Yuma County, Ariz., a top 10 stalwart each of the past five years in the Digital Counties Survey, is seeking a new CIO.

Neal Puff, the county’s IT chief since October 2005, has decided to accept a new job as a security architect with Verizon. His last day working for the county is May 27.

It was a tough decision to walk away from the public sector, Puff said, but in the end he feared he was becoming complacent, and therefore, averse to innovation.

“I don’t want to be comfortable,” Puff said. “I always want to be a little bit out on the edge.”

That’s where he was when he led Yuma’s journey into what Puff called “heavy virtualization” — not just for servers, but also for back-end databases. “I think we were probably the first people I know of in government to go full bore into server virtualization. … A lot of people, when they first heard of it, thought we were out of our minds.”

That gamble is continuing to pay off. Yuma saved $400,000 during a recent upgrade of the county’s Oracle ERP and database because the government was fully virtualized, Puff said. Thanks to virtualization, the county had a dead-on copy of its production environment and could quickly revert to the old version if there were problems.

The county has also saved an estimated $1.2 million in the past five years by insourcing its ERP system. The move had the side benefit of forcing the county’s IT staff to learn more about the system, which ultimately improved customer support, Puff said.

Yuma County is the perfect size government in which to work on innovative approaches like virtualization, he said. The government is small enough to remain agile, but big enough to tackle bigger challenges.  And although the county is located in the southeastern Arizona desert, it’s only four hours from San Diego or Phoenix.

At first, Puff made a two-year commitment to the county. But he ended up staying more than five years.

“It’s really hard to leave,” he said.

Puff is returning to his roots in the private sector, which has included positions in manufacturing, consumer electronics, and as technology director of an outsourced General Motors financial center in Tempe, Ariz.

He was named to Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2008 list.

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor