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Utility’s New IT Director Sets Sights on Cloud, Workforce

Steve Kustin rejoined the Sacramento Municipal Utility District four months ago. As he conducts a “listening” tour with his 70 team members, he has five specific goals. And there are vendor opportunities on the horizon.

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Steve Kustin, the director of IT infrastructure and operations for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), has a stout agenda, considering he’s been in that role for only about four months.

Kustin, who has about 70 technologists on his team, told Techwire in an interview that his role covers two main areas:

Steve Kustin.jpg
Steve Kustin, SMUD's IT director

“I focus on all things that are in the data center space, so you think about servers, storage, backup and recovery, data networking, data center operations … all the things that make up the data center space, both on-premises and in the public cloud environment. That’s half my team.

“The other half of my team focuses on the end-user experience, so you think of laptops, desktops, VDIs (virtual desktop infrastructure), unified communication and collaboration tools – things like Microsoft Teams and Zoom – and all the productivity tools, things like Microsoft 365 and those type of end-user productivity tools, which used to be kind of a footnote to what that side of the house does, and now it’s taking over as the more predominant responsibility above laptop and desktop asset management, etc.”

Kustin has been in the tech sector for more than 20 years, having worked in the private sector as well as with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, where he was a supervising software specialist and technical lead, and the California Department of Justice, where he was also a technical lead. Before taking his current role with SMUD in July, Kustin most recently was with Blue Shield of California, where he was director of infrastructure and cloud services and principal technologist.

He cited SMUD’s mission – “Zero Carbon 2030” – as he spelled out his five top priorities:

  • “Build the workforce of the future,” specifically by recruiting skilled professionals and with attention paid to diversity, equity and inclusion. “We want to make SMUD a great place to work,” he said.
  • Focus on “building out a hybrid multicloud ecosystem, to ensure we have the right cloud platforms necessary to maintain operational excellence as well as to equip the business to support any type of platforms that they need to support to meet those 2030 Zero Carbon goals.”
  • Stay on top of “the table-stakes stuff – maintaining operational excellence,” including the legacy components.
  • Work to expand and “build out our footprint” with use of hybrid multicloud data platforms.
  • Be “secure by design,” ensuring that security is “baked into” everything they do, using the DevSecOps (development, security, operations) protocol.

Kustin said one of his keys to managing a large team is forming relationships, building trust and empowering those under him to make decisions. He said his mentors include his boss, Stephen Clemons, SMUD’s chief innovation and information officer; and Michelle Shih, with whom he worked at Blue Shield.

“SMUD is a traditional entity – we’re not an e-commerce site, so it’s not like we’re Level 5 maturity when it comes to being only in the cloud, on cloud-native platforms, but at the same time, we’re kind of the best of both worlds,” Kustin said. “We’ve got that traditional ecosystem of what you’d see in the enterprise, and in a lot of ways, doing something as progressive with Zero Carbon 2030, you’re going to get a lot of the challenges of potentially looking at new learning platforms and other types of cloud-native stuff – artificial intelligence and whatever might come with building out these virtual power plants and microgrids and things of that nature that are going to be required to have a zero-carbon footprint by 2030.”

Kustin will be providing an overview of what vendor opportunities may be coming, and Techwire will report that in coming days.

Kustin earned his Bachelor of Science degree in management information systems from California State University at Sacramento and his master’s degree in information systems management from the University of Arizona Global Campus. His professional credentials include a VMware Professional Certification in Data Center Virtualization.

On the personal side, he’s a sports fan and enjoys running, playing sports and spending time with his family, including two daughters.
Dennis Noone is Managing Editor of Techwire. 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 the Northern California foothills.