San Joaquin County Information Systems Director Jerry Becker has won numerous statewide and industry awards for IT leadership, and he’s currently the board president of the California County Information Services Directors Association (CCISDA).
As such, he’s not a man prone to hyperbole. So when he gets personally involved in — and visibly passionate about — a government IT project, it’s noteworthy.
“I’ve had the good fortune of being a public servant in California for over 33 years now,” Becker told Techwire this week, “and there are really only a handful of projects that I’ve worked on in my entire career that I am this proud of and bragged to my own children about.”
And when that project is portrayed in a remarkably effective three-minute video on YouTube, that project and that video are worth watching.
The project the CIO is talking about is known as the Perfect Match — a partnership that included San Joaquin County and Google Cloud to help place foster children with the foster parents and families with whom they are most compatible.
“Google Cloud reached out to us,” explains San Joaquin County Administrator Monica Nino in the video, “so we went and said: 'This is what our situation is. We have a real difficulty in placing foster kids in San Joaquin County, and we need to do something different. …'”
In essence, the project is taking reams and reams of paper files and digitizing them, uploading them to the cloud, and then using algorithms to match the specifics of a given child with the particulars of various foster families. The idea isn’t just to place a child in a home, but to place a child in the right home. The algorithms factor in dozens of data points about foster children and foster families — age, scholastic and religious background, personality traits and many other attributes that make a child an individual — and then calculate the best match.
Mike Miller, director of the county Human Services Agency, explains the sheer volume of work involved in the switch to the new system from the old way — thousands of files and folders stored on shelves: “Our matching system really was all done by hand,” he said. “It took a lot of time.”
Said the chief of the county’s Child Welfare Division, Akkia Pride-Polk: “Sometimes, unfortunately, it wasn’t the best match. It was, ‘Who called back first?’ So if we can find that perfect match the first time around, then this child has stability and a family they can call their own.”
To fully understand Becker’s passion — and that of Nino, Miller, Pride-Polk and the other county executives and department heads who play a role in the Perfect Match project — one should watch the YouTube video that chronicles the story.
The Perfect Match, Becker explained, “actually came out of our partnership with Google and their Government Innovation Lab. It’s one of five (county) projects that were spawned by that partnership. Two are related directly to … youth and how we could help them. We really wanted to achieve permancy and ensure safety in the placement of the foster youth.”
The Perfect Match was started at the beginning of the year, and it’s still in the rollout phase. Becker says Google’s involvement was “exceptionally beneficial to our organization.”
From the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors to the various department heads who had a stake in the program, Becker said, “We had this drive to integrate the kinds of innovation that occurs at Google into San Joaquin County. To listen to the thought processes … really was instrumental in our getting it. It’s a grand idea.”
Becker said that although Google was essential in helping with the logistics of cloud and algorithms, the company’s biggest contribution was to show county leaders what’s possible by thinking differently about a problem.
“It’s really wonderful to watch our executives think about, ‘How do we expand that do to additional great things? Maybe it really is achievable.’”