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Techwire One-on-One: Contra Costa County CIO on Collaboration, Modernization

“The CIO must be a broker of collaboration, bringing people together so that technology can provide intended value. I make critical technology decisions, but those decisions cannot be made with blinders on,” says Marc Shorr, chief information officer at Contra Costa County.

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As part of Techwire’s ongoing efforts to educate readers on state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT and cybersecurity leaders.

Marc Shorr is chief information officer at Contra Costa County, a position he has held since March 2018. Previously, he was chief information technology director at the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, a state special district.

Marc Shorr.jpg
Marc Shorr, chief information officer at Contra Costa County.
Under his leadership, the county’s Department of Information Technology (DoIT) is a full-service IT department that spans administration, operations, the customer service center, systems and program, and desktop and network services. DoIT also runs three countywide programs, information security and the public safety radio system via the Countywide Microwave System, Telecommunications and Wide Area Network.

A 25-year public-sector technologist, he is an avid fisherman and sailor in his spare time and enjoys mountain biking and travel.

Techwire: As CIO of your organization, how do you describe your role; and how have the role and responsibilities of the CIO changed in recent years?

Shorr: My role as CIO for Contra Costa County is constantly evolving. A CIO is no longer just a technologist. From day to day, a CIO must be an agent of change, a strategist, a counselor, a leader, and a listener. Getting to know your customers and understanding their business is essential. Challenges are more business-focused today; technology is the easy part. Managing an organization’s ability to handle change and mapping out a course that will meet multiple needs is critical. The CIO must be a broker of collaboration, bringing people together so that technology can provide intended value. I make critical technology decisions, but those decisions cannot be made with blinders on. I look at business challenges and where I feel technology can truly benefit the organization.

Techwire: How big a role do you personally play in writing your organization’s strategic plan?

Shorr: DoIT develops a plan that supports the county’s overall mission of providing world class service to the employees and citizens of Contra Costa County. I set a strategic vision and develop strategic goals in a collaborative environment by working with staff, county departments, and county leadership to develop cost-effective technology solutions that allow the county to efficiently support our customers.

Techwire: What big initiatives or projects are coming in 2021? What sorts of RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Shorr: We will continue to support efforts in response to COVID-19. We have already equipped thousands of county staff members to work remotely, developed analytics to support the county’s initiatives, and expanded our portfolio of products to meet the needs of our customer base. We are starting a replacement of the county’s legacy financial system with Workday and Accenture as well as a replacement of the county’s tax system. We will also be engaging the channel to address security and improve disaster recovery.

Techwire: How do you define “digital transformation,” and how far along is your organization in that process? How will you know when it’s finished?

Shorr: I feel digital transformation will involve an ongoing effort with new technologies and how we access information. This process will continually be evaluated and improved. One of our strategic goals is to provide an environment that allows for data and applications to be available on all devices anywhere, anytime, and securely. We have started migrating applications to cloud-based services as well as internal county data. We have completed an Enterprise Document Imaging project. Finally, we are currently working with departments to take advantage of data analytics and develop dashboards to provide a transparent, real-time reporting environment.

Techwire: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have? What is the overall budget?

Shorr: The county has a total budget of $4 billion, with the IT base budget at approximately $30 million. We also have project-based responsibility that can go from $5 million to $20 million. DoIT is the central technology organization. Furthermore, Health Care Services has a similar budget to manage their technology.

Techwire: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors, including via social media such as LinkedIn? How might vendors best educate themselves before meeting with you?

Shorr: Vendors need to work with my management team before I sit down with them. I like to engage my senior staff early in the process. We are a team at Contra Costa, and staff input is important to me when making product and service decisions. Also, I do not care for cold sales calls. I expect a vendor to do prior research before meeting with the county. It would help if a reseller were aware if we are already a customer of a specific product or service.

Techwire: In your tenure in this position, which project or achievement are you most proud of?

Shorr: There are several projects that I am proud of my team for accomplishing. We recently completed an Enterprise Document Imaging project that is part of our digital transformation efforts. We constructed and opened a new administration building to better serve the citizens of the county. We have started the financial systems replacement, migrating off a legacy mainframe system. These have all benefited the county and the customers we serve, but I would say the achievement that I am most proud of is the transformation of DoIT. I have set an agenda to be a customer service-focused organization. We have increased our portfolio of service offerings and engage departments earlier in the planning stages. This has allowed us to achieve a true partnership with our customers.

Techwire: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?

Shorr: Most people outside of the public sector do not understand why we procure products and services in the way we do. Government code establishes a level playing field and is designed to ensure we have a competitive process, and that we are getting the best price. It is imperative that we are good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars. I do not feel I would change anything, but I would continue to build on our collaborative efforts. Organizations like CCISDA (the California County Information Services Directors Association) have opened the door to statewide procurement contracts. Working with my peers, we have been enabled to establish pricing and add valuable services that other counties would not have an opportunity to take advantage of. This benefits everyone.

Techwire: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the gov tech/SLED sector?

Shorr: I would say I utilize the network I have built from 25 years of public-sector technology leadership as my primary source of information. There are several websites, Techwire being one, that I look at daily. I work closely with Gartner and Info-Tech for research and analysis. I am inundated with articles on technology and tend to focus on ones that are in line with the projects we are working on.

Techwire: What are your hobbies, and what do you enjoy reading?

Shorr: I am an avid fisherman and sailor; I enjoy being on the water. It allows me to clear my head and get the downtime we all need. I enjoy mountain biking and spending time with my family. We like to travel but have been unable to this year because of COVID. We have an abundance of airline miles burning a hole in our pockets, so we are looking forward to everything returning to normal. As far as reading, I am a fan of Terry Brooks and I enjoy fantasy. However, other than an occasional technical manual, most of my reading has been replaced by Audible. I have hundreds of audiobooks in my digital library. This is probably due to a long commute I had to my previous job as CIO of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.