Cook County CIO Simona Rollinson Returns to Private Sector

With agency modernization well along, the CIO of four years will join Chicago-based Clayco, a building industry stalwart.

by / May 24, 2018
David Kidd/e.Republic

The technology leader of Cook County, Ill., who has spearheaded a multi-million-dollar transformation of several key agency systems and an update to its organizational culture, will return to the private sector.

Cook County CIO Simona Rollinson said via email she will be leaving the agency and her last day will be June 15. Rollinson will head to Chicago-based Clayco, a full-service design-build company with more than $2 billion in revenue last year. The county has not yet announced its plans and timeline for hiring a new CIO or potentially appointing an interim CIO from within.

This was Rollinson’s first public-sector role. She joined the county as CIO in April 2014 after a 14-year career at Illinois-based Follett Software, where she rose from senior software developer to president. She told Government Technology, “[I have] always looked for sectors that I believed were approaching a time of disruption.”

“At Follett, I saw the world of education moving from paper to digital. The county was in a similar position when county [Board of Commissioners] President Toni Preckwinkle asked me to come on board. I believe that a similar readiness for disruption exists where I'm headed, as well,” Rollinson said.

“I'm leaving behind one of the best teams I've ever worked with, and I'm confident that great progress will continue,” she added.

Founded in 1984, Clayco has taken on more than 350 major projects and employs more than 2,000 people nationwide. Among its tech-facing subsidiaries are Uplift Data Partners, an “intelligent data collection company” that utilizes drones; and Drawn, its “digital solution technology provider,” which according to the company’s website offers “digital and experiential design.”

Cook County, the largest county in Illinois, leans into technology, partnering last year with the state of Illinois on a property title transfer using blockchain. But its pace of change accelerated in 2015 with Rollinson at the helm, as the county awarded IT contracts totaling $154 million on major modernization projects in integrated justice, property and revenue, and an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Rollinson said she is proudest of Cook’s Integrated Justice System Enterprise Service Bus, which she described as “a monumental effort to get data from one system to another.” The system shares data automatically among three related but distinct levels of government, and it helped move Cook County from 10th place in 2016 to 5th place in 2017 in the Digital Counties Survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government.*

Elsewhere across the enterprise, the county’s integrated justice and revenue systems are live, and the last wave of its ERP is expected to go live in June. Cook’s integrated property tax system is “on track” to go live in the county assessor’s office in December and with the treasurer and county clerk in 2019, Rollinson said, describing the systems as being “on a trajectory that will yield constant improvement.”

“Technology is an ever-changing field, but I believe that we are now much better prepared to take advantage of what the future has to offer us,” she said. The county has also stood up a new case management system for its public defender, as well as a broadband backbone.

Simultaneously, Rollinson has reconfigured outdated job descriptions, writing or revising around one-third by the end of 2016 — a number that now stands at 60 percent, she said on May 9 at the Chicago Digital Government Summit.*

“You’re changing the DNA of the organization … so now there needs to be calibration. We have to evolve. We constantly have to calibrate,” Rollinson said at the event during a panel discussion on how to work collaboratively on innovation.

Cook County isn’t just in the technology business — it’s ultimately in the people business, where “million-dollar relationships” are based on listening and negotiation as well as problem-solving and critical thinking, the CIO said then, emphasizing the importance of “soft skills.”

Rollinson said via email that she believes the agency’s culture change began when Preckwinkle became president in 2010, and Cook County “leapfrogged” from paper to cloud and from “mainframe to best-of-breed digital solutions.”

“We are now in a mode of continuous improvement and we are ready to adapt to an ever-changing environment with innovative approaches and an eye for efficiency,” she said, noting that Cook County has adopted what it terms a “cloud-smart posture,” utilizing a total cost of ownership model to assess whether systems belong in public or private cloud.

*The Center for Digital Government and Digital Government Summits are part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.