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Techwire One-on-One: Shasta CIO on Trust, Consistency

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Thomas Schreiber has been chief information officer for Shasta County for nine years and has been with the county for 19 years, serving as IT supervisor and deputy IT director before being named CIO in November 2012. He had served four years in the U.S. Air Force and a decade in the private sector before joining Shasta. He loves the rural lifestyle, the natural resources and the 10-minute commute from his family farm to the county offices in Redding. In addition to his role at Shasta County, he’s the first vice president for the California Counties Information Services Directors Association (CCISDA) and is scheduled to assume the presidency this fall.

Techwire: As the CIO of Shasta County, how do you describe your role? How has that changed in the nine years you’ve been CIO?

Schreiber: When I took on the role, it was more operational, I think, than it was strategic. I’ve worked to change that, to be more “IT as a strategic part of the county.” And the security, of course, has changed constantly, and that was a big thing, too. We really pushed when I became CIO to up our security levels. I’ve also pushed more to managing IT projects holistically as a county, doing more of a project management piece. We don’t have a PMO, but that’s what I’ve been working toward – to push project methodology on the way things are being done. I would say those are probably the big changes that we’ve been working on. That, and building up the team. I have a great team. I've got good supervisors, and I’ve been able to get people into positions where they just excel.

Techwire: How involved are you in the county strategic plan? Do you take a strong hand in that, and has that changed over time?

Schreiber: For Shasta, there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on that. The new CEO is really starting to work on doing a strategic plan, and he and I have had conversations about IT’s involvement in that strategic plan, for me to have a little bit more of a role. We have limited resources, and I can’t do every single project every year, so we have to work with departments and try to plan things out. I think I’ll have a bigger role in the strategic plan going forward than I have had in the past, just in the way that everything is changing. The CAO’s office has changed.

Techwire: Looking ahead six months, a year, 18 months from now, do you envision any big RFPs or any big procurements?

Schreiber: We’ve got a few things in the fire right now. We want to do a larger adoption of Office 365 tools. I don’t have a staff that can just take all of those things on, so we’re going to be looking at working with some vendors to help us implement some SharePoint and those kind of things within the cloud for these departments. You know, we’ve had fires up here every year. We have decided strategically that we’re going to build a sheriff’s EOC (emergency operations center), a permanent center. … That’s going on right now from a structural design perspective with an architect, but the piece of it that I’m involved in is the audio-video control system that would be part of the EOC ¯ the video wall, the flat screens. They’re working out an RFP right now with specifications for that. So that’s going to be, I’d say, probably within the next six months. We’re also working on an RFP right now for an upgrade to the video surveillance system for the jail, so that’ll be coming out. That’s probably going to hit the street, I would say, probably the beginning of next fiscal year. We did a new case management system that we are working on right now for the DA and Probation, so those pretty much have been implemented. They’re cloud solutions. IT had a bit of involvement with that, just trying to make sure, from a project perspective, things are moving forward, especially for the IT side of things. But a lot of it was done within the department and with the vendor, since it’s cloud-hosted. It’s not in our data center.

Techwire: “Digital transformation” – does that expression mean anything anymore? What does it mean to you?

Schreiber: Digital transformation, from my perspective, is providing and making services available online to departments and to the public. And it could also be converting old documents digitally, that kind of stuff as well. But I really look at it as what services are you making available online, especially now in the time of COVID-19, where you don't want people necessarily coming in the office? What have you done? The assessor has certain data available online that people can go look up that they’ve never been able to do before. Resource Management: We upgraded their case management system and their permitting system a couple years ago, so they have portals now that people can submit their documents for permits. I know the tax collector now allows people to make tax payments through their credit cards and those kind of things, which we haven’t done before. So to me, it’s making services available to the public, and we’ve gone down that path a bit. Will it ever be finished? I don’t think that’ll ever finish. It comes down to budgets and what the priorities are. There’s a long way to go, but I think the county has made good progress there.

Techwire: Do you anticipate more people staying remote and working and attending meetings remotely, or going back in person?

Schreiber: Right now, we’re rotating (IT staff) teams – teams are in for two weeks, and then they work from home for two weeks while the other team is in. We have a lot of people attending (Board of Supervisors meetings) remotely and watching remotely. We hadn’t streamed the meetings for a long time. We’d record them and then we would post them online, but streaming them live was something that we just didn’t do. The system that we have in the board chambers wasn’t really designed to be a remote virtual-type system. The technology was built within the room, so we’ve kind of taken what we could with that, and GoToMeeting or Zoom, and kind of melded those things together as best as possible, so we have remote presentations as well as remote speakers and all of that.

Techwire: How big is Shasta County’s IT staff?

Schreiber: IT currently has 54 full-time positions, and now we’re a centralized IT department, so we manage the IT structure across the board for all departments. None of the departments have their own IT teams. They come to us (for) everything from public safety, administration, to health and human services. In all, we have 28 departments in the county and we support all of them, so that can get difficult. We can’t go and do individual stuff for every department, so we try to make things work at an enterprise level – economies of scale from a money perspective as well as resource perspective. It only makes sense to do that. I’ve had eight to 10 vacancies for the last two years, trying to fill those positions. It has gotten really difficult finding talent. One of the things COVID-19 did was basically proved to the world that you can work remote, right? I have people I’ve lost because they’ve gone to different jobs, they’ve gone to the private sector, but they didn’t have to move. They still live right here in Redding, and they’re working for companies out of the Bay Area or other places, and they’re getting paid like they live in those locations, but they get to live here. I can’t compete with that. It’s really difficult for us to compete that way.

Techwire: Is there a particular skill set that’s affected by the vacancies ¯ cybersecurity, coding?

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Fishing is one of the reasons Shasta County CIO Thomas Schreiber loves living in a rural area.
Schreiber: It’s coding. It’s the programming side of things. That’s the biggest one. I basically lost the majority of my software developers. As far as custom applications are concerned, I don’t have developers to do that. So we’ve been looking at having vendors do certain things for us. We knew it was coming. It’s just that COVID-19 has accelerated it. We will probably continue having vacancies for the next several years. For a lot of years, we’ve relied on those folks that worked in the Bay Area or Southern California or other cities, and they got tired of that and they wanted to live in a place like this, so we would always be looking for those folks who want to move to Shasta. I mean, it takes me less than 10 minutes to get to work, less than 10 minutes to get home. You have all this nature around. You have all these things around you, and that has worked. We had a bunch of people come in over the years who were near the end of their career; we would have them for maybe five or six years. They would do great for us. And then they retire, right? So that worked well. That’s not working so well now. It’s a little more difficult now.

Techwire: In your nine years as CIO, can you point to one or two projects or accomplishments that you’re especially proud of?

Schreiber: I’ve had a lot of different projects over the years. I’ve been with the county for 19 years. I started out as a network supervisor, then I became the deputy director, so I’m proud of that. We’ve done a lot of standardizing our infrastructure. One of the first projects that was handed to me when I first started was the new administration building that we’re in. In 2003, I was handed the floor plans of this new project, and I was able to work with my team to change and standardize, so we standardized our cable infrastructure. We standardize on products, we standardized on layout and numbering scheme, and all of that, so it was consistent. Consistency is key for me. That is one of the things I’m most proud of, getting that standardization in our infrastructure throughout the county to a point where it's very simple. When I work with an architect … I just hand them the data of the material, and they know how it’s laid out, and they just build it into their bids that way. As a CIO, what I’m proud about is moving things to more modern technologies, moving us to 365, building up the security team – building up the overall team. To me, it’s getting the right people in those right positions to make things work well and excel.

Techwire: How do you like to be approached by vendors?

Schreiber: I like doing it all through CCISDA (conferences) as much as possible. I like being able to interact with the vendors face to face. Like everybody, I get hundreds of emails from all kinds of places, all different vendors. I can’t go through all of those things. So I go to CCISDA if I’m looking for a vendor or I’m looking for something specific. I’ll go look first and see who else is being used. Also, the state has been making a push in the last couple of years, saying, “Come into our tent and use us for cybersecurity. Let us help you. Let us do this, let us do that.” It’s like you use the state almost as a vendor.

Techwire: What would you change about IT procurement?

Schreiber: My biggest issue with government procurement is the time frame. I understand the process. I understand why. But their timelines – by the time they bid on something and you pick somebody and they go through the contract process and all that, it could very well be that the product is end-of-life now, so we shouldn’t put that one in. We should put the next model in, but that’s not what you all agreed and bid on. Those kinds of things are just frustrating, so the way I kind of deal with that is I go to CCISDA and I look to see what are the other counties doing. Is there an existing agreement from another county? Is there a state agreement that we could leverage that would really shorten that timeline?

Techwire: How do you keep up with technology? What do you read?

Schreiber: I subscribe and get a lot of emails, newsletters. I rely on my team quite a bit. I get CIO magazine, I get Government Technology magazine.* I trust my team completely; I trust my deputy, and I trust my security officer. You can't do this job if you don’t trust the people that are working for you, right?

Techwire: Looking ahead, what’s in your future professionally?

Schreiber: For me, I’m an internal service fund in the internal service organization. I’m dealing with my 28 departments. I’m dealing with the state stuff. That’s a good fit for me. I’m not a politician, so I would never look to go into that side of things. As far as doing it in a larger organization, I moved out of the Bay Area to this area for a reason. I can’t see myself moving back there.

Techwire: Is there anybody you would consider a mentor whose path you’ve tried to follow?

Schreiber: Before coming to the county, I had an individual with Apple computers who put a lot of trust in me and let me spread my wings and moved me forward in my career. I also look up to a lot of the different CIOs for the counties – it’s a collaboration that we have.

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Shasta County CIO Thomas Schreiber likes to engineer and modify his own tools, like the loader he fabricated for his garden tractor.
Techwire: Off the job, how do you spend your time?

Schreiber: I love to fish. I love to garden. I live outside of town; we’ve got 10 acres here, so I have a big garden. I make my own stuff – I weld, I do metal work, so if I need something that attaches to my tractor or whatever, I just make it. I’ve got a scrap pile of metal out here; I just pull stuff out, cut what I want, weld what I want, make what I need. I’ll just engineer stuff like that – I enjoy drawing something out, figuring out something I need, and then just making it right. And if it doesn’t work right, I modify it.

Techwire: Care to tell us about your family?

Schreiber: I’ve been married about 25 years, and we have one son. He’s been writing, working toward trying to get published. It’s science fiction/fantasy. One of the last books I read was one of his.

*Government Technology magazine is a publication of e.Republic, which also produces Techwire.