CIO Profile: Dave Macdonald

Director, Alameda County Information Technology Department

by / April 4, 2003
For 17 years, Dave Macdonald has served as director of the Alameda County Information Technology Department in the San Francisco Bay area. Having seen much technological change during those 17 years, Macdonald now directs a department of about 150 staff members, ranging in expertise from systems administration and programming to infrastructure support.

How does the department set goals for county agencies?
I get together [annually] with my key staff. We sit down and talk about what we accomplished for the last year and what our goals and objectives are for the next year. The county produces a document every year that covers the budget for the next year, and each department has a section that shows what they expect to accomplish during the next year. Generally, we'll tie what we've talked about into the budget document. We try to meet with departments as frequently as possible to try and understand what they need during the next year. We'll spend that day going through goals and objectives and accomplishments, and then each of my managers gets a set of goals and objectives as well.

How do county agencies respond to your direction?
We've got a group of departments that cooperate very well together. We have a strategic plan we put together that has standards and so forth. Departments use that as a roadmap. It doesn't always fit. If there are exceptions that make sense, then that's OK too. But we've got that strategic plan out there that they all have access to, so they know what the current standards are.

What are you most proud of in your time with the county?
[The department] looks nothing like it did when I started here. It amazes me. You can talk about platforms and software, but when you boil it down, I'd say the staff I have is just absolutely outstanding. It's the best group of people I've ever worked with. We've been able to attract really outstanding people. As a result of that, we've implemented some great systems, and our network is the best it's ever been; our infrastructure is just solid. It's a pretty nice feeling.

What is your management style?
I really like hiring good people and then try to stay out of their way and not micromanage and let them make the tough decisions. I don't want them just to come and dump problems on my lap. If they come to me with problems, also have recommendations.

Where do you see technology taking Alameda County?
We're in the midst of a tremendous budget crisis. It's a bloodbath out here. Every county is suffering, so we really have to rely on technology if we're going to continue to provide a high level of service to the public. That's really going to be vital over the years to come. Technology is going to play a bigger role in everything we do. Wireless is starting to be a big deal. We've just installed some wireless LANs and we've got wireless connections between buildings. I think the whole handheld/PDA area is one that really needs to be exploited. Security is an issue, of course. We want to make sure we've got that covered. Wireless applications are really going to be big over the next few years.