CIO: Richard McKinney, Nashville

CIO: Richard McKinney, Nashville

by / June 27, 2003
When he left his position as IT director of the Tennessee Legislature to be CIO of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County -- "Metro" for short because the long version "just doesn't fall off your tongue that easily" -- Richard McKinney walked into a complicated situation. He spent most of the last four years cleaning up Nashville city/county IT governance, and said it takes teamwork to achieve such goals.

What was the atmosphere when you arrived?
I walked into a lot of challenges. Through the late '80s and into the '90s, all departments that had the resources set off on their own to try to solve IT issues themselves. Some did OK, and some didn't do very well. They felt like their destiny was in their own hands, but there was no regard whatsoever for the enterprise.

The network was really a stitched-together series of local networks. Because there hadn't been any enterprise coordination of IT activities, we found ourselves with a very broad collection of technologies. It wasn't so much that there was anything wrong physically with our network -- it was that the logical construct of the network was so disjointed and such a hodgepodge of technologies that nothing worked very well. We couldn't communicate very well from department to department.

How did you turn it around?
First, almost in an evangelical sense, just getting everybody in metropolitan government to understand that we were not going to have good government unless we solved this -- and that we couldn't all solve it independently of one another.

We set out to solve our network issues and get it so our backbone and the operating systems running on the network worked together. That was the first big thing. Then we hired Gartner Group. They helped us put together a strategic plan, inventory this incredibly disparate collection of technologies we had, and gave us a blueprint for moving forward. They convinced the mayor to issue an executive order to create the position of CIO and appoint me to that position, which was a way of signaling to the enterprise that we were going to do things differently -- that we were going to do things from an enterprise point of view.

What is an important aspect of your relationship with the city/county departments?
As the CIO, I have forged relationships with various department heads. I've tried to work with them to get them to understand that I was interested in taking care of aspects of IT that were common across all departments. I was trying to get them to understand I was to free them up as department heads [and] really focus on the business processes of their department by taking care of the infrastructure issues -- so the enterprise would have a common infrastructure; so we would have standards; [and] so we would have a technology to work from department to department.

What are your challenges, and how have you met them?
The tough part is in the details of how you merge existing structures together and find a place for everyone at the table. I'd have to say it's more than offset if done correctly [by] the efficiency of not having duplicate services and duplicate teams of people running around the same geographical area performing the same services.