SF CIO on Human-Centered Design, Projects
As part of TechwireThe ongoing efforts to educate readers about government agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, is the latest in our periodic series of interviews with leaders in information technology and cybersecurity.
Linda Gerul is Chief Information Officer and Executive Director of the Department of Technology for the Consolidated City-District of San Francisco, positions she has held since July 2017. Prior to that, she was IT Director at Pierce County, Washington, DC for nearly eight years during her more than 22-year career in the county. Prior to joining the public sector, Gerul was in the private sector for approximately 15 years, most recently as executive manager at Intergraph Corp. in Huntsville, Alabama.
Gerul studied civil engineering at the University of Florida and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the latter. She is a former chair of the Advisory Committee of the Institute of Technology at the University of Washington, Tacoma.
Techwire: As the CIO of your organization, how do you describe your role; and how have the role and responsibilities of the CIO changed in recent years?
Gerul: My role in the organization is to motivate, consult and convene city teams that anticipate the technological future for their business needs. More specifically, I act as:
1. Motivator / champion for IT excellence in government and (yes) helps to overcome the challenges of competitive requirements and strategies.
2. Consultant and coach for best practices, solutions and implementation of engineering technologies.
3. Organizer / organizer of partnerships, transparency and group decision-making, which leads to better decisions and results.
Techwire: How big a role do you personally play in writing a strategic plan for your organization?
Gerul: The technological strategic plan of the city was developed by ours Information Technology Commission (COIT), which agitates all city IT teams to develop a vision and goals for investment in technology. I fully support this effort and work with COIT to:
1. Identify the capabilities of technology to contribute to and support the mayor’s strategies.
2. Conduct research on new technologies.
3. Discuss major investment decisions and prioritize.
Techwire: What major initiatives or projects are ahead in 2021? What offers should we see in the next six to 12 months?
Gerul: The city is closing the digital divide and our work to connect affordable housing units with free internet services is accelerating. We have clear support from recent capital investments. We will also explore and pilot wireless technology that can be used to deliver Wi-Fi service in neighborhoods, as well as smart communication poles for digital city initiatives. We will continue to build our next-generation software-defined network to our town hall-based departments and implement a new robust wireless service and VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol). The proposals proposed this year focus on modernizing legacy 911 emergency communications applications, deploying a corporate satellite telephone service, publishing human resources modules for EEE complaints (equal employment opportunities), including and launching a public works permit system for work in the right way.
Techwire: How do you define “digital transformation” and how far is your organization in this process? How will you know when it’s over?
Gerul: I see a digital transformation in three different buckets:
1. Digital accelerators – devices and technologies that can offer a new feature or process such as mobile tablets with GIS for routing and resource allocation, telephone applications, wireless communications.
2. Digital optimization – improvement or new use of information and systems for modernization of old systems and reduction of technical debt (better / faster / cheaper) such as document management, cloud, permits and tax systems, 911 systems .
3. Digital transformation – must be a brand new and enabling technology to transform business services, operating model or customer experience, such as engaging residents with text, SMS, email and call centers integrated with office systems such as voice scheduling, boards and data analysis.
We also see digital transformation as a continuous process of improvement. The important thing is that we look at the perspective of human-oriented design. It focuses on accessibility and takes many forms of customer feedback to guide our improvements. In this way, all new urban digital services are built for and by the residents of the city. We reach out to community stakeholders in countless ways. To name just a few: consumer community surveys, ongoing composite surveys, and a “utility assessment” based on quick thumbs up or down on each of the city’s web pages. Improvement must be an ongoing process that allows the community to provide information at any time, even after hours. This keeps urban digital services relevant, useful and useful, as the community needs change and when urban services change to meet them. This openness to change and process improvement also encourages a culture of work that is open to new ideas and innovations.
Techwire: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have? What is the total budget?
Gerul: The budget of the Ministry of Technology is 140 million dollars, 250 employees. The city’s total budget is $ 12.6 billion and includes funding for 52 departments, an airport, a utility commission, a port, and transit. There is a significant emphasis on housing and homelessness.
Techwire: How do you prefer to connect with providers, including through social media like LinkedIn? How could salespeople be best educated before meeting you?
Gerul: Participate in industry conferences and panels. Show that you are a partner with the government and you are here to solve problems. When talking to city IT leaders, it’s best to have a solution to a known problem. Know what the needs of the business are and how your solution would be best in class and cost effective. Please note that all orders are competitive, so know how to respond to an offer. Unfortunately, every city is different.
Techwire: With your mandate in this position, which project or achievement are you most proud of?
Gerul: This should be the last 15 months, during the response and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The whole DT family and I are extremely proud of our work because:
- They relocated more than 10,000 employees to work from home in one week and purchased / deployed more than 5,000 new computers.
- Supported and secured leader of the technological branch of the COVID command center since March 20.
- Supported devices, applications, phones and four new call centers for 400 employees.
- Provides coordination and guidance for IT requests across multiple departments.
- Virtualized public meetings during the first week of the shelter on site and holding daily mayoral briefings, 523 committee meetings, 252 full meetings of the BOS (Supervisory Board) and conducted 235 training sessions for virtual meetings for 49 departments. These communications were essential for informing and safety of employees and residents.
Use enterprise software to quickly build 15 new paperless business systems for COVID-19 asset management and document processing.
- Teams Unified Communications with 13,000 employees (8,500 active per day) in 2020, a total of 19 million chats, 1.2 million meetings, 20 million online files and 6,000 Power BI reports.
- Accelerate the city’s Fiber-To-Housing and provide free internet service to seniors in need of telemedicine access and distance learning students, with a 100% increase in the volume of residential internet service to 33 affordable housing, 31 public rooms and 3,227 units (a total of over 7,000 installed in 105 locations).
- Equipped 40 children’s institutions for emergency care and municipal centers with municipal Internet services and installed internet connection at test sites for COVID-19, shelters, quarantine homes and three mass vaccination sites to support staff using urban business systems.
- And it did not delay or reschedule major IT initiatives to build a new software-defined network for a new 16-story office building used by 1,000 employees. All legacy servers were moved to our SFCloud environment, and the entire city’s primary data center was moved to city ownership, resulting in $ 2 million in annual savings.
Most importantly, there have been so many “unknowns” during the pandemic in the last year. What I am most proud of is that despite the “unknowns” every day, DT staff boldly entered high-risk work areas and did their job in support of our great city by broadcasting the mayor’s press conferences, replacing radio communications in the hospital’s emergency departments, wiring Internet service in isolated hotels and homeless shelters, and working at the COVID command center. to provide the highest level of customer service to stressed, tired and frightened emergency workers. I am so proud of the dedicated civil servants in the Department of Technology.
Techwire: If you could change one thing about IT orders, what would it be?
- Longer contract terms, so we estimate our operating costs with greater certainty.
- An easier way to provide professional services and increase staff.
- Suppliers who understand the market and provide competitive prices early!
Techwire: What do you read to keep up with developments in the public technology / SLED sector?
Gerul: I read email newsletters and attend many virtual conferences, webinars, information sessions from industry knowledge teams, such as e.Republic *, Government technologies*, CIO 100, Evanta, Gartner,, Statescoop, BayAreaCIO, the California County Services Directors Association (CCSIDA) and the Digital Management Center *.
Techwire: What are your hobbies and what do you like to read?
Gerul: I am currently reading Atomic habits by James Clear, who I heard speaking at an e.Republic conference. It shows how making 1% improvements every day contributes to real progress in your business and personal life. Building your habits is a way to have a very “present” life. We will use this book to strengthen and expand our efforts to continually improve the process in DT.
* Digital Control Center and Government technologies magazine are part of e.Republic, the parent company of Techwire.
Editor’s note: This interview is slightly edited for style and brevity.