transformative questions like housing insecurity and police reform, police innovation and those other things.”

Lloyd also cited the importance of cooperation in a time of collaboration.

“In the middle of everything, there is a power in being the answer in a moment of need, right? And when we said we needed to protect lives and livelihoods, the power of Beyond the Beltway is that it’s always been toward those partnerships — how do we work with each other, how do we be good customers as much as we’re going to demand that you be good vendors for us, and get towards partnerships.”

Delivering a series of what he called “love notes” for vendors, Lloyd name-checked those that stood up: “When we started talking originally, Zoom was a fantastic partner. When our firewall, which was scaled for 250 (users) but had to go higher, Check Point was a great partner. When we said we needed to create a testing data and response platform so we could stand up testing sites, Oracle and Accenture and Adobe and Splunk all stood up and said, ‘We’ll do it, and it’ll all be free for this (pandemic) event.’ And as we said we needed business process automation … and searchable records and signatures and complicated logic workflows, we had the SimpliSigns and the DocuSigns and Adobe step up there, too. So I think this is actually a moment where we can step back and truly be grateful, because all those relationships and those needs in 2020 was a chance for us to stand together.”

From the San Jose CIO’s perspective, “Heading forward, the two most key things later are, No. 1, managing the cost and incorporation of those things so we can keep them; and No. 2, we still have to figure out this government procurement innovation thing. Because a lot of the rules are still built for buying cars and clothing, and cybersecurity moves at a lot faster pace than that, so there’s some common interest in how (we) innovate over the next 12 months, maybe 18.”  

Gerull echoed Lloyd’s praise for vendors’ help — and offered some frank advice:

“Thank you to the partners who have helped the city of San Francisco,” she said. “What helps me the most is coming with a solution. I don’t have time to figure out how your product is going to work in my environment. You should know enough about us so that you come to us with a solution. My challenge to you (vendors) is to think broadly about your solutions, because it’s not just widgets anymore. It’s very definitely services, and our big takeaway from the pandemic and where we are right now with the pandemic and recovery is: I need the system, I need the devices and we need the services, all bundled together. That means ‘You’re going to deliver vaccines, and you’re going to do it in four locations and you’re going to do it turnkey.’”

Gerull said that from the vendor’s point of view, “‘That’s kind of scary: I can’t go in that space. I don’t have that whole range of services.’ Well, that’s your opportunity to partner with new partners, and to think a little bit differently about service delivery,” she said.

“We don’t have the capacity, sometimes the skill set; we really need your help on that kind of scale, either long term or short term,” the San Francisco CIO said. "Our challenge is please think more broadly about your service delivery, and please include that service aspect, because it needs to be more turnkey these days. We’re going to have a tighter partnership with you; you will be helping deliver that service. And you might need to partner with some new friends to do that delivery.”

Kehoe weighed in on how things are changing and will continue to change in a time of remote work and expanded digital services from government:

“Less emails and a lot more partnerships around innovation,” he said. “I think what we’ve seen in the pandemic is that our partners stepped up in such a huge way, and it wasn’t the 1,000-page RFP response. What we’ve seen is that we can challenge our partners with use cases around business problems that we have, and they have tremendous teams that can innovate around those, and that’s the relationship I see in the future.

“Let’s have some hackathons, or better conversations outside the procurement process around business problems, and let’s all innovate around those,” Kehoe said. “That’s the future, and that’s how I would like to work with our partners.”

Recordings of the Beyond the Beltway segments will be available this week; stay tuned to Techwire for details.

Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in Northern California.