As information services manager of Humboldt County's Information Services Division since 1991, Brad Walden determines the technological policy and infrastructure of the rural jurisdiction nestled deep in Northern California's redwood forests. Walden, who has a background in both math and computer science, came to the county in 1975 as a supervisor, also splitting his time between teaching at California State University, Humboldt, and College of the Redwoods.

How do you determine the goals of the department?

It's a combination of working with all of the individual customers and being aware of what their business goals are; where technology is; what technologies are available; and what technologies and solutions are available in their particular business area -- whether it's law enforcement, health and human services, or libraries. [It is] also being aware of funding. You've got to take all that stuff and shake it up, and then you come out with a set of practical goals for next year. The key is in working with the customers and making sure you're in tune with their business needs.

What is your relationship with your customers?

We focus on customer service -- just like the private sector would focus on customer service -- because our customers do have options to go out and contract with other people. Many of our customers have elected department heads that run their organizations. Since they're elected officials, they do have their independent spirit; we work well with that. There are some folks who want to just kind of move ahead and do their own thing, and we'll stand aside and support them. We have some customers who are totally unfamiliar with technology, and they want us to hold their hand and lead them through it. Depending on who our customer is and who their managers are, we adapt to that management style and provide the best support we can. That's paid off; we're respected for that. We don't try to come in and tell them what we need to do. We let them set the pace.

What are some projects you're currently working on?

We just, over the past nine months, started a project to implement a document-management and imaging system to be the standard system used countywide. We've selected a vendor and just signed a contract and are starting the process with several departments' pilot projects. Another project that's going to take a lot of focus from us has to do with the courts. The courts have gone through a consolidation process in the state of California. The AOC [Administrative Office of the Courts] is trying to bring standards to all the counties, and they also want to [standardize] the computer systems [counties] use. Humboldt County, along with Monterey County, is going to begin a pilot program. The reason we've been selected is because our existing criminal justice programs and systems are very integrated. They integrate all the departments' business flows: the jail, the sheriff, district attorney, the public defenders' office. So the pilot program from the state's perspective is going to allow them to establish some standards for the future interfaces that will exist throughout the state.

How has your job evolved?

When I first took the job, we had a mainframe-oriented network. Since then, we have basically restructured the information architecture for the county. One of the big things that's changed for us has been that movement from the mainframe architecture and the mainframe network to servers -- server platforms. We have a philosophy that if a particular customer of ours finds an application solution that's the best one their business needs, whatever kind of server that runs on, we will make sure we can put it into our network and integrate it with other systems. Because the customers do come first. The architecture doesn't come first. We try to make sure we have an architecture, and we restructure our architecture so we can do that. The other change was, when we had the mainframe, most of the business applications had been written by county programmers and supported by county programmers. It's been a change for people: learning how to work with vendors and work with partners and try to get the most out of the relationship, it's taken a little bit to get that from where we were.