Vennard Wright was recently named to the Midsize Enterprise Summit Board to serve as the voice of the midmarket. In his role he will also help to shape and guide the event’s content and direction.  Wright is currently the CIO for Prince George’s County Government and focused on transforming the management of information technology capabilities and services to support the county’s mission.  As the director for the Office of Information Technology he ensures that OIT’s service delivery is in alignment with the county executive’s goals and objectives for the county.

Prior to joining Prince George’s County, his professional IT experience included serving as technology director for Hillary Clinton during her successful Senate re-election campaign and subsequent presidential campaign, and serving as tech director during Rushern Baker’s successful run for county executive of Prince George’s County in 2010.  He was also CTO and technical organization delivery manager for Electronic Data Systems.

The Midsize Enterprise Strategies team recently caught up with Wright to ask him a few about the challenges and most pressing issues facing IT leaders today.

MES: What’s the biggest challenge you are facing in your role as an IT leader in a midmarket organization?

Wright: The biggest challenge I’m facing in my role as an IT leader in the midmarket is finding and retaining top-level talent that can nimbly balance and prioritize our varied requests for service. As CIO, I’ve worked to ensure that we gain a better feel for our budget and portfolio of services in the Office of Information Technology but we’re also seeing more and varied demands for support and technology from our customers and partners. Against the backdrop of this gradual shift, there is a much bigger tectonic shift happening.

Agencies and branches of government are being radically reshaped by external forces such as increased requests for services from citizens and a rapidly changing technology landscape. Our challenge is going beyond asking what citizens and local businesses want, to observing and responding to their needs in real time.

Because of current funding, staffing and skill levels, our enterprise IT organization is not set up to easily deliver on these demands for services, which requires staff augmentation through solicitations, in order to compensate for deficits in key areas.

In addition, we survey county agencies on an annual basis and many feel that we cannot respond in a timely fashion, which is why so many shadow IT organizations are being created around the county. This threatens the long-term success of the government and the credibility of OIT.  The myriad technologies and vulnerabilities that are created by a decentralized IT environment can be potentially destructive if not managed effectively.

MES: Hybrid cloud has been such a hot topic lately. What is your company’s approach to hybrid, private and public cloud?

Wright: Prince George’s County has been on Microsoft Office 365 for more than two years and several of our key enterprise level applications such as CRM reside on as-a-service platforms. Part of the reason for this early adoption of the cloud was due to aging infrastructure in our primary datacenter, which led to unreliability through unplanned network outages and system downtime.  Since that point, we’ve begun investing heavily in an incremental refresh of network hardware on an annual basis and deployed a secondary datacenter that mirrors our production environment, significantly lowering the probability of network failures that made us initially consider the cloud as a viable alternative.  This has facilitated a move away from the cloud for most production systems and storage.

However, we still rely on cloud offerings such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure as repositories for storage intensive use cases such as retention of video from body cameras and file storage for documents that have been scanned from our enterprise content management solution.  We have developed internal policies that ensure strict CJIS, HIPAA and PCI compliance for all cloud hosted applications where such requirements exist.

MES: Can you discuss some of the key projects and initiatives you are current working on?

Wright: A few of our key enterprise level projects, that contain a significant dependency on technology, are as follows.

SAP implementation. We are in the third and final year of a major project to implement an enterprise resource planning that is replacing HR, finance, payroll and procurement systems that were, in some cases, decades old.

Dashboards and data warehouse.  Prince George's County government has embarked upon a multi-year, county-wide effort to make more data driven decisions in each of its branches, agencies and departments. At the core of this effort is an open data initiative, which is essentially the web and mobile display layer of a centralized data warehouse that interfaces with a number of disparate data sources such as CRM applications and case management tools that are utilized on a daily basis by county government employees and made available to the general public through dashboards.

IT Financial Management.  We are in the final phase of implementing a VMWare tool called IT Business Management Suite that provides us with an accurate, real time view into actual IT service utilization and related costs.  This level of transparency and control over the costs and quality of IT services allows us to issue monthly statements to agencies and branches of government so that they are able to more effectively manage their IT costs and empower OIT to align our strategic objectives with the goals of County Government.

MES: What key technologies are you keeping an eye on for future consideration?

Wright:  We are eyeing robotic process automation. We are planning to task interns with the development of use cases that could allow county employees to configure computer software or robots to capture and interpret existing applications for processing transactions such as a call for service from a citizen or to trigger responses and communication with other network monitoring software based on potential security events that may have occurred overnight.

Also, let’s discuss Internet of Things.  We have been forced to react to requests for wireless enabled devices to be added to the network such as thermostats, refrigerators and other equipment that could present either an opportunity or create a vulnerability.  As a result, we are aggressively working to develop a framework to account for new and existing IoT requests.

Next is adaptive security. With the advent of IoT, cloud computing and other technologies that are often outside of our full control, we are evaluating next generation network devices that allow us to make adjustments real time to our overall security posture, thereby lowering the likelihood of a network breach or data loss.

MES: What advice would you share with other midmarket CIOs and IT leaders?

Wright: The most important advice I would share with IT leaders is to forget about maintaining the status quo. IT is changing at dizzying rate, which means that we must constantly adapt in order to keep pace with it. Historically, one of the most vexing challenges for government IT organizations has been planning for and making informed decisions about requests for new projects. These might include the implementation of a new enterprise system or operating system migration, as compared to responding to outages and requests for existing services such as the purchase of a new piece of hardware or software.  

Those new project requests now contain considerations about whether to host in the cloud or on premise and contain technologies, such as mobile interfaces to other applications, that didn’t exist a decade ago.

There is always a struggle for the central IT organization to maintain ongoing compliance from external, shadow IT organizations, while working to drive down costs and improve efficiencies in the face of ever shrinking budgets.  This struggle necessitates a gradual shift from strict adherence with governance policies and total control over technical infrastructure to a focus on balanced aspects of IT growth, business alignment, risk mitigation, operational efficiency and compliance.

As a result, IT leaders must aggressively commit to policies that strike a balance between seeking out new and innovative ideas that will continuously develop partnerships with customers in new and more efficient ways while also protecting network infrastructure and data against security breaches and outages.