CIO Profile: Lisa Yeo

Multnomah County, Oregon

by / July 1, 2002
Training for a 112-mile bike ride is only part of what Lisa Yeo does with her days. Since joining Multnomah County, Ore., in 1998, she has given her staff the freedom to innovate, encouraged collaboration among county agencies, and helped forge a strategic plan for IT.

What was your top priority upon taking this position?

The county had a strategic plan for IT that it had developed under the former CIO. It was a very good plan. But it was difficult to move it forward because we were very decentralized. So the thing that I spend most of my time on is trying to provide singular IT leadership and earning the trust of the senior business managers and the IT staff. We've re-engineered the whole IT organization at the county. We're now what we're calling a shared services organization rather than a centralized organization. IT's really a partnership between the IT organization and the senior business managers in determining where IT goes. That was something that was missing when I came to the county. The senior business managers, the department managers were not involved in IT decision making.

Would you describe shared services?

The basic idea is you operate your internal support services like a business. You determine what IT services you provide by what your internal customer departments are willing to pay for. And you set up service-level agreements that are like contracts with your customer to enable you to work for them. We are really just out of the starting blocks in implementing a shared services approach. We've set up some operating principles, and we've set up an IT governance structure that includes the senior business managers. [Because of the current economic condition], it's a good time to try to eliminate redundancy that we had built up in terms of IT services across departments. And the IT skills market is such that it makes more sense for us to consolidate the IT staff so we can leverage the pockets of expertise that we have in certain departments across the whole organization.

Prior to this shared services approach, each department had its own IT unit where they were looking at not only what they needed but how to provide it. Having nine cooks in the kitchen all choosing something different was making it difficult to integrate systems and certainly more costly.

How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership style is to value and recognize each individual -- help them identify and utilize their strengths and to see how they fit into the big picture. Building relationships has been the thing that's made it possible for me to provide any leadership at all. I'm a very people-focused person. My integrity is important to me and it's important that the people who work for me understand that and that they share the same values. I try to create a safe environment for employees to share ideas, try new things, make mistakes, try something else. I don't have to have all the answers. Open communication, integrity, and having fun together are trademarks of the work environment I try to create. We spend too many hours here not to enjoy them.

Do you work closely with Portland?

I work very closely with Glenn Meyer, director of IT for the city of Portland. We probably meet monthly; we probably talk every other week. Together with County CFO Dave Boyer, we just started talks about the possibility of sharing our ERP system. The city is still running a legacy financial system on an IBM mainframe and they were ahead of us in implementing a consolidated IT organization. So while they were doing that, we were implementing SAP. And now we're implementing our shared services approach to IT and they're figuring out what to do with their legacy financial system.