After graduate school, Dave Cummings bounced from teaching computers to operating computers -- a trek that took him from Arizona to California, up to Alaska, and back down to California. About seven years ago, an advertisement in Computerworld magazine changed all that. Clackamas County, Ore., was looking for a CIO. Cummings has been with the county ever since.
Describe the technological state of the county when you arrived
It was pretty bad. They started to decentralize a lot. The departments outside of the IS [Information Services] Department started forming their IS shops. They had a lot of duplicate telecommunications lines and stuff going into buildings, and a lot of unqualified people doing a lot of different jobs. It was kind of like they threw all the jobs into a big pile in the middle of the floor and everybody said, "Ooh, I'd like to try networking. I've never done it before, but I'll try that."
How have you addressed shortcomings since you've been with the county?
You have to see what kind of hand you've been dealt, so you get ahold of everybody's resumes and take a look at their personnel files to see what kind of training they've had. Usually when you get into a situation like that, it's just trying to patch all the holes and stay afloat until you get everybody trained or bring some new staff in so you can go ahead from there. The first thing I did was establish a one-year plan to get the county back on the right road -- get everybody trained for what they should be doing and get things going, build some goodwill with the departments. The first year [the feeling was], "No matter how much you tell me you're going to do these wonderful things, until you actually do something, you're dirt." That's the way it usually is. You have to prove yourself.
What was the response to the one-year plan?
There was a lot of skepticism. There are a lot of IS directors who move from job to job, and they just come in and say they're going to do all these wonderful things -- and they really never do it. As you get more under your belt, you go after some of the real doubters at first and get them behind you, and then the others fall in place.
How do you envision IT management?
I think there are a lot of IT managers who have big egos -- think they always know best. It's been my philosophy as a CIO to hire managers smarter than I am because I can't keep up on all the technology. It's just too much, too fast, and there are too many things going on. We want to support what [the departments] have and make their jobs easier. We're not out there telling them, "You need to do this. You need to do that." We offer them solutions, and they can pick from the solutions.