Innovation Heroes: Public sector CIOs are using tech to modernize America
County IT professionals have become the unseen champions of public sector innovation
There are more than 3,000 county governments across the U.S. supported by public sector IT heroes. They don’t get nearly the same attention as Fortune 500 CIOs – but their jobs are equally essential and inspiring.
Beyond the daily responsibilities of running law enforcement, court systems, and public utilities, these small but mighty teams are up against budget restrictions, unfunded government mandates, cyberattacks, talent shortages, and more.
“The thing about a well-functioning IT department is that if it seems like you don’t need them, it’s because it doesn’t seem like they’re doing anything,” says Micah Hassinger, Director of IT in Passaic County, NJ. “But then if things start going haywire and nothing works, you have the same question, well, why do I have an IT department if everything is going haywire?”
Hassinger appeared on the latest episode of Innovation Heroes, a podcast by SHI, where he explains to host Ed McNamara that he grew tired of hearing IT being called the “Department of No”. Now he works with users to find out what they’re trying to accomplish and is leading efforts to modernize the country’s IT systems and infrastructure.
For county IT, the best solution is not just about the technical aspect, but the most fiscally responsible one. There are no taxpayer dollars set aside for failure, says Hassinger. No one wants to hear they spent their hard-earned dollars on something that failed. Additionally, it’s difficult to attract top talent in government roles, where the pay – and technology – doesn’t always meet expectations.
“A lot of the skills that we have to have in government IT will never be used in private sector IT,” he says. “We’re a step behind. We have some systems in place that have been in place for 20 years. I have to show you how to use this system that you’re never going to use anywhere else.”
Pre-pandemic, some of Hassinger’s county offices didn’t even have computers. When department heads were asked how many laptops were needed to continue county operations, they requested 250. IT only had 12, with no virtual desktop solution set up. SHI and Dell were able to provide the laptops needed, but it took three months to deploy them properly. They were able to offer all county employees access to the SHI training portal and show them how to find the answers they needed.
“One of the things I tell our staff is that when you take your car to a mechanic, you don’t expect your mechanic to show you how to drive,” says Hassinger. “Sometimes we’ll get contacted by an employee who has been with the county for 30 years. Asking this person to generate a formula in Excel is like asking a goldfish to fly a space shuttle.”
Listen to the full conversation to find out more about the modernization of public sector IT. You can also find episodes on SHI’s Resource Hub, Spotify, and other major podcast platforms, and on YouTube in an all-new video format.