Every year since 2002, Government Technology magazine, Techwire's sister publication, has recognized a couple dozen of U.S. technology leaders who've put their knowledge to work to solve problems and serve their communities. This year's Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers award recipients include three from California; because the state is Techwire's exclusive focus, we highlight those three Californians today. In alphabetical order, they are:

 — Mohammed Al Rawi, chief information officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation;

 — Alisha Griffin, former director of the California Department of Child Support Services; and

 — Chief Scott Howland, CIO for the California Highway Patrol

Profiles of the 20 other individual award winners and two winning teams can be found on the Government Technology site.

'IT should be at the table'

Mohammed Al Rawi is always telling people the same thing: IT isn’t just a service. It’s a vital part of the way people get things done.

“It’s not that when your computer is broken, you need IT. No — IT should be at the table for all business decisions,” he said.

And Al Rawi has dedicated his government career to demonstrating why. When he was working for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the county virtualized 98 percent of its IT footprint in two years, paving the way to better data sharing and modernizing obsolete applications. Then, at the end of 2016, he became CIO of the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation and had to start demonstrating IT’s value all over again.

It hasn’t taken long. He’s in the midst of two major modernization projects — new systems for content management and enterprise asset management — and is digitizing 7 million paper records in the process. He’s also brought innovation to the department. Under his leadership, it has set up augmented reality games to draw more young people to parks. A Wi-Fi network gives the department insights into who’s using the parks, as well as where and when, which helps it determine where to deploy resources.

“It’s becoming a tool that’s used daily,” Al Rawi said.

He also set up video analytics at public pools to help lifeguards identify drowning swimmers who might otherwise be hard to spot.

The CIO is experimenting with the Internet of Things. Sensors can deliver information about the health of trees to arborists, and GPS trackers can help emergency responders find missing hikers. And as the county struggles to deal with the ongoing threat of massive wildfires, he’s evaluating sensors as a way to spot blazes faster.

The key to continual innovation? Paying attention to more than just his niche. The idea of tracking park users came from retail stores tracking customers. The swimming pool cameras were already in use in Europe but unheard of in the U.S.

“You would miss a lot of innovation if you just look at the parks ecosystem in terms of technology,” he said.

 — Ben Miller, Government Technology Staff Writer

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'Let's not build antiquated systems'

Beginning her career as a child-protection worker, Alisha Griffin went on to earn a master’s degree in community and clinical psychology. After spending several years working in the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, eventually as director of the Office of Case Practice, Emergency Response and Critical Incidents, she was then tapped to work a year in the state’s Child Support Services Department to help meet the mandates of 1996 welfare reform legislation.

She fell in love with the work and stayed on.

“It’s really a front-focused, family program,” she said. “To me, it’s always been primarily a prevention program. You just know that if you can solve the differences between families and get them to support their children … it’s a great cost avoidance.” 

All told, she spent more than 16 years with the Department of Child Support Services in New Jersey, deeply invested in its mission to help families. But when the 1980s-era child support system needed replacement, Griffin’s role took a distinct turn toward the technical. 

“We expected to get new staff positions to man it, but we didn’t,” Griffin said, adding that she found herself heavily involved in the technical aspects of the new system. The pioneering effort comprised the design, procurement, implementation and management of the country’s first attempt at a redesigned system for child support. Along the way, Griffin was able to shore up collections and disbursement processes, improve customer service and institute performance measurements to maximize efficiency. 

It became a national model, and in 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown lured Griffin to the West Coast for a similar overhaul, albeit for a much larger population. Along with more people came additional complexities, like working with California’s 58 counties, compared with New Jersey’s 21, and getting them on board with new tools that sometimes turn old processes on their heads. She’s been at the forefront of new thinking on modernization that favors modular, or agile approaches, over traditional processes. 

“Let’s not build antiquated systems,” Griffin said. “We all live our lives with smartphones or tablets and we hang apps together. And I think that that’s the new methodology.”

Kayla Nick-Kearney, Techwire Staff Writer
 
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'Securing our own network'

Growing up, Scott Howland was the kid who ran the AV equipment in middle school, tinkered with computers in high school, then went on to get a degree in TV/radio with an eye toward a career in broadcasting. Then came the master’s degree in business and an education doctorate in organizational leadership. But what you might know Scott Howland for is his distinguished career in law enforcement.

Now Chief Howland, the CIO and chief of the Information Management Division for the California Highway Patrol, oversees, among other things, IT policy and procurement for one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies. About 75 percent of its 11,000 employees wear a badge. His previous assignments have included overseeing statewide community outreach and media relations, CHP legislative liaison, and multiple field assignments.

During his tenure, Howland has led many high-profile projects, including the statewide California Accident Reporting System that automated collision reporting, the modernization of the system for tracking commercial vehicle terminal inspections and the redesign of the CHP’s public-facing website.

“I work to view my role not from an IT perspective, but rather a mission perspective,” Howland said last fall. “With that in mind, there is one factor that is critical to defining success: Does the project move the CHP forward in our mission? ... I want to ensure our projects equip our employees to save more lives and provide a higher level of service, whether it is better information for decision-making or efficiency that provides more time.”

One part of his job that might surprise civilians is his role in fighting cybercrime. He’s in charge of the CHP’s Computer Crimes Investigations Unit, made up of criminal investigators who work closely with the FBI Cyber Crimes Task Force. Beyond cross-agency coordination, a growing trend in the public safety community, it gives him a broader view that strengthens his expertise.

“This helps extend our reach outside California and increases our collaboration with the law enforcement community. Seeing firsthand the attacks that are occurring across state government assists us in securing our own network.”

Dennis Noone, Techwire Managing Editor