Mar 28 2017

Q&A: Santa Clara CIO Ann Dunkin on What Counties Can Learn From Federal Tech

After two years in federal government, she touches on her learnings from implementing tech at the federal level and her technology wish list for the county.

Typically, state leaders move up to federal leadership roles, but former Environmental Protection Agency CIO Ann Dunkin is moving in reverse as she’s set to take on the role of CIO in Santa Clara County, Calif.

After beginning the role in February, Dunkin took a moment to speak with StateTech about how her experience in federal government can help her more effectively implement technology changes across the county that will better deliver services to citizens.

STATETECH: Can you begin by speaking to why you decided to return to local government after two years as the EPA CIO?

DUNKIN: Counties are where things happen in government in terms of delivering services to individuals. We run the hospital, the healthcare system, a jail, the sheriff’s department, social services, roads, bridges, airports — we do a tremendous amount of work for people.

Moreover, Santa Clara County has [a] very strong safety net to serve our most vulnerable citizens. Particularly given the changes that we see in the federal government right now, I feel that this [is] where there is an opportunity to serve the community and also to help protect our most vulnerable residents, who are likely to become more vulnerable over the next four years if anything resembling the president’s budget moves forward and cuts funding to social services.

STATETECH: What technologies will be top of mind in coming years?

DUNKIN: To begin, we will be looking at some basic restructuring with our IT infrastructure to deliver more efficient, enterprise-level services.

We also see that a very small percentage of our people in the county, our most vulnerable residents, use most of our safety-net services. We see the same people in the hospitals, the healthcare systems, social services, the jail, and the probation system. We need to understand more about those people so we can serve them better, by helping to get them out of the criminal justice system and into stable housing or helping them deal with a myriad of health concerns — whatever that particular individual’s issue is.

Analytics are an opportunity for us to do that. There are analytics that can look across people in the healthcare system, but what we can’t do right now is look at that same person’s healthcare, criminal justice and public safety information and see that, for example, the reason they keep showing up in the hospital is because there is a domestic violence issue in their home. With analytics, we could identify a correlation between police calls and hospital visits. And we want to do that while maintaining respect for the privacy of every individual in the county.

For the more general population, the county wants to provide better online and mobile services, as well as more functionality via smartphones or tablets, so residents don’t have to come into the county service center to pay taxes or ask a question.

STATETECH: Can you speak about cybersecurity concerns or issues around technology that will be front and center as you begin your county tenure?

DUNKIN: In a county that has healthcare systems, social services systems, criminal justice and public safety systems, we have a tremendous amount of personal data, so security and privacy are top-of-mind issues.

We want to strengthen our security posture through consolidating and better managing our infrastructure. There is a percentage of the network now that a central IT team is not managing, so consolidating it under one team could save us money by ensuring that we run the whole network and manage all the laptops, desktops, servers, data centers. It also allows us to improve our security posture by having one organization run all those services.

We also want to streamline enterprise applications. Our focus is to deliver services that are shared as efficiently and effectively as we can so that we can spend more of our money delivering services that are specific to business process areas. Whether it be the healthcare system or the property tax department, everyone has their specific needs. We want to be able to focus on our customer-facing groups and determine what those organizations will need to better serve the community, and then streamline all services to enable that.

STATETECH: How do you feel the experience you gained at a federal level will translate to a county level?

DUNKIN: There is a level of being a CIO in any large public agency that translates. There are all these pieces specific to government, whether it’s understanding how you buy technology or hire in the public sector.

In particular, at the EPA we really looked at ways to make hiring and purchasing equipment more efficient. We did a lot of myth-busting in the federal government in the last few years about how to hire and buy in ways that allow us to be more agile and innovative. A lot of those lessons and processes will translate very well into the county government.

STATETECH: Can you speak about your findings around how to more effectively purchase technology?

DUNKIN: Typically, governments would run a one- or two-year long procurement process to buy a firm-fixed-price development contract that will end up being too expensive and constricting. The solution is to provide marketplaces where people can buy the same way off a vehicle all the time. Ultimately, if someone wants to buy development services, operations and maintenance, etc., the vehicle makes it easy to do that.

Part of it also is understanding what the ground rules are, taking apart what is a law and what is just practice and bypassing unnecessary constraints.

STATETECH: What's one tool (hardware or software) that you learned about in your federal role and will be sure to bring to county government?

DUNKIN: Some companies are beginning to make available to governments technologies that will usher in the next generation of enterprise security. Right now, we have lots of point solutions but there are a few vendors out there doing some very cool things that bring security and systems management together in more coherent ways.

The proliferation of security management, endpoint management and infrastructure tools has made it very hard for people to manage infrastructure effectively. We are interested in heading down a different path than simply purchasing one solution at a time and implementing a mess of things that don’t play nice together.

Santa Clara County/Darryl Sebro