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Reorganizing an Information Technology Department for the Challenges Ahead

By Randy J. Cress, CIO, Rowan County Information Technology

Randy J. Cress, CIO, Rowan County Information Technology

Rowan County Information Technology (IT) is a local county government department in Salisbury, North Carolina with a staff of 12 including the CIO. Our IT department serves 22 unique county departments from Animal Services, Parks & Recreation, Public Library, and Airport to Public Safety with 911, Emergency Services, and the Sheriff’s Office. We have the traditional Finance, Human Resources, Tax Administration with Planning and Building Inspections. This encompasses over 750 FTE employees, with over 130,000 citizens and with an annual operating budget of $2.5 million for IT. While our users vary widely in their daily work and service to the public, we attempt to maintain a consistent interface that scales across the majority of use cases, equipment needs and access to applications and emerging trends in technology.

"My job as CIO is to champion, support, and communicate early in the process and remove roadblocks quickly with budget resources and department head buy-in"

Coming from a very technical background over the last 14 years in local government and 10 years prior with systems and network engineering, delegation was one of the first challenges to personally overcome. The creation of a management team was the first order of business; however, the proposed internal design did not seem to meet the norm. While there are many organization charts to review online, very few explain the reasoning behind the structure. The intent is to give rational behind our structure and help meet the challenges ahead.

Within the IT structure there is:

(Compute) A place where data is input, processed, and stored and back-office applications executed.

(End Point Devices and Connectivity) The devices our employees use and how the use various technology from laptops, desktops, phones (desk and mobile) communication with internal datacenter compute resources and off premise cloud services.

(IT Business Operations) The glue that links the human element of what our users need to accomplish for government services and the seemingly infinite numbers of ways to use technology to accomplish this goal.

This structure helped form a four-person management team including myself as the CIO. The promotion of internal staff to a management and leadership role in their respective areas gave power and authority for delegated management without the introduction of silos. Positions were reclassified to: Systems Manager, Network Manager, and IT Business Operations Manager. If you are wondering where security is; it is present and accounted for in all three divisional areas. Security is a layered approach, and leaving it for “someone else” to deal with only causes complacency and leaves gaps in the overall architecture and design and staff security awareness.

Each division’s actions to move and adapt to new technologies has an impact on the other and this is discussed routinely with management team meetings. For example, as our Systems Manager explores cloud-based solutions for Infrastructure as a Service and Compute resources, our Network Manager helps to ensure adequate bandwidth is available to accommodate this transition and our Business Operations Manager works with our departments to understand their needs for a successful and efficient solution. My job as CIO is to champion, support, and communicate early in the process and remove roadblocks quickly with budget resources and department head buy-in. It also helps to expect great things from the team and allow for flexible time spent to accomplish goals within a reasonable timeframe.

With this amazing team, we maintain a fully virtualized server environment across two datacenters, a single client Windows OS image supporting all desktops, laptops and tablets in use by public kiosks, staff workstations, 911 dispatchers, and office staff. These operating systems are designed to be multi-purpose based on location, and are primarily used to connect back to our virtual desktop environment providing support for all well-connected users (LAN or wireless) to another single Server OS image running across a client compute workload with capacity to support 750 concurrent users. All Windows-based applications are installed in the virtual desktop image natively or using application virtualization and the entire system restarts nightly and is non-persistent forcing a full reset back to a known good state.

While this structure has taken years of development to achieve, it is repeatable and reproducible requiring a full understanding of the Windows operating system to manage. While the underlying technology exists on a LAN environment, it has been structured as an internal cloud services with fully qualified domain names (FQDN) used whenever a web server is accessed there becomes minimal difference between an internal user and someone else connecting from the internet. This methodology helps us transition when the pricing model is more efficient and services are more effective to full SaaS offering. While there is not a cloud-first initiative, there is an “always review cloud” strategy to new service exploration and existing application upgrades.

Attention has recently turned to using tactics to proactively monitor IT infrastructure using big data and application monitoring to business oriented processes in a similar fashion. Technologies are emerging to make sense of unstructured data with patterns, and traditional reporting tools for daily business reports and charts may soon be augmented with data ingests into machine learning systems with some training for meaningful deep analytical results. Enterprise AI has started within the IT department to do more the same resources and become more efficient in time scheduling and knowledge management. While the saying, do more with less is typically seen as a negative, we see it as a challenge and expectation of where technology is expected to take us. The future of local government IT will transform considerably as the next generation workforce becomes our talent pool and having a divisional structure to accommodate these advancements is paramount.

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